Eight of the best alternatives to ‘unaffordable’ Airbnb

·7 min read
luxury glamping holidays uk - Chris Snook Photography
luxury glamping holidays uk - Chris Snook Photography

Many Telegraph readers have shared how disappointing their recent experiences using Airbnb have been. The booking website was once heralded as the future of self-catering holidays, offering accommodation in the homes of real people. This model seemed to work for a few years, with the profit trajectory of the company certainly telling a confident tale of a revolutionised holiday market.

In recent years, however, it has become apparent that many hosts have started to charge as much as their hotelier peers – if not more. Extortionate cleaning costs, left off the headline rates, have started to appear on the final bill. And seemingly innocuous parts of a trip, like check-out times, have become immovable, with no reliable customer service in sight.

Our love affair with Airbnb may be waning, but there’s plenty of self-catering companies ready to pick up the slack. Below we profile eight alternatives, whether you’re looking for luxury, a last-minute getaway or a spot of glamping.

Sonder Casa Luz, Barcelona holidays rental houses apartments - Sonder
Sonder Casa Luz, Barcelona holidays rental houses apartments - Sonder

The best for luxury: Plum Guide

One of the worst parts of trawling through Airbnb is the sheer volume of options. Everything from architectural marvels to cramped back rooms are listed, and while that hidden gem might be out there, it’s going to take at least an evening of scrolling through to find it. Plum Guide removes the bloat: only three per cent of homes submitted are accepted by the site, meaning you’re only viewing the very best rentals in a location.

Even more reassuringly, the properties are vetted by a Plum Guide representative, so someone has actually slept under the duvet and eaten the breakfast. That informs the ‘home truths’ section of the listings, designed specifically for the details an over-enthusiastic homeowner won’t reveal, like low ceiling height or loud local wildlife. Perhaps most impressive is the site itself, as rather than internet-optimised, hyperbolic property names, the homes are given tongue-in-cheek monikers like Fringe Benefit (think lots of frilly lampshades) or the evocative, Lisbon-based Custard Tart.

Where to book

Head to Santorini and stay in Poseidon’s House for a dreamy Cycladic getaway. From £767 per night.

holiday lets greece - Plum Guide
holiday lets greece - Plum Guide

The best for boutique rentals: Kip

There’s an emphasis on the boutique here: think tiny cabins and precisely-built cottages, sleeping between two and six people. Like Plum Guide, Kip only accepts a select handful of properties to list, saving time on trawling through hundreds of mediocre options. It is, however, a membership site, meaning users are required to pay £17 a year (or £3.99 each month) to use it. Helpfully, though, there aren’t ever booking fees or add-on costs, and there are often personal touches like a bottle of wine or slice of homemade cake awaiting guests. Without becoming a member, the search function still allows the curious punter a cursory browse through the properties and their respective price brackets. Anything more advanced – and, of course, the option to book – is only available with membership.

Where to book

This bright cottage in Kent would be ideal for a quirky family getaway. From £190 per night.

kent cottages holidays uk - Richard Gadsby Photography
kent cottages holidays uk - Richard Gadsby Photography

The best for glamping: Canopy and Stars

Attempting a wild escape using Airbnb can be like lighting a barbecue in a storm: not very likely. Luckily, Canopy and Stars offers a little bit of luxury in the great outdoors. The properties are delightfully high quality, but the gimmick-free website itself is as worthy of a mention. With its extremely simple interface, even the most reluctant technophobe can find property descriptions, user reviews, images, prices – which are guaranteed to be the lowest – and available dates. Again, there’s a well of reassurance to be found in the fact that Canopy and Stars staff not only stay in every location but suss out the truly important details, like whether the local pub really is just a minute’s walk away. And unlike the all-encompassing, corporate attitude of Airbnb, Canopy and Stars operates as a charitable trust and is partly employee-owned.

Where to book

A treehouse perched above a vineyard is a guaranteed hit for all the family. From £310 per night.

treehouse stays uk - Canopy and Stars
treehouse stays uk - Canopy and Stars

The best for choice: Vrbo

Tales of rogue owners and disappearing landlords have made some readers wary of trusting Airbnb, especially when travelling overseas. Vrbo, a fast-growing, near-identical rival, has the edge in this respect. If, heaven forbid, there’s no sign of the host on arrival, ‘re-booking specialists’ can immediately find an alternative option nearby. The risk of being thrown into some hastily divided property with multiple other families – as is sometimes the Airbnb way – is also minimised, as Vrbo only rents out full properties. There are also notably fewer of those pesky cleaning fees.

Where to book

For the ultimate beachfront apartment, relax in this impressive Californian condo for £266 per night.

california holiday rental houses - Vrbo
california holiday rental houses - Vrbo

The best for longer stays: Sonder

Sonder’s stylish listings are grouped by the neighbourhood they are situated in, making them useful for living like a local (at least for the short term). For travellers who usually spend an extended stretch in an Airbnb, Sonder’s high-quality lets are the ideal pick, as there are discounts after seven, 14 and 30 nights. The fashionable start-up operates as a hotel-rental hybrid: some locations offer housekeeping options, others are simply an apartment with easy self check-in.

Where to book

In the heart of Barcelona’s buzzing El Raval, this minimalist apartment allows you to explore the neighbourhood (and also take advantage of the rooftop restaurant). From £160 a night.

sonder booking stays - Sonder Casa Luz
sonder booking stays - Sonder Casa Luz

The best for last-minute getaways: Snaptrip

The spontaneity of a last-minute escape can be both a thrill and a hindrance. The buzzily-named Snaptrip works as an aggregator, scraping private rental websites for eleventh hour availability. Helpfully, the ‘holiday inspiration’ tab filters those locations by type – dog-friendly spots, beach breaks and group accommodation included – allowing for customisation. The company claims its price guarantee has saved customers £5 million since its inception, which triumphs over the algorithmic pricing structure Airbnb tends to operate during peak season.

Where to book

Argus Cottage lies on the site of Pendeen lighthouse in Penzance. Stay here for a bracing trip on a majestic headland. From £373 per night.

penzance holiday rentals - Snaptrip
penzance holiday rentals - Snaptrip

The best for communities: Fairbnb

The name feels like a slight to its much bigger rival (and it seems surprising the billion-dollar business hasn’t become litigious). Regardless, this unassuming site – which is primarily operational in Italy – gives half of its platform fee to a community project, although the guest pays the same amount. Presently, this means that while it doesn’t quite work as a total replacement for the larger listings sites, it is worth examining if your trip is likely to include a stay in a typical agriturismo or Tuscan villa: there’s likely to be a few options to consider (with the charitable benefit already factored into the price).

Where to book

This restored Italian farmhouse, set in an isolated medieval town, sleeps up to nine guests. From £285 a night.

fairbnb listings holidays in farmhouse stays - HEATHER VON BARGEN
fairbnb listings holidays in farmhouse stays - HEATHER VON BARGEN

The best for personality: Homestay

The days of Airbnb as a conduit for slumming it in someone’s spare room are long gone. If you yearn for the simplicity of slotting into someone’s daily life, though, Homestay is the ideal place to search for your next trip away. It essentially operates as what Airbnb was intended to be: homeowners sharing their empty rooms with visitors to their cities. For those worried it might be too intimate an experience, hosts on the site share how hands-on they’re likely to be, so the trip can be tailored by sociability. One enthusiastic proprietor in Japan offers two home-cooked meals a day, language lessons and nail art. Others, however, just leave you to it.

Where to book

Stay in a well-appointed Toronto apartment for £21 per night.

Have you tried any of these alternatives? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below