Why Uber Is Great And Airbnb Is Awful

This more or less nails it, in the limit:

It’s easy to forget how awful taxis were when Uber burst onto the scene. You couldn’t request cars by app, you couldn’t see where they were or know when they’d arrive, and you couldn’t track your rides. Cabs were usually in terrible condition (with regulated prices and limited numbers of cabs, it made no sense to invest in the product because doing so didn’t help a business earn more). And you had the whole payment process thing at the end of the ride rather than just getting out of the car.

We can wish for ‘a better Uber’ but baked in is the idea that vehicle transit has already been revolutionized.

Ironically, Uber isn’t profitable while Airbnb makes money. And Airbnb is awful. It’s full of scammers, it’s often more expensive than hotels, and of course you pay a cleaning fee but still have to clean the place yourself.

Plus when you’re renting a specific unit rather than one of many, and the owner wants to turn that unit over without missing a night, it’s tough to do anything than 10 a.m. checkout and 4 p.m. check-in with enough time for cleaning in-between.

There are edge cases where Airbnb makea sense,

  • large groups traveling, a house is cheaper
  • location where hotel options are limited or nonexistent

I like just walking out of my hotel room and leaving. Someone else takes out the trash. But hotels are ‘trashing’ their unique selling proposition by eliminating daily housekeeping and other services.

The biggest reason I avoid Airbnb whenever i can is nonrefundable rates. The model sort of requires it – one person owns one property, and if a person cancels and they cannot resell the place they’re out of luck and income. But life situations happen, I do need to change travel plans, and hotels are much better for this.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Your statement, “Airbnb whenever i can is nonrefundable rates” is not completely correct.

    All properties that we have rented have 100% refund by a certain date AND 50% refund when your stay date gets closer. 0% refund is a week or so before the commencement of your stay. Many don’t require a full payment upon booking, 50% payment now and 50% half way between the booking and stay dates.

    We, and many other travelers, have set travel dates from the get go. So far so good as we have never lost any money on Airbnb bookings.

  2. I’ve been able to cancel airbnb – including last week when a flight was canceled. The cancellation policies vary by property. There sre good reasons to choose hotels, good reasons to choose airbnb.

  3. You might like to leave your hotel whenever you can, but an apartment or house becomes better than a hotel room, because it offers more space and typically comes with a kitchen, which can save money on expensive meals out. Having said that, despite having used Air BnB, I sm aware of the potential negative impacts of short term rentals on the local rental market.

  4. Mr. Gary Leff,

    You pose a question — why Uber is great and Airbnb is not — but you do not answer it. You simply describe Uber’s goodness and Airbnb’s badness. That’s what some would call a tease.

    In any case, I agree completely.

    Uber improved upon taxis. Reduced waits. Better cars. Seamless payment. Emailed receipts. Dispute process for circuitous routing. “Surge prices” are not fun to pay, but they do make cars available when they otherwise would not be. I have been in a situation where it was either pay a surge or stand outside in a freezing New England blizzard for an hour plus. You bet I tipped the driver handsomely, on top of that surged base fare.

    Airbnb made everything worse. Locals hate it because it brings transients and their nuisances into quiet communities. Travelers hate it because all the policies are more strict than hotels. I’ve had friends who stay in Airbnbs get rated low by their hosts because of trivial things like a stray hair left in the shower. Newsflash, it’s completely normal for a small amount of hair to fall out of your head when you’re taking a shower!! Can you imagine any hotel in the world criticizing a guest for that? Hosts can be arrogant and these types of hosts should go to Hell. They are not providing hospitality, they are greedy parasites who ruin their neighborhood and provide bad service to their paying customers. They should die and go to Hell.

    I hate Airbnb.

  5. When I travel AirBnb typically saves me around $50-$75 a day or more on food and around 1500 calories a day. Eating 4 meals a day at restaurants is expensive and fattening.

  6. This post is so subjective. There are reasons Uber sucks and Airbnb is so much better than hotels. This post is so biased. When @Yin Jing completely supports you, you know you missed the mark. I find your posts informative, some I don’t completely agree with 100%, and some thought provoking. This one misses it on all fronts for me.

  7. I agree that for a solo business traveler, Airbnb is rarely worthwhile. I always choose a hotel in that situation. For traveling with family or friends, however, Airbnb is amazing. Having a full kitchen is a game- (and cost-) changer (and healthier, as @Tim says).

    I do worry a great deal about Airbnb’s effect on local housing markets in tourist-heavy destinations—in so many places it is distorting (or at the very least, reshaping) the rental and even ownership markets. I’ve stayed several places recently via Airbnb where I am quite sure that I and others like me are contributing to local people being priced out of traditionally affordable neighborhoods. In some especially hot markets, like the exurbs of Gary’s hometown of Austin, the “Airbnb effect” is especially bad from what I hear.

    Meanwhile, Uber has declined precipitously in its value proposition over time. The fares have gone WAY up in the past year, and the quality of drivers and cars just keeps declining in most markets. To be sure, it is still frequently better than a cab, but this past weekend I took a cab from STL to downtown and paid $50 instead of Uber’s quoted $75 (with tip — definitely surge pricing, to be sure). The vehicle was a very, very tired minivan, but the cab driver could not have been more friendly — overall, it was no worse than the median UberX product would have been.

    In short, I continue to love Airbnb and I wince every time I have to call an Uber — and in both cases I suspect that I am trading some real short-term value for myself for long-term destruction of viable local economies and jobs.

  8. The first time I tried Airbnb, the owner, who lived in the unit, never showed up. Left me (a single woman) stranded for hours until midnight in a strange neighborhood. She had an excellent rating, responded to all my questions promptly, and was aware that I would be arriving early evening. She never contacted me and it took hours to get Airbnb to agree to agree that I would not stay there or be charged. They could not or would not offer any alternative lodging. I ended up checking into a very expensive hotel. I will NEVER trust Airbnb or use them again.

  9. And yet, Sapphire Preferred gives a 25% bonus for paying AirBnB charges, so over the last two years my wife and I have received in excess of $4000 AirBnB charges *free*, because of the 100,000 point offer, and then our spend.

    I have had some bad AirBnB stays: one in Queretaro, MX, a weird one in Ensenada MX, but those have been vastly outweighed by the sheer stupendous glory of a great AirBnB host, as is the host we have stayed with three times in Paris. Russian scammers tried the old “midnight before oh oopsy plumbing is out here are our other properties” scam in Romania, but AirBnB worked with us to get another great flat in Bucharest, in about 2 hours. We had a fantastic 2 story flat rented in central Rome, starting the last week of February 2020… yup got a full refund 7 days before the start of the stay. I am very enthusiastic cook out of local markets, as in I love going to the marche couverts, the mercados, little specialty markets, and then bringing back ingredients I can’t find for any price in the US and cooking a great meal. I can tell you that picnic with a fridge and a dining setup can be apex civilization in the great cities of the world. Cheaper, less stressful too.

    Our technique with AirBnB is to make sure we are spending in the upper partition of the median on the local prices. Read through the lines of the negative reviews. Use your travel savvy, google street view, etc. I have not understood the argument that AirBnBs are more expensive, usually. In Paris, or Mexico, for instance, they are dramatically cheaper for more space, functionality, location, etc. We just vacationed in LA this Spring and they *were* more expensive, but that might be a coastal thing; Sacramento has great choices centrally located for a very good price, and we had a great host there.

    I fully understand the complaints about AirBnBs being bad. I’ve got one right next to me that hasn’t been a problem but I sure could see it becoming one. But a generalization like “hotels always better than AirBnB”, nope. That makes no sense at all.

  10. It’s so refreshing to hear someone finally speak the truth about Airbnb! One other thing that rarely gets mentioned is that Airbnb reviews cannot be trusted. Just Google it. I left a negative review once and it got removed by Airbnb! TripAdvisor has never removed my reviews. Also people are reluctant to leave negative reviews to begin with on Airbnb because they are less comfortable to do that to a private individual who rents out the place. I had to file a charge back with My credit card to get my money back. What a complete waste of time it was dealing with Airbnb customer service. I hate Airbnb too. Even bonvoy is better.

  11. Airbnb is indeed terrible. An amateur property manager, a facility not at all built for regular turnover, likely angry neighbors about the guy who short term rents his place (if it’s not outright against local laws, which exposes you to potential eviction), not wanting to get naked or … have marital relations … for fear of ending up on Pornhub … truly what could go wrong?

  12. Uber still broken in SF. Last time I wanted a ride at SFO, the app quoted a price and then spent five minutes trying to connect me with a driver before giving up. Meanwhile, I discover the pickup area looks like a AA gate with delayed flight. I try again and now it wanted $125 (2.5x surge pricing). No thanks. I hopped in a cab, no wait

  13. @Ray

    This post is so subjective.

    Ray, are you familiar with the concept of a “blog”?

    There are reasons Uber sucks and Airbnb is so much better than hotels.

    Yes, Uber sucks in many areas, namely their toxic history (which you can see on the silver screen in Super Pumped). Airbnb, I will begrudgingly acquiesce, sometimes beats a hotel for some trips as long as you are aware of the stupid nonsense you agree you when you book a stay. Uber, on net, adds value to our traveling lives. Airbnb, on net, takes away. If Uber ceased operations tomorrow, ground transport would become a logistical nightmare for many people. If Airbnb ceased operations tomorrow, it would look not much different from Airbnb in operations today, as @Jana illustrated.

    When @Yin Jing completely supports you, you know you missed the mark.

    What’s that got to do with anything? You don’t criticize the person, you criticize their arguments. Otherwise, you commit a fallacy known as ad hominem.

    I find your posts informative, some I don’t completely agree with 100%, and some thought provoking. This one misses it on all fronts for me.

    You don’t need to regale us with your vacuous opinion of each post. If a post doesn’t do it for you, please just move on and stop clogging up the comments.

  14. Gary seems to be a few years behind. Uber is awful now – it is often quicker to haul a taxi and fares are now higher than taxis (sometimes 2-3x higher). Airbnb is awful too (zero customer service and zero responsibility for any problems or injuries) but benefiting from decline in hotel service.

    They still have their uses but I generally avoid them if I have a choice. Ironically competing platforms are better – much prefer Lyft or VRBO.

  15. Fair to say you’re a bit biased towards hotels since you can’t earn free nights on Airbnb from credit cards or income from referrals. I’ve had just as many mediocre / bad hotel experiences as I have in short term rentals but I’ve Never had a maid wake me up at 8am in my Airbnb and it happens almost Every time I stay in a hotel. The hotel industry needs to react to the disruption Airbnb has created and deliver a better experience.

  16. I’ve had very mixed experience with Airbnb. But I was doing a consulting gig where I was in and out of town for about three months. Found a nice apartment on Airbnb and was able to strike a good deal with the host — saved me at least 30% off hotel prices — plus I could cook in the apartment. However, for my usual travel for business or casual with my nuclear family (i.e. not extended), Airbnb is a pain.

  17. I do research a property when there are not many reviews but I have been very pleased with the 20+ rentals I have done thru the website, mainly in Central/South America. Whole houses with pools, views, and in some cases a cook. The one overlooking the volcanoes at Lake Atilan for sub $100 per night I will never forget.

  18. Well, we live in Airbnbs around the world full time. Funded, in part, by renting out an Airbnb in the US.

    Airbnbs are the BEST!

    Uber is pretty good too.

  19. I too have had mixed experiences with Airbnb. I have found Booking.com to be better, especially with no prepay and free cancellation up to the day before arrival. I have also found Airbnb properties on Booking.com for less money—no outrageous cleaning fee or service fee. Just my experience.

  20. This is pretty simplistic. Airbnb (or VRBO, or direct booking, or whatever) makes sense for certain kinds of trips – trips with large families where you are staying more than a few days, trips with big groups (bachelor / bachelorette parties, birthday parties, other social groups), trips where the hotel inventory isn’t where you want to be (ski town, beach resort, mountain, etc). Hotels are better for other trips (solo or couples travel, travel where the hotels are near where you want to be, trips where you want services like meeting rooms, pools, etc). Plenty of room for everything.

  21. Uber intends to be a replacement for all taxi trips, but with surge pricing can be substantially more expensive. Airbnb aims to be a replacement for certain use cases, and is increasingly relevant as hotels narrow the service gap. A solo business traveler is unlikely to be well-served by an airbnb rental, unless it’s an extended stay and per diems limited. Considering all the shenanigans over hotel breakfasts, and the ability to do some local grocery shopping and make your own breakfast (lunch/dinner) can be a real selling point of aribnb. That cleaning fee is meant to discourage very short-term rentals, that — as you point out — are difficult for a unit that is just not designed for quick turn-over. The bottom line is that these are options/competitors to consider, not replacements.

  22. @gary do you by chance have any contacts @airbnb? We had a week long stay over the 4th (ie in 2 days) and our host just canceled our reservation and we are getting zero help from Airbnb….

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