What is Vrbo and How Does it Work? - NerdWallet (2023)

Whether you’re going on vacation, looking for medium-term apartment rental while you work and travel, or just simply prefer to stay in unique accommodations rather than hotels, you have options besides Airbnb. One of those choices is Vrbo, an online marketplace that connects homeowners who are renting out their place with people looking for vacation rentals.

If you're considering renting a vacation rental on Vrbo, here's what should know before you book.

What is Vrbo?

Vrbo is short for Vacation Rentals by Owner, and it's a website that does exactly what it sounds like. Vrbo is an online vacation rental site where property owners can list their homes for rent, travelers can book them and Vrbo handles the transaction.

Vrbo properties range from massive cabins in the mountains ideal for a group ski trip to more conventional homes in the suburbs to unique dwellings, like Costa Rica's "Cockpit Cabana," where you actually sleep inside of an airplane.

What is Vrbo and How Does it Work? - NerdWallet (1)

Vrbo launched in 1995 as an online vacation rental marketplace and was acquired by HomeAway in 2006. After travel giant Expedia Group acquired HomeAway in 2015, Vrbo fell under the Expedia umbrella. Then in 2020, the two brands — HomeAway and Vrbo — merged into a single Vrbo website.

Staying overnight in a vacation rental like a Vrbo can sometimes be cheaper than hotels (especially when traveling in groups), as you can often find multiroom properties that fit multiple people. In addition, the rentals commonly include amenities like washing machines and kitchens, allowing you to pack less and cook more. Sometimes Vrbo provides the best and only lodging available, especially if you're traveling to remote areas not served by hotels.

But renting on Vrbo isn't always as easy as booking a hotel. Unless the property is listed as "Instant Book," you'll have to submit a request to the owner to book it, adding one more bump in your trip planning. In addition, some properties have minimum stay requirements, and maximum stays sometimes pop up.

Throw in the fact that you're staying in a nonstandard property, and you should expect inconsistencies that you likely won't find when staying at hotels, whether it's the types of available amenities, the check-in process, or the condition of your rental.

If you're ready to rent on Vrbo, here's what you need to know to improve the odds of it being a smart money move.

How does Vrbo work?

A key differentiator between Vrbo and other vacation rental platforms is that Vrbo only allows you to rent entire, private homes. Contrast that with competitors like Airbnb that allow shared spaces, and Vrbo rentals mean you'll never stay on a property while the owner (or other guests, for that matter) are also living there.

The available listings vary in quality and amenities, cancellation policies, and the number of guests allowed.

Vrbo's platform has about 2 million hosts worldwide (almost half of the 4 million hosts that Airbnb claims).

How to rent on Vrbo

Set up an account on Vrbo

To get started on Vrbo, you'll need to create an online account, which entails simply entering a name and email address. From there, you're offered several optional pieces of information to hand over, including a short bio about yourself and your photo.

There's also the option to verify your identity. If you choose to, Vrbo asks you to provide your physical address and birth date. Vrbo then attempts to verify that info and — if successful — will flag your account as a verified guest.

Filling out those optional boxes is typically a wise move, as most rentals require you to request a reservation (and the host can choose to accept or reject your request). A verified account increases the odds that your booking request will be accepted.

By the way, hosts won't see all the identity information you provided. Instead, they'll only know that you're a verified guest — as well as receive some basic contact information, like your email and phone, so that they can get in touch with you about your trip.

Finding your rental

To find a Vrbo rental, use Vrbo's array of filters to narrow a search on the website after inputting your preferred dates, destination and the number of guests. Filters include the more standard options you'd expect, like the number of bedrooms, availability and price.

What is Vrbo and How Does it Work? - NerdWallet (2)

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Vrbo also has robust filters that drill down on the minutiae of your dream vacation rental. You can filter by property type and it's not just limited to a house or apartment. Zany home types are included, such as castles, lodges and yachts. You can also sort by nearby activities (with options including skiing, fishing, theme parks and breweries) and whittle it down by property features such as pools, cribs or outdoor grills.

When you select a listing, you'll be able to see an assortment of photos, a detailed description of the property and reviews from past guests.

🤓Nerdy Tip

During your Vrbo selection process, base your decision on the property description and not just the photos, as photos might not capture the whole experience.

It's also wise to read recent reviews, as a beautifully crafted description accompanied by aesthetically pleasing photos doesn't necessarily translate to having a great experience. Likewise, a poorly photographed home could still be great. After all, you'd probably prefer that your host is an expert in hospitality, not photography.

Also, understand cancellation policies, as they can vary by property. For example, the strictest cancellation policies are completely nonrefundable, while more flexible policies offer a 100% refund if you cancel at least 14 days before check-in.

If you have a question about a property, you can message the host directly from the property page. Once logged in, select the "Contact Host" link located on the right side of the listing details page, and fill out the form with your message. You can expect a response from the owner within one or two days. If you don't hear back, consider booking a different rental.

Vrbo Premier Hosts

You might also opt to filter your search results by Premier Hosts, who have a special badge displayed on their property listing pages to designate their status. Premier Hosts are reviewed quarterly by Vrbo and selected based on factors including low cancellation rates, high review scores and the number of bookings.

Booking and paying for your Vrbo

Once you've settled on the place you want to rent, you need to determine how to book it next. The steps generally fall into two categories: 24-Hour Confirmation or Instant Book.

  • 24-Hour Confirmation: Submit a request to book, and the host has 24 hours to accept or decline.

  • Instant Book: Your booking can be confirmed without waiting for the host to accept.

For both options, you'll have to enter your arrival and departure dates, the number of adults and children in your group, and whether any pets are coming. You can also include optional rental notes for the host.

What is Vrbo and How Does it Work? - NerdWallet (3)

On top of the booking rate, most properties also include additional fees such as cleaning, which the host sets. In addition, Vrbo also tacks on its service fee.

Some hosts also require that you leave a card on file, put down a refundable damage deposit or purchase property damage protection to cover any damages you may cause.

Vrbo always handles the transaction, and it accepts Visa, Mastercard or American Express.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Don't consent if the host messages you to pay separately. Hosts who request cash, check or money transfers could be scamming you.

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The timeline for making payments can vary. Some properties require you to pay upfront in full, while others let you break it up into two or three smaller payments.

Even if your host requires full payment upfront, there's a way you can pay in installments because of Vrbo's partnership with Affirm, a point-of-sale loan company. Affirm allows you to book your vacation rental and pay it off over time, even past the dates of your stay. However, Affirm is only available to qualified customers and only on specific properties in the United States.

Checking in

The check-in process varies by Vrbo rental, but you can typically expect to access your property either through a lockbox with a key inside or through a door that opens by a code.

Three days ahead of your stay, Vrbo will send you an email with check-in information provided by the host, including how to access codes or keys to enter, the property address, cancellation policy and additional host contact information.

If you have a question ahead of or upon arrival, reach out to the host, as they (or one of their property managers) are likely to be nearby and can help you.

Checking out

The checkout and locking up process varies across Vrbos, much like checking in. Don't be surprised if your host has specific cleanup instructions or other requests; however, many will ask that you leave the house as is.

Most likely, your host will share details about your checkout process either before or upon arrival.

Is Vrbo safe?

In theory, yes. Vrbo is a legitimate vacation rental service with safety precautions in place to mitigate risks. But ultimately, this is a business where strangers enter your home — and you enter a stranger's home — so issues can arise.

Safety measures between guests and hosts

Vrbo does not conduct background checks on guests. In contrast, competitor Airbnb does conduct background checks. Instead, Vrbo offers badges for people who may be more trustworthy.

As a guest, you can get a "Verified Identity" badge added to your account, earned by providing your address, birth date and other personal information, which Vrbo verifies. Hosts will more likely accept your request if you have one of those badges.

Meanwhile, hosts can receive a "Premier Host" designation. Although that won't necessarily dive into their criminal record, the Premier Hosts title is doled out by Vrbo (and reviewed quarterly) to hosts who have exemplified positive attributes, including low cancellation rates, high review scores and the number of bookings.

What is Vrbo and How Does it Work? - NerdWallet (4)

Safety measures for money

Your payments are protected against fraud as long as you pay through Vrbo. That way, if your money ends up in the hands of someone other than the host, Vrbo will refund you. Don't agree to make a deal for cash outside the app.

Safety measures for natural disasters or travel advisories

If a natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado has impacted a trip you're currently on — or your destination has suddenly undergone a travel advisory — you can contact Vrbo through the contact button on its natural disaster page. If you haven't left yet, Vrbo recommends contacting the host first to discuss the next steps. Then, if there are still issues, contact Vrbo.

Vrbo's stance on surveillance devices

Vrbo allows surveillance devices in some capacity. In general, surveillance devices are never allowed inside homes, aside from smart devices (like Amazon Alexa) or baby monitors. But even in those instances, owners are required to disclose their locations to guests and give guests the option to deactivate them.

Outside the home, surveillance device usage can be more liberal. For example, security cameras and smart doorbells can be used for security reasons as long as their location and coverage are disclosed to guests. However, from there, rules around outdoor surveillance devices are relatively vague.

They include:

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  • Areas where guests have a reasonable expectation of privacy (say, an outdoor shower), should not be under surveillance.

  • Reasonable measures should be taken to limit access to surveillance data.

  • Surveillance data should be deleted when no longer needed.

Vrbo is generally considered safe, but that doesn't mean risks are off the table. Safety issues can happen at any form of lodging. But since Vrbo doesn't scout out individual properties, some additional risks might not be as common at a standard hotel.

How to cancel a Vrbo reservation

To cancel your Vrbo reservation, sign in to your account and go to the "My Trips" tab, then select "Change or cancel trip." From there, you'll be able to review your property's cancellation policy. If you are automatically eligible to cancel for a full refund, then you'll be able to select the "Cancel booking" button. Otherwise, select the "Request cancellation" button, submitting your request to the host to process.

Cancellation policies vary by property and host, but they'll be spelled out on the listings page so you can see them before you book and pay. For example, the most flexible Vrbo cancellation policies let you cancel up to 14 days before check-in for a full refund. Meanwhile, other listings are entirely nonrefundable.

What to do if you have issues with a Vrbo reservation

If it turns out that your rental has serious issues (or if the host is entirely unresponsive), turn to what Vrbo calls its "Book with Confidence Guarantee." For no additional cost to you, Vrbo promises to help you if the owner unexpectedly cancels your reservation up to 30 days from your stay, if the property was materially misrepresented in the listing, or if it has serious health or safety issues.

If you need help, click the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of Vrbo's "Book with Confidence Guarantee" page.

How to save money on Vrbo

Vrbo prices are set by hosts — not Vrbo itself — so most tricks for saving money on hotels won't necessarily apply. Still, here are five ways to save money on Vrbo rentals:

What is Vrbo and How Does it Work? - NerdWallet (5)

1. Book a longer stay

Some Vrbo hosts offer discounts if you stay for longer chunks of time. Hosts can opt to provide weekly or monthly discounts at a rate determined by them. If the property you want to rent offers a discount and your stay is long enough to satisfy the requirements, the discount is automatically applied at checkout.

Sure, a more extended stay will typically net out to be more expensive than a shorter stay, but if you can condense what would otherwise be multiple trips into one longer trip, you'll save money. Plus, that enables you to save beyond just the Vrbo, but other trip costs, like airfare.

2. Redeem credit card travel statement credits for Vrbo stays

A few credit cards offer travel statement credits covering various travel expenses and typically include Vrbo rentals, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

3. Earn points by paying with a travel rewards credit card

Sure, this tip won't save you money upfront, but it'll earn you travel rewards to cover future trips: Pay for your Vrbo with a travel rewards credit card.

If you've got a travel credit card that offers bonus points on travel spending, then Vrbos typically fall under the travel umbrella and qualify you for an elevated earn rate. Read your own credit card's terms, as some issuers define travel differently, or might only give you bonus points for travel booked directly through their travel portals (in which case a Vrbo wouldn't qualify).

Premium travel credit cards can be particularly rewarding towards your travel spending, with some offering returns of around three to five cents per dollar spent back in rewards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® earns 3 points per $1 on all travel, and Vrbo falls into that category. If high annual fees aren't your jam, there are plenty of travel credit cards with no annual fee to pick from.

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4. Earn United miles by connecting your accounts

Your Vrbo stays are an easy way to rack up United Airlines MileagePlus miles, which you can accumulate and redeem for free flights. You'll need to book through United's dedicated Vrbo webpage to qualify to earn points, and you'll also have to enter your MileagePlus membership number in the correct field.

When you do, you'll earn 3 MileagePlus award miles per $1 spent on the cost of the vacation rental after the completed stay, excluding taxes and fees.

So if you book a $1,000 stay, you will earn 3,000 miles. Since NerdWallet values United miles at 1.2 cents each, those 3,000 miles are worth $36. Although it's not a significant amount, connecting your accounts can be an easy way to accumulate some extra United miles with minimal effort.

5. Travel when no one wants to

Vrbo hosts can set different prices for different days — and they'll likely charge higher prices in line with demand. So, for example, a cabin near the ski lift base will probably cost more in winter, while the beachfront cottage will likely cost more in summer.

If you don't mind going to the beach on a cold winter day or riding the ski lift with no snow on the ground, then you might be rewarded financially. You can sometimes get the destination's best seasonal offerings coupled with lower prices by traveling during shoulder season.

Is Vrbo better than Airbnb?

The two vacation rental companies have a few key differences. Airbnb offers standalone homes, shared spaces and hotel rooms, while Vrbo only offers standalone accommodations.

Though Airbnb has more properties, Vrbo has more robust search capabilities. When we compared the cost of vacation rentals between Airbnb and Vrbo, we found that bookings were priced similarly.

Want to know more about how these two companies stack up against each other? Check out our comparison guide here: Airbnb vs. Vrbo: which is better for travelers?

Vrbo vacation rentals, recapped

If you’re looking to rent a vacation home for your upcoming trip, Vrbo offers plenty of properties around the world to choose from. Once you make an account, you’ll be able to search for properties and book them through the platform.

Since Vrbo properties are people’s homes, the cancellation policies as well as the check-in/checkout process will differ from place to place so keep that in mind as you plan for your trip.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

  • Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

  • Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

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  • Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

FAQs

Why do people use VRBO instead of Airbnb? ›

Aesthetics aside, however, Vrbo offers far better filter and sort functionality than Airbnb. For example, Vrbo lets you filter by user reviews, including properties rated highly for cleanliness and properties rated 4 stars and above. Vrbo's filters are also more intuitive.

How is VRBO different from Airbnb? ›

Airbnb and Vrbo rental types

The greatest distinction that can be made between Vrbo and Airbnb is the types of property each vacation rental company offers. Vrbo only allows the rental of private units — meaning Vrbo houses, cabins and apartments are only occupied by the renters.

Which is safer Airbnb or VRBO? ›

Slight difference: VRBO has a very specific Book with Confidence Guarantee and Trust & Safety page, while Airbnb simply has a Trust & Safety page. In addition, VRBO charges a refundable security deposit to your credit card at the time of booking.

Is VRBO safe to rent from? ›

Yes, Vrbo is a legitimate online vacation rental site. As with any similar site, pay attention to amenities, reviews and cancellation policies.

Do vrbo have hidden cameras? ›

VRBO allows for cameras and other surveillance devices only outside a property. The one exception: Smart devices that cannot be activated remotely. Guests must be informed and given the option to deactivate them.

Which has cheaper fees VRBO or Airbnb? ›

Why is Airbnb more expensive than Vrbo? Airbnb charges guest service fees typically under 14.2%, but when searching for properties, we found consistent service fees of 16%. There are no guest service fees for experiences. Booking with Vrbo, guests are charged a 6% to 15% service fee of the subtotal (minus taxes).

Does Vrbo screen their guests? ›

Vrbo isn't very strict in terms of enforcing ID verification checks for its guests. They don't complete background checks outside the personal information a guest provides. A host can request a government ID to stay at their vacation rental site but this is completely optional.

What fees does Vrbo charge? ›

A 5% commission fee is charged on the rental amount and any additional fees you charge the traveler (such as cleaning, pet, and boat fees). Bookings that originate from our expanded distribution partners may have higher fees.

Is Vrbo cheaper than a hotel? ›

Hotels are probably a little bit cheaper overall, especially if you can find a budget reservation. But when it comes to renting a larger house for more than a few people, or getting a great deal on a prime location, VRBO is best.

Is it worth it to do Vrbo? ›

If you're only looking to rent out a room in your home, VRBO isn't the place for you. Give Airbnb a try instead. Homeowners who offer short-term rentals through VRBO earn an average of $33,000 per year. Of course, those earnings aren't guaranteed.

What is the advantage of booking through Vrbo? ›

VRBO offers guests the ability to filter search rentals based on their preferences. For example, if a guest is searching for a property with specific features or number of bedrooms, they can filter the results to show these properties only.

Does Vrbo clean the house? ›

In addition to cleaning and sanitizing, we also provide laundry service and will promptly return your clean linens back to your property. Our Airbnb and VRBO vacation rental cleaning service is all-inclusive. We will leave your rental in immaculate condition, ensuring a five-star review from your next visitor!

Can a Vrbo owner kick you out? ›

If a house party event becomes a nuisance, and an owner or property manager allowed the event, we'll evaluate and take appropriate action, which may include removal from the website. This is regardless of whether the specific event was booked through our platform.

Does Vrbo provide toilet paper? ›

VRBO is NOT a hotel.

So either pack the essentials or be prepared to buy them: toilet paper, laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, soap, paper towels, trash bags… Your rental may come with a small sampling of these things to get you started, but once that runs out you will need to replenish your supply.

How do you know if a camera is watching you? ›

Log in to your security camera software

Thus you can check if your security camera is on or working. For example, you can turn on your monitor to see whether your IP security camera is recording videotape. If the footage is showing up correctly, the IP security camera is on.

Why is Vrbo service fee so high? ›

The service fee is a percentage of the total amount of the reservation, excluding taxes and refundable fees paid by the guest. This fee helps cover the cost of secure transactions, product development, and 24/7 customer service.

Does Vrbo charge full amount when booking? ›

The guest's first payment includes any percentage you've set, plus any applicable taxes and fees for the entire reservation. Note: If a booking request comes in after your last payment request is normally due, the full amount is required at the time of booking.

Does Vrbo charge a monthly fee? ›

If Vrbo feels like a good fit, there are two base cost options. You can opt to pay a 5% service fee on every confirmed booking, or you can choose an annual subscription of $499.

Do you tip the cleaning people at Vrbo? ›

If the place is rented out 2 or 3 days at a time she'd get 5 or 6 paydays in that time period. There is no daily service. The cleaning fee is to ready the unit for the next guests. Unless you leave a particularly big mess, no tip!

What happens if host doesn't respond Vrbo? ›

If they don't respond, we'll automatically decline the request for you. If you haven't received a host response, try verifying that: You received an inquiry confirmation email from us. This email confirms that your inquiry was delivered to the host.

Do you have to clean Vrbo before leaving? ›

Rental owners employ cleaners to come in as soon as you move out and they should take care of most everything. They may ask you to take out the grabage or start a load of dishes. Check before you rent, if they want you to vacuum don't rent from them.

How much do you have to pay upfront on Vrbo? ›

In most circumstances the rental agreement will require a deposit of 10% - 50% to confirm the reservation, with full payment received 8 weeks prior to arrival. It is important that all payments be submitted as specified in the rental agreement in order to avoid losing your reservation and/or your booking deposit.

Does Vrbo charge the owner? ›

Vrbo fees to owners are typically 8% per booking. This is made up of a 5% Vrbo manager fee and a 3% Vrbo payment processing fee.

Is Airbnb or Vrbo more popular? ›

Airbnb has more listings.

More listings equals a better variety of places to stay, although Airbnb has more users — 150 million compared to Vrbo's 48 million — so there is more competition for available listings.

What is the difference between HomeAway and Vrbo? ›

What's the difference between Vrbo and HomeAway? Both are online travel agencies and have the same functionalities, there is a difference when it comes to users. Vrbo tends to be used more by homeowners in the US, Mexico and Canada, whilst HomeAway has more active users in Europe, India and Australia.

Are Airbnb and Vrbo the same company? ›

Airbnb was founded in 2008 and, as of December 2021, they boast 6 million active listings in more than 220 countries. Vrbo (originally known as Vacation Rental by Owner) was founded in 1995 and now is owned by the Expedia Group.

What is Vrbo and how does it work? ›

VRBO stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner. It's a website where you can book a stay at a property that the owner or manager is not personally using at the moment, and has instead made available for rent. If you have a property like that, then you can also use VRBO to advertise it and let other VRBO users rent it.

What is more popular Vrbo or Airbnb? ›

Airbnb has more listings.

More listings equals a better variety of places to stay, although Airbnb has more users — 150 million compared to Vrbo's 48 million — so there is more competition for available listings.

What is the benefit of using Vrbo? ›

VRBO offers guests the ability to filter search rentals based on their preferences. For example, if a guest is searching for a property with specific features or number of bedrooms, they can filter the results to show these properties only.

Why do people use Vrbo? ›

VRBO is a website that allows people to find vacation rental properties all over the world. People use VRBO for a variety of reasons, including finding a place to stay for their vacation, finding a place to stay for an event, or finding a place to stay for a temporary job assignment.

Who gets more traffic Airbnb or Vrbo? ›

Airbnb has more listings, including unique stays, and monthly users, but Vrbo has lower fees and is a part of the Expedia group which can get your listing seen by a wider audience. In the end, whether Airbnb or Vrbo reigns supreme is completely up to you and your business goals.

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