Do Airbnb, Uber & Lyft save you money?
The sharing economy offers two major opportunities for travelers to depart from the conventional: Airbnb rather than hotels for accommodations, and Uber or Lyft in place of taxis for local transportation.
A few recent studies have looked at comparative costs in various major cities around the world, and the overall answer to the “which is best” question remains as you might expect: It depends on where you are and how you prefer to travel.
Airbnb or hotel?
The most recent study, from FitSmallBusiness, compares accommodation costs for the 15 most visited cities in the U.S. The final rankings are based on a mixture of price and other factors relevant to small business travelers and vacationers.
— The seven cities where hotels outscore Airbnb, in decreasing order of hotel advantage, are New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, San Diego and San Francisco.
— The seven cities where Airbnb outscores hotels, in decreasing order of Airbnb advantage, are Anaheim, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Austin, St. Louis and Miami Beach.
— Airbnb and hotels tie in Orlando.
Another new study from UK-based Compare the Market covers 52 major cities worldwide. And the results do not fully agree with the FitSmallBusiness data:
— Hotels beat Airbnb by $189 per night in Santa Cruz, California, and by more than $50 a night in Mallorca, Venice and San Diego. Hotels beat Airbnb by smaller amounts in Austin, San Jose, California, and Naples, Italy.
— Airbnb beats hotels by more than $100 a night in Providence, Geneva, Washington, Paris, New York, Honolulu, Florence, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Airbnb was cheaper than hotels by $44 to $88 per night in Toronto, Athens, Seattle, Lyon, Portland, London, Milan, Rome, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Las Vegas Edinburgh, and Vancouver.
The website beat hotels by $15 to $43 in Madrid, Prague, Valencia, Antwerp, Barcelona, Nashville, New Orleans, Brussels, Bordeaux, Malaga, Sydney, Vienna and Lisbon.
— Costs virtually tie in Manchester (UK), Berlin, Bologna, Boston, Dublin and Oakland, California. (Cost comparisons are based on average Airbnb rates provided by AirDNA and average prices for three-star hotels derived from Kayak.)
Which study is more reliable?
I tend to favor the less-comprehensive results from FitSmallBusiness, primarily because I don’t trust the hotel rates the Compare The Market folks found for some cities.
Average nightly three-star hotel rates of $339 in Providence, $256 in Las Vegas, $304 in Honolulu and $266 in Nashville seem over the top. I’ve stayed in several of those cities in three-star or better hotels for a lot less.
Overall, my take is that Airbnb can offer accommodation at a lower cost than traditional hotels in much of the world. But that advantage may be shrinking as more cities limit the ability of local homeowners to convert their properties to Airbnb use.
You already see that in New York and San Francisco, where local authorities are clamping down on residential conversions.
There’s more to consider than dollar comparisons, however. In many cases the Airbnb experience, especially at the low end of the price scale, typically requires giving up on many hotel features and services. [Ed. Note: For example, many Airbnb hosts charge a cleaning fee, whereas hotels provide free daily turndown service. And hotels often have gyms and pools among their amenities. On the other hand, many Airbnb sites include use of full kitchens.] For most travelers, the choice is dictated more on the experience than the price.
Taxis vs. Uber
On the transportation side, two current reports compare taxi and Uber costs:
— Lifewire concludes that Uber is typically cheaper than taxi for long trips, where drivers can go the speed limit. Taxis are better for short trips in traffic.
— RideGuru found that of 20 large U.S. cities, Uber beat taxis in all but New York, at least when surge pricing was not in effect. Taxis are close only in Washington, D.C.
My take is that, for now, Uber — along with Lyft and other such ride-share services — seem to have the advantage over taxis in many parts of the world.
But that, too, could change: Surge pricing can make a big difference. For the long haul, Uber is losing money. And Uber drivers claim they’re underpaid, so its price advantage may not last long.
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