FlipKey vs Airbnb Review

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If you are over 50 or just signed up for the newfangled invention called the internet, go ahead and Google “Airbnb” and then come back…

For the rest of us, you’ve no doubt heard of the “Uber for your house”.  Airbnb has come to dominate the “vacation rental” market.  In just seven short years the tech start up boasts more than 1.5 million listings in 190 countries.  It is the undisputed king of the rental world.  I’m certainly no expert on saving money using Airbnb or listing my own place and making money off of Airbnb (the tourist market for small villages on the Canadian Prairies isn’t exactly thriving).  That being said, even I know what Airbnb is and why it is so widely used.  It seems like a pretty great idea by and large (with the usual small risk associated with staying anywhere while travelling).

The market dominance of Airbnb is so great, that to a neophyte like myself, I wasn’t even aware that there were any real competitors.  To me, the brand name was essentially synonymous with the concept of vacation rentals (much the same way the term “Google it” means to use a search engine).

Save Money By NOT Going All-Inclusive

That’s why it caught my attention a couple of months ago when my cousin saved money while coming to our destination wedding in Mexico using a service called FlipKey.  He hadn’t really researched it at the time and had no idea how it compared to AirBnb, he had just heard a good review from a co-worker and decided to try it out.  His three-room condo that he rented for the week in Mexico was beautiful.  It was right in the gated tourist community that was anchored by several large all-inclusive resorts, and had access to all the usual tourist stuff that one would expect in such an area.

FlipKey vs Airbnb ReviewRelated: Exotic doesn’t Always Mean Expensive

I personally still like the pampered luxury of a well-priced all-inclusive resort if you’re going the Mexico route.  On the other hand, being able to stay 3x or 4x as long for the same price has some allure as well.  I thought the condo was an insanely good value for what he paid.  He had access to a full kitchen if he wanted to cut costs that way, and beer really isn’t all that expensive if you don’t mind drinking the Mexican domestic stuff (my preferred taste anyway).

That being said, I wasn’t really sure if this was typical of the FlipKey experience, or how it compared to Airbnb, so I did a little research and asked some friends who are more worldly than myself.

Mainstream vs Vacation Niche

It appears that Airbnb is untouched as far as reach and variety.  FlipKey has far fewer listings and seems to be concentrated in traditional vacation markets.  If you’re looking to rent off the beaten path, or looking for really maximize every dollar, Airbnb is a better bet.

The two really interesting features that I think sets FlipKey apart is that because it is owned by Trip Advisor, the online reviews are pretty legit, and FlipKey actually guarantees that property owners are verified by FlipKey staff.  This is great for middle-class travel wannabes like myself who are more the “dip my big toe” into adventure type than the “grab the bull by the horns and sleep on people’s couches for nothing” type.  It seems geared toward folks that are making a cautious transition from hotel dependent travel style to a more economical and “authentic” experience.

Price and Availability

A couple reviews I found online reported that because of Airbnb’s notoriety, it is often the first, second, and third place that travellers look for accommodations when going somewhere.   While this is great for Airbnb, it’s not so great for everyone that is in town for a big event.  Airbnb and Uber have both been criticized for their free market principles that see prices spike when demand goes up all at once.  I don’t see a problem with it personally, but several people noted that secondary options such as FlipKey were able to get them reasonably-priced places to stay during these hot-ticket periods.

Related: Travel on the Cheap- Skip the Contiki, Gap Adventures, and Intrepid Travel

Obviously you can’t go wrong either way if you’re looking for budget-conscious travel, but I found it interesting that there was really any competition at all for Airbnb on the market.

I’m sure several of you have done more travelling than myself and have experience with both of these vacation rental providers.  What was your general impressions about pricing, availability, and ease of use?

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Kyle is a high school humanities teacher by day, and freelance personal finance author by night. He has been published in academic journals, and has also co-authored the book "More Money for Beer and Textbooks". In his free time Kyle likes to limp up and down a basketball court and pretend to be a tough guy in a boxing ring.


  1. Jeff on August 2, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Being a little older (yes, over 50), I had heard of Airbnb but never researched its offerings until this summer. While it is wildly successful, to me it’s the new kid on the block and I was wary, not sure why it had become so popular so quickly. I suspect that it may be because, like uber versus taxis, there may be fewer hoops for those renting out space to jump through, and because of the wide variety of types of rentals they offer.
    In terms of your article, though, you need to disabuse yourself of the notion that Airbnb and Flipkey are the only contestants in this arena. Flipkey states it has over 300,000 listings in 179 countries but VRBO and the rest of the Homeaway brands have one million listings in 190 countries. I first rented someone else’s condo through ownerdirect.com ten years ago and they’re still popular – they seem to specialize in ski hill rentals. Plus, there are many, many regional operations. The first time we went to Mexico we used one of these to rent a casa on the beach for a month. It did not go as smoothly as we would have liked but we had a modern Yucatan casa with dip pool on the beach for $1200 for four weeks. Tiny Isla Mujeres near Cancun has two local operations that offer condos and houses for rent.
    When we were looking for rentals in Puerto Vallarta recently I noticed that a number of units were listed on multiple sites but that some of the small regional operations do have listings that don’t show up on the big outfits like Airbnb. Jaltembabaylife.com features rentals available in the villages north of PV. I think there is such demand for some of these rentals that they don’t need to be on more than one site in order to book their accommodations.
    I haven’t researched the fee structures of these different sites but if the fees are only charged when there is a booking, and the listing is free, then it makes sense that property owners would use multiple sites, much like the rest of us would use craigslist, usedeverywhere.com and kijiji to reach as many people as possible if we were selling our car.
    While Airbnb has an individual ethos there are also vacation property managers like Victoria Prime in Victoria, BC that handle a stable of homes and condos for absentee owners. Some folks looking for a place in Victoria might prefer to deal with professionals like these, rather than individual owners.

  2. Jaymee on August 2, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    I love that “dip your big toe” versus “grab the bull by the horns” kind of travel. That is so like me!! Good to know that Flipkey might have something for me next time I travel. 🙂

  3. Master Nerd on August 3, 2015 at 12:49 am

    I just had my second Airbnb experience and will be having my third in a few weeks. The first was a few years ago in London. It was basically the spare room in a couple’s flat and it was great! Walking distance to the London Eye/Tube and way cheaper than any hotel. The couple was very friendly, and we never felt like we were in each others way.

    My most recent experience was in the small tourist town of Port Townsend Washington. It was an older large home, and the owner was renting out 3 rooms in the house. Judging by the number of reviews, it she’s been renting out her place for a couple years now. The price wasn’t a lot cheaper than other options, but it was quite a bit nicer. Other hotels in the area were quite rundown or far away, so this way we got to stay in town in a charming home. The host was nice too.

    My next Airbnb will be in Philadelphia while I’m attending an (education) conference. The cheapest hotel in the area was $150/night USD, while I got the Airbnb for $$50 CAD, so it was a steal. It doesn’t look like it will be anything fancy, but considering the location and price I’m sure it will be alright.

    I like that Airbnb lets both the guests and hosts rate each other, so that makes it a lot easier to make an informed decision about the property. Guests are quick to point out any issues in their reviews. Haven’t looked at flip key yet though. I’ll have to check it out.

  4. Kyle on August 4, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experiences MN. Always good to get firsthand accounts.

  5. Kyle on August 4, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    Let me know how it goes Jaymee!

  6. May on August 5, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    I used AirBnB and VRBO when my sisters & I toured the east coast of Australia in 2012. It was wonderful. We got lovely places to stay (nicer than my home) for a fraction of the price of hotels, and they were often entire homes or condos. We wanted the self-catering option as we all have dietary restrictions and were avoiding eating out whenever possible.

    The trick is to pay attention to the host reviews, though a new host may be wonderful even though they don’t have any reviews.

  7. Kyle on August 5, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    Did you ever bite the bullet and be the first one to try a new host May? My thoughts are that it might work out really well because they would be eager to make a good first impression on the site.

  8. Kyle on August 5, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    Great insights Fred, thanks for info. I only wrote about Flipkey and AirBnB because that is what I had personally heard stories about. I did come across the others in doing a little reading, but wasn’t as familiar. Glad you’ve had such positive experiences overall. Maybe it’s time for me to take the leap?!

  9. Manuel on October 27, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Kyle,
    Thank you so much for your comments. We (a couple in their 70’s) had very good experiences with AirBnB, even recommending it to our accountant who was raving about it.

    We are planning a trip to Costa Rica and, naturally, booked with AirBnB. We just found a better suited rental on FlipKey and now have to decide if we cancel the AirBnB booking. The owner has a “moderate” cancellation policy, so we hope to get away with just paying the ~$60 fee. Even with that, the FlipKey rent would be lower. Do you have any experience – first or second hand – with cancelling AirBnB?

    Thank you so much!

  10. Kyle on October 30, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Hey Manuel. I don’t have any direct experience like that. I have heard indirectly both positive and negative experiences with cancelling. One thing I’d look into would be if you paid with a credit card perhaps that has built in cancellation protection? I know mine does!

  11. Reeny on November 20, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    I have a rental condo and I prefer to rent through Airbnb. I have a listing on VRBO. As a host, I must say it makes a difference when we can rate guests. I usually don’t say much, but on those occasions when something has gone wrong, I’ve been able to warn other hosts about a problem. I have had less positive experiences with VRBO. The one cleaning disaster I had was with VRBO guests who almost totally re-arranged furniture and didn’t put any of it back. I also suspected that they had smuggled in extra guests since all my storage in the unit was awry too. I’ve also had the experience that VRBO guests want to haggle the price down, or book an entire year in advance. When I don’t haggle or book so far ahead, some of them have made rude comments like “Well, I guess you want a premium for the summer months.” It’s disheartening and so I’ve tended to take their booking requests a lot less seriously. There’s also the problem that some users of Airbnb have gotten somewhat dicey reputations and so have switched over to the other sites. I know that while using VRBO, I had some trouble with payment options, so sent some clients over to my Airbnb site (which I can’t do anymore because they’ve blocked links). A couple just didn’t book, and I’ve since wondered if it was because they were persona non grata on the site. I think the dual booking system is the best and I really work much harder at attracting guests through Airbnb. It’s the site that gives me the most control.

  12. Kyle on November 25, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Thank you very much for the input Reeny. Always great to get a firsthand account like this. Overall you find the “sharing economy” experience has generally been pretty positive though?

  13. Hildie on November 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you, Reeny! That was very helpful. We are just occasional vacation renters – so far AirBnB several times, with superb hosts – and are trying FlipKey in Costa Rica in Jan. 2016.
    Thanks again, keep ‘m coming!

  14. Kyle on November 27, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Hildie, make sure you let us know how FlipKey compared hey?

  15. Hildie on November 27, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks, Kyle! T come back to an earlier comment by Manuel: We actually cancelled AirBnB and immediately got the prepaid amount credited back to the credit card, minus the $60 cancellation fee. The host was very gracious about it, too. I guess it helped that the booking was still four months out… So, a plus for AirBnB. We’ll see how FlipKey turns out, we’ll let you know in Feb. 2016!

  16. Kyle on November 29, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Great! This is tempting me to plan my own trip… purely for “scientific analysis” for my readers to benefit from of course!

  17. Jenna on February 16, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    I have experience with Airbnb and loved it! (I canceled once, it was went smoothly.) However I wasn’t able to find a place for my next trip on Airbnb, so I looked elsewhere, and found one on Flipkey.

    It’s nice! But it has no reviews and I’m a little nervous.

    I’ve continued to look on Airbnb and something new has become available that’s very nice. A little further away from the beach than the Flipkey one, and a little more expensive, though also the decorations are nicer/ more to my taste. All things being equal, the Flipkey one is better. But that’s what I’m trying to figure out — are all things equal, here?

    I have put down a deposit on the Flipkey one which I would lose if I cancel in favor of the Airbnb one, but it’s not a prohibitive amount of money. The deposit + the cost of the Airbnb house are within my budget for this trip.

    This discussion has made me feel a little better about Flipkey, but any other thoughts would be most welcome!


  18. Kyle on February 16, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Let us know what you decide and how it turns out Jenna!

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