Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals: Which Is Better for Families?

Image of ocean, beach, and resort in Tulum, Mexico
Spencer Watson on Unsplash

When you’re planning a vacation with a big enough family or group that a single hotel room would be a tight fit, it’s time to start thinking about whether or not you should book multiple hotel rooms or opt for a vacation rental. Hotels tend to provide a higher caliber of service: daily housekeeping, room service, a concierge, and front desk help only a phone call away. But compared with hotel rooms, vacation houses, cabin rentals, and weekly rentals provide three big advantages for larger groups like families:

  • More space, more facilities, and more flexibility than a conventional hotel.
  • More privacy than a B&B or shared (room in a house) Airbnb.
  • Lower cost for comparable facilities than other options of equal grade or quality.

Space: Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals

Many newer hotels now furnish rooms with a near-standard two-queen-bed layout, which can accommodate four people—typically a parent couple and two children. But that’s pretty concentrated living, which might be fine for a night on the road but is far from ideal as a destination stay, since multiple generations don’t always coexist well in cramped accommodations. Small kids can be a constant burden to adults at close quarters, and seniors often need a lot more privacy. Hotels, especially hotels and resorts that cater to extended families, also often have the option of adjoining rooms with interior connecting doors, but it means paying for two or more rooms.

Related: 10 Bucket List Family Vacation Ideas

By contrast, a vacation rental at similar cost offers separate areas—maybe even two or more separate bedrooms—where the generations can share common living and dining areas but retreat to their own turf for sleeping and downtime.

With a large extended-family group, a conventional hotel can’t offer much besides connecting rooms or suites. Vacation homes, on the other hand, can be about as big as you’d ever consider, ranging up to mansions with a dozen or so bedrooms.

Associated Costs: Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals

Another big financial advantage to vacation rentals is that they typically include full-size, working kitchens where you can prepare as many meals as you want at far below restaurant costs. That’s especially important at breakfast, where restaurant prices tend to be much higher than food costs. And you can provide those many snacks a family consumes at supermarket rather than restaurant prices. 

The price and facility spread among vacation rentals is as great as with hotels. Just as hotel options range from budget motels to luxury resorts, so a vacation rental can range from a one-room cottage to a palace. Each family can decide where it wants to be on the price-grade spectrum.

Related: 5 Best Hawaii All-Inclusives

Vacation Rentals: How to Book

Given the obvious advantages of vacation rentals for families, the next issue is how to locate and arrange them. The overall answer is that there’s no one single “best” family site. Instead, what’s best for you depends on what you’re looking for in a rental. Although you can find hundreds of potential places to arrange a vacation rental, they fall into two general groups: managed vacation home rental agencies and booking platforms. Managed rental agencies generally offer better protection against cancellation plus more service, but often focus on pricier rentals. Booking platforms like VRBOFlipKey, and AirBnB offer options at a variety of price points, but since they’re pass-throughs, they don’t always have great support should there be a problem.

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Ed Perkins
Ed Perkins is a longtime consumer advocate and reporter. He spent 25 years in travel research and consulting and was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter. He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004). He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union. Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America,” "The CBS Evening News," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

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