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

Vacation homes have three big advantages over hotel rooms.
Vacation rentals are often large enough for big groups (Photo: @keithbetti via Twenty20)
Vacation rentals are often large enough for big groups (Photo: @keithbetti via Twenty20)
  • Here are the three reasons you may want to consider a vacation rental vs. a hotel for group and family vacations.
  • I’m also including some advice about where to start a vacation rental search.

For a lot of people, hotels are the default choice for vacations. But when you’re thinking about traveling with a family or group for which 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 instead.

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There’s definitely some pros and cons to each. Staying at a hotel 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:

  • Vacation rentals tend to offer more space, more facilities, and more flexibility than a conventional hotel.
  • Vacation rentals have more privacy than a B&B or shared room in a house (such as an Airbnb).
  • You’ll generally find a lower cost for comparable facilities than other options of equal grade or quality.

Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals When Space Is a Consideration

View of Sea Ranch vacation home Sea Pony living room
Vacation homes like this one, Sea Pony at Sea Ranch on the California coast, offer plenty of room for families to relax (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

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.

At close quarters, small kids can also be constantly underfoot. 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.

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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 naps, bedtime, and downtime.

With a large extended-family group, a conventional hotel can’t offer much besides connecting rooms or suites. On the other hand, Vacation rentals offer a lot of space—they can be about as big as you’d ever consider, ranging all the way up to mansions with a dozen or so bedrooms. Laundry facilities tend to be on-site for apartment rentals, and in houses you can usually find a washer and dryer.

Depending on your needs and wants, you can find vacation rentals that include a hot tub or private pool, properties that are pet friendly, and rentals that offer other amenities (think a certain number of bathrooms or bedroom configurations).

Costs for Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals

view of a vacation rental on Lake Maggiore, Italy
If you’re traveling with a group or extended family, a vacation rental is a great way for everyone to stay in the same place and have plenty of room (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Another big financial advantage to a stay in a vacation rental is that they typically include full-size working kitchens where cooking meals (at far below restaurant costs) is easy. That’s especially important at breakfast, when restaurant prices tend to be much higher than food costs. And you can provide the many snacks a family consumes at supermarket rather than restaurant prices. 

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

How to Book Vacation Rentals

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” site for families to use. 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.

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Managed rental agencies generally offer better protection against cancellation, plus more service, but often focus on pricier rentals. Booking platforms like Vrbo, Tripadvisor-owned FlipKey, 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. His 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.