Vacation Rental or Hotel? Hipmunk Analysis Reveals How to Save Summ(more) Money


If you read our most recent summer story, which revealed the best times to buy summer airfare, you’re well aware that the time to take a vacation has never been better: the weather is warm, flight prices are down, and the dollar continues to be strong.

But snagging the lowest airfare is just one part of the equation. The other is of course, lodginga market that has seen some major changes over the past year. The vacation rental market continues to grow, claiming 16 percent of Hipmunk’s summer bookings last year and offering a viable, affordable alternative to classic hotel options. (Hipmunk shows vacation rentals, like Airbnb, alongside hotel results so you can compare and make the best choice for your travel needs.)

As travelers look to make the most of summer travel savings, Hipmunk dug deep into its summer hotel and vacation rental data in a side-by-side comparison.

We’ll show you where to save, when you should book, where you should book early, and reveal some surprising facts about how vacation rentals are affecting the summer accommodation market (who knew Cambridge was such a popular summer spot?).

So here we go: your ultimate guide to the summer accommodation market, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend.  And find a complete breakdown of the top 100 US Cities for summer vacation rentals and their respective hotel and vacation rental savings here.

When to Book a Vacation Rental (and Why You Should Book Early)

If you’re batting around the idea of booking a vacation rental this summer, it’s probably better to do it sooner than later: the vacation rental market has limited inventory, and Hipmunk data revealed that a greater percentage of travelers book that type of accommodation earlier:

Vacation Rental Hotel
% Book Before Summer (June 1) 29% 24%
% Book During Summer (Jun-Aug) 71% 76%

While the vast majority of bookings for either type of accommodation are made during peak summer season, 5 percent more vacation rental bookings were made in the months prior to June.

Most-Booked Summer Cities

The next thing we looked at was whether the most-booked locations for vacation rentals differed from our most-booked hotel destinations. While the vast majority overlapped, their various positions on the list varied greatly. Perhaps most surprising was Seattle’s ranking as the  No. 3 most-booked summer vacation rental city (it doesn’t crack hotel’s top 10) and the appearance of Cambridge on the list (more on that later).


Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 12.25.40 PMBiggest Vacation Rental Savings

Next, we compared the average booking price of a vacation rental to the average booking price of a hotel in popular vacation rental cities to discover which cities offered the most savings. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 12.36.41 PMSomerville and Cambridge, MA, both Boston-area college cities, tie with a 63 percent savings over summer hotels. We’re guessing the mass exodus of students during the summer and a sudden influx of available rooms has something to do with it.

Highest Percentage of Vacation Rental Bookings

Vacation rentals aren’t just opening up the door to lower price points, they’re also creating or expanding markets in cities that may have few hotels or where visitors might find a vacation rental more appealing. Regardless of the reason, vacation rental inventory is inherently limited. Here are the top 10 cities (find the breakdown of all 100 cities here) where you should expect demand for vacation rentals to be high (and should book sooner to guarantee that you snag one of those coveted properties):

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 2.12.12 PM

Final Thoughts:

  • Vacation rentals are not just catching hotel booking overflow; they are creating a vacation accommodation market distinctly their own, and many destination towns rely heavily upon the summer.
  • Most travelers wait until the season is underway to book their accommodations; however, those who book vacation rentals tend to (and should) book early due to limited inventory.
  • Vacation rentals are a great option to save money in many cities, especially in locations with a an inflated hotel market, and especially in college towns.
  • Resort towns such as East Hampton, NY,  Nantucket, MA, and Gulf Breeze, FL, rely heavily upon the vacation rental market during the summer.

METHODOLOGY: Hipmunk analyzed its hotel and vacation rental bookings in U.S. cities that were made up to one year prior (June 1, 2014 – Aug 31, 2015) for a summer 2015 stay (checking in and checking out during June, July, or August). The 100 cities in the analysis are those with the highest overall number of vacation rental bookings.

Kelly Soderlund
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Kelly Soderlund

Kelly analyzes Hipmunk flight and hotel data to help make travel planning less agonizing. She provides data-driven insights on airfare and accommodation trends, and her analyses are frequently featured in outlets such as New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, TIME, and more.
Kelly Soderlund
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2 thoughts

  1. I’m looking for a rental with 2 or 3 bedrooms close to Merida, Mexico this winter for at least one month, likely two months. I’m flexible but I’m thinking January & February 2017 would be good. I want to be on or very close to the ocean and have good access to Merida, preferably without renting a vehicle… that would be by bus or taxi. Hope you can help me.

    Thank you!!

  2. If you are traveling with a larger group of people, a vacation rental might be a more comfortable and cheaper. This is because you don’t have to purchase more than one room to house the other guests in your party. You can rent a vacation home large enough to house everyone in your party, and they will all have rooms that are large and comfortable for them. In contrast, purchasing multiple hotel rooms for everyone in your party might not guarantee comfortable, large rooms.

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