Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom A rental cottage at Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan.
With websites that offer house swapping and home vacation rentals being all the rage right now, it begs the question: on your next family trip, should you stay in a hotel or a rental property?
I tend to lean toward rental villas/condos/cottages, but that’s because I’m a light sleeper and have zero tolerance for noisy hotel hallways/neighbors.
Having vacationed in both, I can say there are pros and cons to each choice. One is not necessarily cheaper than the other – it’s just a matter of what you like.
Here’s how I see it.
Pros of Staying in a Hotel
1. Amenities. Better for families who want more than just a place to sleep and shower. You usually have a pool, room service, restaurants, a little shop where you can grab a coffee or a bagel, a conceirge … and, in most cases, nice mattresses, pillows and bathrooms.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom A big pool, with a bar, and other amenities are available at hotels, like the Westin Grand Cayman.
2. Deals. Through a variety of websites and apps, you can get good deals on hotel rooms. And a lot of places will include free breakfast. That can be a big added cost with kids. If you stay at the same chain and join their rewards club, you eventually get free rooms or upgrades. A recent stay at a newly renovated Hampton Inn in St. Louis came with a free breakfast bar, a new pool, and a room that slept 4 with a separate living room area – for only $109/night.
3. Service. Someone will make your bed. Carry your bags up to the room. Bring you extra towels or blankets, and come to stop an overflowing toilet at 6 a.m. At the Ritz-Carlton Toronto, they even brought me ice, asking, “Is there anything else we can get for your Mrs. Bartosch?” before leaving.
Cons of Staying in a Hotel
1. Noise. It’s something hotels can’t control, but if you get a room with noisy guests around you, you have to suck it up, or re-pack and move to a new room. Which with kids, is not fun.
2. Valet parking. This is one of the new hidden cost of staying in hotels, and it can be a high one. I won’t name names, but there’s a hotel in Chicago that charges $68 a day for valet parking. And I bet that’s not even the most expensive one out there. 3. Space (or lack thereof). You probably will have to share a room with your kids.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Free Wifi and low prices are among the perks at the Red Roof Inn in Buffalo, New York
Pros of Rentals 1. Privacy. There’s just something about having your own little place. The kids get excited to see who gets which bedroom, there’s a kitchen (which saves money), and you can make noise at any hour and not feel like you’re being rude to the people in the room next door. 2. Space. You usually get more square footage for your money. And when it comes to family travel, harmony increases with space. You can often get a few bedrooms and bathrooms for the same price as a hotel room.
3. A homey feel. This is a big bonus if you’re a family who prefers to stay in at night, or are traveling in a place with inconsistent weather. Hotel rooms can feel very generic and confined. You feel cozier in an actual home. The “Firefly” cottage at Crystal Mountain Resort in northern Michigan had a gas fireplace, leather furniture and an open floor plan with the living room and kitchen. We stayed in at night and played board games, read by the fire, and made ourselves dessert in the kitchen. Couldn’t do that in a hotel room.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom A kitchen is one benefit of renting a condo for family vacations
Cons of Booking a Rental
1. What you see online can be deceiving. The photos look fantastic, the description sounds perfect and the online reviews gushed. But then you get there, and … wow, it sure is a lot smaller and run-down in person. And did they forget to mention that it’s in a dicey neighborhood? Or that it’s miles from town? It’s always a little bit of a gamble.
2. You’re on your own. Wifi doesn’t work? Faucet’s leaking? Want your bed made? Good luck with that. If your family is not good at “making do” in situations, this could be bad.
3. Limited availability for last-minute or peak season trips. If you want to rent a
beach house this summer, or a condo near Disney during spring break, you’re probably too late (or the pickins might be slim). The increase in supply, from businesses like airbnb.com and vrbo.com, are giving you more options. But if you can’t book ahead, you might be in for a surprise.
Jamie Bartosch is an award-winning journalist in suburban Chicago. She loves to travel, and blogs for TravelingMom.com from the viewpoint of a "typical suburban mom." Her goal is to provide honest, useful information to help families save time, save money, and make the most of their family vacation. A married mother of two, Jamie grew up in the Chicago suburbs, lived in the city for 16 years, and is now back in the suburbs raising her two kids. Learn more about her at www.JamieBartosch.com