When a vacation rental makes more sense than a hotel

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Planning a family vacation can be an undertaking, especially if your family has recently grown; you’re traveling with a few families together; or are taking along older family members. Once you’ve determined whether to take a road trip close to home or an international adventure abroad, deciding where to stay can be overwhelming.

A family-friendly vacation rental is the simple solution: It accommodates larger groups, offers family-friendly amenities and provides lots of extra space.

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(Photo by JohnnyGreig/Getty Images)

Read on for reasons why families should stay at vacation rentals — and what to keep in mind when booking one for your family.

Benefits of a vacation rental

The extra space

While most U.S.-based hotels often allow two adults and two children to stay in one room, many hotels in destinations like Europe, Latin America and Asia only allow two, or maybe three people per room, total. Regardless of whether you pay with points or cash, don’t expect hotels to bend on these rules. Many of them are in place thanks to fire regulations or simply because hotel rooms are smaller in many other countries.

Booking two rooms may not be possible for financial reasons or because you don’t want your young children staying alone in a separate room. The easy answer is a vacation rental, where you can book a home or apartment that’s the right fit for your family, whether it’s having the kids crash on the sofa bed or having a bedroom for each one. Vacation rentals often have large living rooms, kitchens and even outdoor space. This means there are many spots for the entire family to move about, work and play.

Even if you end up with a hotel suite upgrade, it still might not offer as much space as a vacation rental.

Kid-friendly items

I’ve had to call hotels to confirm they offer cribs, since not all do. Many times, I’ve arrived at the hotel late to see it still hasn’t been set up in the room.

Whenever I’ve rented a vacation rental that’s proclaimed to be perfect for families, all the baby and kid items have been ready and waiting for me.

It’s easy to filter home rental searches on popular home booking websites like Airbnb and Vrbo to find ones that offer items like cribs and high chairs. Vrbo even has a box that reads “Families,” which allows you to find properties that guests have specifically noted were great for families.

Additionally, many rentals offer extra items like beach toys, kids toys and books, bottle warmers, sterilizers, child-friendly cutlery and more. Items are either left out directly in the home or apartment or available upon request.

There are also websites that offer family-friendly rentals such as Kid&Coe, where all the rental properties are geared toward family travelers.

They have kitchens

(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Most home rentals have kitchens. While eating out during vacation may be a top priority for you, it might be more difficult with new babies, several kids in tow or if your group includes picky eaters. With a kitchen, you have the option to cook, reheat leftovers, boil water, make coffee, pack picnic lunches, keep drinks cold — or anything else you might want to do in the kitchen when you and your family prefer to eat or drink at ‘home.’

They’re group-friendly

Sometimes, traveling with your family means moving around with more people that aren’t just you and your kids. Family travel can mean taking grandparents, aunts and uncles or cousins along. You might also vacation with other families. Renting a large beach villa or mountain cabin that can accommodate your whole group is loads of fun, as well as being practical and affordable. It also gives people a place to relax if not everyone wants to take place in the same activities.

Special perks

I’ve stayed in some pretty cool rental properties that have come with some impressive perks, like private rooftop terraces, personalized recommendations from the host, food baskets with treats like Champagne or wine, and even included staff.

Once, an Airbnb host in Spain made me a cake while I was staying in her guest house. During a group stay in Thailand, the host offered our group of nine the option to pay just $100 more per night to have a chef come in and make us a traditional Thai dinner, which we took advantage of on several nights during our stay. I’ve also had hosts offer on-property yoga classes and had access to hotel-grade gyms and pools. While hotels also offer perks (especially for those holding elite status) rentals can, too — and on a much more personalized level in many cases.

Some are pet-friendly

(Photo by Justin Paget/Getty Images)

If Fido and Kitty are part of the family, don’t worry. Many home rentals are pet-friendly, offering you the option to bring along all your family members, both human and otherwise. Vacation-booking platforms like Bring Fido are rental websites entirely dedicated to offering lodging options that allow pets.

It’s easy to do laundry

Those traveling with children or small babies know how handy it is to have a washer and dryer. From diaper blowouts and sandy swimsuits to just being able to pack less, access to a washer is key when traveling with your family. Make sure to filter your listing results to find properties with a washer if this item is important to you.

It’s more affordable (in most cases)

Unless you have a massive stash of points, staying in a vacation rental is not only more comfortable, but usually also offers more space for a lower price. With amenities like a washer, kitchen, additional bedrooms, as well as other benefits like a yard or balcony, you can often save money by staying in a home rental than having to book one or more hotel rooms.

What to look out for when booking

There are a few things to know when booking a vacation rental that can help you ensure there’ll be no surprises upon arrival. Be clear on the following before booking and before your stay:

Check-in and check-out times

Check-in and check-out times aren’t as crystal clear as they are typically are with hotels. Make sure to note these times and ask the host if there’s any wiggle room. Many hosts are happy to let you leave your luggage or check out later if they don’t have any other bookings. However, it’s important to be clear on the rules before you decide to stay, especially if you’ve already booked your flights and you know you’ll arrive early or need to leave late.


(Photo by Tom Merton/Getty Images)

Unlike hotels, many vacation rentals may offer a private garage or parking space. In other cases, you may have to be well-versed in street parking. Ask the host what the parking options are if you know you’ll have a car.

Make sure your rental site codes as travel

Popular rental websites like Airbnb and Vrbo do code as travel. However, if you’re utilizing a different site, check with your credit card provider to see if that merchant will code as travel so you can earn double or triple points using cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Related: The best credit cards for Airbnb stays

Make sure it’s a safe space for small children

I’ve nixed some really cool vacation rentals because the railing on the balcony wasn’t high enough for my toddler or the stairs were too steep for my baby who was just starting to walk or crawl. I’ve also skipped over higher-floor vacation apartment rentals sans elevator to avoid lugging my stroller up the stairs. Think about whatever stage your children will be at during the time of travel and book accordingly.

This home rental is gorgeous, but the balcony isn’t safe for small children. (Photo by Leila Mendez/Getty Images)

Check things like Amex offers and discounts to double-dip

Check your credit card offers to see if there are any statement credits or discounts for booking rentals on popular websites like Airbnb and Vrbo. Some airlines, such as British Airways and Delta, even have their own Airbnb portal where you can earn SkyMiles or Avios on bookings, too, no matter which credit card you use. Buying Airbnb gift cards at retailers like grocery stores or gas stations using credit cards that give you bonus points for those categories can be another way to double-dip.

If you haven’t signed up for a site like Airbnb previously, make sure to ask a friend for their code, which will give you both a booking discount. Don’t forget that booking sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com also offer home rental options, too.

Take note of additional fees

While booking a vacation rental can often save you money, it’s important to note any additional fees that the booking site and/or the host tack on. When booking, look for cleaning and service fees which should be present in the final total. Then, reread the description and the terms, because many times, hosts charge extra for things like additional guests, cleaning, electricity use, air conditioning or a check-in late at night.

Occasionally, a property will request a deposit upon arrival (this often happens with larger rentals for bigger groups), so it’s important to note these things ahead of time. It may also be in your best interest to skip any properties where the host tacks on a myriad of additional fees — it may be a scam or more trouble than it’s worth.

Bottom line

(Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

It’s always a treat to stay in a nice hotel, and I’ve had some wonderful experiences in hotels with my child. I’ve also stayed at some incredible rentals with my family, which have been more cost-effective and in some cases, more comfortable, especially for longer stays. In short, don’t discount vacation rentals for your next family vacation. They can be welcoming, affordable and comfortable spots where you and your entire family can create special vacation memories.

Featured photo from Getty Images.