The Tip Jar: Is staying with Airbnb a better deal than a hotel?

It certainly looks that way in the Twin Cities...
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It's fair to say Airbnb has helped revolutionize the accommodation industry, giving travelers more choice and property owners the chance to make some extra cash by renting out their rooms, apartments or homes.

My first experience with Airbnb was an apartment near the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and I can remember being amazed with how cheap I managed to get the place compared to what was being charged by some local hotels.

To that end, The Tip Jar has taken a look at the cost of renting through Airbnb at several cities in Minnesota and across the U.S., to see how the deals you get from private homeowners compare to hotels at a similar price.

How I've compared Airbnb with hotels

I asked Airbnb to provide the average cost to rent a room for two people in eight cities on the weekend of Aug. 18-20.

This calculation is based on the average amounts charged by people renting out single rooms in their house, as well as the per-room cost of apartment/home rentals (so if a four-bedroom home is being offered for rent at $400-per-night, the per-room cost is $100).

I then found Airbnb rentals being offered in each city that costs about the average – including cleaning/service/local tax fees – and then compare it to a hotel charging a similar amount for a double room on hotel booking websites.

You can make up your own minds about which ones you'd prefer to stay in.

Minneapolis

Average cost of room with Airbnb: $71.89.

Example Airbnb:Private room in this home near Lake Nokomis for $62 a night.

This rental is perfect for anyone wanting to be close to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and it's just a block away from Lake Nokomis. You share a bathroom with the owners which is a bit of a downside, however on the plus side they do give you a continental breakfast every morning.

Hotel with a similar price:Metro Inn Motel on Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis for $80 a night.

This was the cheapest hotel I could find for those two nights in August in Minneapolis, and in the room you get free Wi-Fi, refrigerator, microwave and cable TV. It has a 4.5 star score on Booking.com so guests are happy.

St. Paul

Average cost of room with Airbnb: $62.32.

Example Airbnb:Master bedroom in Como Park for $54.50 a night.

This room comes with its own private bathroom and a keypad entry so you have a separate entrance from your hosts. You also have access to a downstairs living area that has a wet bar, mini fridge and microwave.

Location isn't ideal for downtown St. Paul, but you're within walking distance of Como Park, Como Lake, and Como Zoo and Conservatory – and not far from the State Fairgrounds.

Hotel with a similar price: Queen bedroom at Motel 6 for $54 a night.

Located just off of Interstate 94 a few miles east of downtown St. Paul, the room comes with free Wi-Fi, free parking, a private bathroom, TV and cable channels.

Duluth

Average cost of room with Airbnb: $98.80.

Airbnb example:Entire basement in Hunters Park for $100 a night.

Choice is more limited in Duluth compared to the Twin Cities and with the Northland a popular destination for travelers from in and out-of-state, there's a bit more of a premium on rooms.

For this room you get to rent out an entire basement, with a double bed joined by a futon, desk and TV, with a private entrance, a Keurig coffee maker and a private bathroom.

Hotel with a similar price:Skyline Court Motel in Hermantown for $109 per night.

There aren't any decent enough quality photos that show the bedrooms at this motel – you can click here to get a low-res look.

This is one of your "does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin," old-school motels, with reviews on TripAdvisor generally positive from bargain hunters looking to keep costs low as they visit the North Shore.

Chicago

Average cost of room with Airbnb: $107.39.

Airbnb example:Private room west of downtown for $102 per night.

The quality available takes a nosedive in Chicago compared to Minnesota cities, not least because a local occupancy tax (which the Twin Cities are still discussing for Airbnbs) push up the price.

This room in a house just west of downtown has a full-size bed, TV and DVD player in a rather kitschy house, with the bathroom and other facilities shared with those staying in two other rental rooms.

Hotel with a similar price: Quality Inn Midway Airport for $95 a night (not including taxes).

Useful if you're flying to Chicago Midway (which Delta and Southwest do from MSP Airport), but not a particularly great location for downtown.

Nonetheless, the hotel offers a 24-hour front desk, access to a gym and a seasonal outdoor pool, while ensuite rooms have coffee makers, a desk and cable TV.

New Orleans

Average cost of a room with Airbnb: $123.62.

Airbnb example:Self-contained apartment near French Quarter for $124 a night.

New Orleans seems better value than Chicago, and while the average cost of a room may be $123.62 across the entire city, there are several whole apartments available for that price.

This one is a guest suite attached to the owner's home, coming with a kitchen, bed, living space and bathroom in the Treme neighborhood, which is not far from the tourist-friendly French Quarter.

Hotel with a similar price: Deluxe Queen Room at The Whitney Hotel for $119 a night (excluding taxes).

Erm, OK, both the Airbnb AND hotel choices have got me thinking I need to go to New Orleans.

This hotel is bang central in New Orleans' downtown near all the tourist hotspots. It's in a historic building and has all the expected amenities including a fitness center and free Wi-Fi.

Miami

Average cost of a room with Airbnb: $79.45.

Airbnb example:A private room in Little Havana for $69 a night.

This 1920 "Spanish Mediterranean house" is about a 15-minute drive from the Miami airport and is in the bustling Little Havana neighborhood – not far from downtown.

The room has a small kitchenette, featuring a small fridge, microwave and coffee maker. Though the bathroom and living areas are shared with the owner's cousin, Ramon, who lives there.

What you can get for a hotel: River Park Hotel and Suites Port of Miami for $80 a night.

This hotel is next to the Miami Convention Center and close to the beaches. It has an outdoor pool and surrounding deck – which let's face it, is pretty vital in sweltering Miami.

The price of the room also includes breakfast.

San Jose

Average cost of a room with Airbnb: $73.02.

Airbnb example: Private bedroom in South San Jose for $69 a night.

I actually asked for the average cost of a room in Santa Monica, California, but because of pending litigation Airbnb couldn't provide these figures (same goes for New York City), so instead I got figures for San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

This private room with a queen canopy bed comes with a private bathroom, with the rest of the living quarters shared with the owners, who will throw in a light breakfast and access to coffee and tea.

Hotel with a similar price: Wyndham Garden Hotel San Jose Airport for $94 a night.

This was the cheapest hotel room I could find on the nights selected – and even that was via a Booking.com offer that cut the price from $186.50 a night.

It puts you near the airport, which is actually closer to the downtown area than the Airbnb in South San Jose. It's also pretty close to Santa Clara downtown. The hotel has an outdoor pool and an on-site restaurant.

Denver

Average cost of a room with Airbnb: $101.23.

Airbnb example: "Sanctuary" room in colonial-style home for $103 a night.

This guest room doesn't have its own private bathroom, which is shared with the owner (and her two Westies – which is a bonus if you like dogs) as is the rest of their antique-filled home and "lush patio" in the Congress Park neighborhood.

The owner's only request is you don't go "wild" in the kitchen, so no 12-course banquets.

Hotel with a similar price: Doubletree by Hilton for $104 a night (excluding taxes).

Hilton's rooms are air conditioned and have cable TV, private bathroom and a work desk. This Doubletree is in the Stapletown neighborhood so a few miles away from the city center.

Tips for staying in an Airbnb

If you've never stayed in an Airbnb before, there are a few ways you can ensure you're a hospitable guest, as well as checking you're getting a decent host.

Conde Nast has this guide for first time users, not least looking at ways you can ensure your safety and prevent being scammed, as well as encouraging people to shop around, ask questions of hosts, and check what amenities are offered at each rental.

Travel writer Peter Greenberg meanwhile says Airbnb is really one of those services where it pays to read reviews left by other customers to get an idea if their experiences differed from what's being pitched.

And Travel and Leisure has put together a list of tips on how to be the "perfect" Airbnb guest – with cleanliness considered the main priority.

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