Spring is approaching, which may mean a return to travel for many consumers. Amid a tough economy, however, the majority of Americans say they don’t have a preference for where they stay when traveling.
Whether it’s a hotel or rental property, 45% say they’d choose the more affordable option, according to the latest ValuePenguin survey of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers.
We’ll go over which options consumers prefer for vacations, business trips and more. Additionally, stick around for tips on how travel credit cards can help you save cash — regardless of whether you’re a Hilton loyalist or Airbnb fanatic.
On this page
- Key findings
- Money is the ultimate deciding factor for travelers
- Service matters for consumers who prefer hotels and resorts
- Those who prefer rentals say they like the personalization
- Most prefer hotels, though rentals come close in some categories
- Want a better deal? Try asking for it
- Top expert tips to save money while traveling
- Hotel convenience and eccentric rentals may never be enough to sway consumers from the ultimate deciding factor — money. 45% of Americans would choose the more affordable option whether it’s a hotel or vacation rental, up 13% from 2021. Americans spent a nightly average of $234 on lodging on their most recent trip, with baby boomers the most money conscious at an average of $178 a night.
- On vacations, Americans still perk up for hotels and resorts. 37% of consumers are more likely to pay a premium to stay in a hotel or resort over a vacation rental. Hotel services are a big reason travelers choose more traditional lodging, with 50% of those who prefer hotels citing property amenities like dining and fitness. That’s followed by hotel staff like housekeeping and concierge (45%) and general convenience (44%).
- If you’re looking for a more personalized (and unique) accommodation, you could be among the 18% of Americans willing to shell out more for a vacation rental. 56% of those who prefer to book a short-term homestay say they do so because it feels more personal. Often with more square footage, places like Airbnbs and/or Vrbos are especially popular for larger groups. With options to stay in treehouses, houseboats or even a castle, 43% say they do it for the unique areas.
- Regardless of money, amenities and experience, hotels win by a landslide for most types of trips — but less so for longer stays and vacations with Fido. Respondents say they prefer staying in traditional hotels in almost every trip category ValuePenguin listed, including solo stays (62%), business travel (60%) and domestic travel (58%). Longer stays over a week, however, have travelers split at 34%. And while hotels are still preferred (34%) when traveling with pets, a close 32% say they prefer a vacation rental.
- No matter your travel preferences, the key to your next dream vacation could be asking your host or concierge for a better experience. 37% of hotel travelers say they’ve asked for upgrades or perks, with 31% saying they were mostly successful. Although not as common, 23% of those who’ve stayed in a vacation rental say they’ve asked for a lower price, with 18% having been mostly successful.
Money is the ultimate deciding factor for travelers
Airbnbs or hotels? In the city center or on the outskirts? Many factors are at play when deciding where to stay on a trip. But for most consumers, one factor stands above the others: money. Overall, 45% of Americans would choose the more affordable option, regardless of whether it’s a rental or hotel. That’s up 13% from 40% in 2021.
According to LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz, inflation is just one factor to blame for the rising percentage of consumers who only want the cheapest option available — though many may have already been hunting for low-cost stays.
"While we all wish that money was no object when we travel, the truth is that most of us are bargain hunters when planning trips," he says. "Of course, what a bargain looks like can vary widely depending on your financial situation, but most people tend to be price-conscious when they travel. And who can blame them? Traveling is often crazy expensive these days."
By generation, baby boomers ages 59 to 77 (52%) are the most likely to bargain hunt, while Gen Zers ages 18 to 26 (38%) are the least likely. Meanwhile, those earning less than $35,000 annually are more likely to bargain hunt than any other demographic group, at 60%. Additionally, women (47%) are more likely to choose the cheaper option than men (43%).
How much are consumers spending per stay, though? Those who paid for their stays on their most recent trip — those who stayed with friends or family or in a timeshare, where associated costs are split among all owners, were excluded — spent an average of $234 a night.
By age group, baby boomers prove they’re once again the most money conscious, spending an average of $178 a night. That’s followed by:
- Gen Xers ages 43 to 58, who spend an average of $210 a night
- Gen Zers, who spend an average of $267 a night
- Millennials ages 27 to 42, who spend an average of $271 a night
Additionally, parents with underage children ($272) spend significantly more on average than those with no children ($222) and parents with adult children ($205).
When was the last time most consumers traveled — and where did they stay?
In the past three months, 33% of consumers say they’ve traveled with at least one overnight stay, led by Gen Zers (40%) among the age groups. Following that, 28% say their most recent stay was more than a year ago — a figure that’s highest among baby boomers (44%).
Regardless of the timing of their last trip, the majority (47%) of Americans stayed at a hotel or resort (not all-inclusive) on their last trip. That’s especially true among six-figure earners (55%), parents with children younger than 18 (53%) and Gen Xers (52%). Meanwhile, 27% of Americans stayed with friends or family.
Generally, most (70%) Americans say they’ve stayed at a hotel or resort (not all-inclusive) at some point on a trip before. That’s followed by:
- Staying with friends or family (60%)
- Camping/staying on a campground (36%)
- Vacation rentals (32%)
- All-inclusive hotels or resorts (31%)
- Cruises (19%)
- Timeshares (10%)
- Hotels (8%)
Service matters for consumers who prefer hotels and resorts
Although cash is king for most, 37% of consumers say they’re more willing to pay a premium to stay in a hotel or resort over a vacation rental. By age group, baby boomers and Gen Xers are the most likely to fall in this category, at 39%.
Why would they shell out for a hotel? For most, it boils down to hotel services. In fact, half (50%) of those who prefer hotels say they’re willing to pay more for property amenities like hotel dining and fitness. Not far behind that, 45% say they’d shell out for the hotel staff like housekeeping and concierge, while 44% say they’d pay more for the general convenience.
"For many, there’s comfort in staying in a hotel because you pretty much know what you’re going to get," Schulz says. "The big hotel chains have taught us to expect certain things when we stay with them. There are levels to that depending on how much you pay, but hotel stays can be pretty predictable for the most part. Airbnbs and other vacation rentals may be less so. Each owner might have different rules and timelines and standards. That’s great if you’re looking for something quirky and unique, but it can be less so when you’re looking for simplicity, predictability and efficiency."
Of course, the reasons vary by demographic. Of those who prefer hotels, Gen Zers are most likely to say it’s because hotels are easier to book than vacation rentals (45%). That may be because Airbnb and VRBO both generally require guests to contact hosts before booking — and this younger generation may not meet age requirements or travel in inconvenient group sizes. Meanwhile, 3 in 5 baby boomers (60%) cite convenience as a key reason for their preference.
Those who prefer rentals say they like the personalization
While some prefer traditional hotels, 18% of Americans say they’d spend more money to stay at a vacation rental. Gen Zers (26%) are most likely to fall in this category. That’s followed by millennials and parents with young kids at 25%.
For this group, personalization is the priority. In fact, 56% of those who prefer to stay in a rental say it’s because it feels more personal. The option to rent out entire houses on websites like Airbnb or Vrbo is particularly attractive for groups. Of those who prefer vacation rentals, 46% say it’s because they can accommodate more people. Meanwhile, 43% say they do it for the unique stays.
Schulz says that desire for uniqueness is representative of a larger trend.
"I think people are getting more willing to shell out some extra money for more unique, personalized experiences," he says. "Staying in a funky, interesting rental instead of a cookie-cutter chain hotel can make a real difference on a vacation. That quirkiness may not be without its challenges, but many people are more than willing to accept that to have an experience out of the ordinary. The good news for those travelers is that thanks to Airbnb and other sites like it, there have never been more of those options available than today."
Notably, 46% of women who prefer vacation rentals over hotels say it’s because they usually have access to a kitchen. Meanwhile, 40% of millennials who prefer vacation rentals say it’s because the price is usually more negotiable.
Most prefer hotels, though rentals come close in some categories
Overall, consumers prefer hotels for their stays — but those traveling with a furry friend are a little more split on their preferences. Respondents say they prefer staying in traditional hotels in almost every trip category ValuePenguin listed. Here’s a breakdown of which categories hotels dominated the most:
- Solo stays (62%)
- Short trips of one week or less (61%)
- Business travel (60%)
- Domestic travel (58%)
- Trips with kids (43%)
- Trips with small groups (41%)
Although hotels are still preferred (34%) for those traveling with pets, 32% say they prefer a vacation rental — a close second. Meanwhile, travelers are split on their preferences for stays longer than a week, at 34% for hotels and vacation rentals.
Want a better deal? Try asking for it
Although asking for upgrades may be nerve-wracking, the worst they can say is no. As it turns out, they’re more likely to say yes. Overall, 37% of hotel guests say they’ve asked for upgrades or perks — and 31% were mostly successful.
That’s also true for vacation rentals, although consumers are slightly less likely to win their bargains here. While just under a quarter (23%) of those who’ve stayed in a vacation rental say they’ve asked for a lower price, 18% say they’ve been mostly successful.
Notably, men are more likely to successfully bargain for better deals than women. Among those bargaining for lower vacation rental prices, 23% of men have successfully negotiated a lower price. That compares with 15% of women.
Top expert tips to save money while traveling
Although money’s tight for many, your stays don’t have to eat at your entire travel budget. To save money on your lodgings, Schulz offers the following tips:
- For hotels, credit card rewards can really help. "If you’re partial to a specific hotel chain, it’s worth considering getting a hotel credit card for that chain," he says. "They often come with perks such as free premium Wi-Fi, late checkouts and even status in the hotel’s loyalty program. That status can go a long way toward getting you that upgraded room, though that’s never guaranteed no matter how high your status."
- If you prefer vacation rentals, look into the best credit cards for Airbnbs. Similar to hotel credit cards, some credit cards offer bonus points and travel credits that can be used for Airbnb or Vrbo. Additionally, several top credit cards even let you redeem enough points to offset the entire cost of your stay.
- Try your hand at bargaining. "The first rule of asking for upgrades or price reductions is just to be nice," Schulz says. "Chances are that the person at the hotel counter has been yelled at a half-dozen times today already, so a pleasant smile and a sincere greeting can make a difference. Also, do your homework before you ask. If you’re staying in Athens, Ga., on the day of a University of Georgia home football game, you shouldn’t expect upgrades or breaks because all the rooms in the area are probably booked."
- You may be more likely to get an upgrade the later in the day you arrive. "There are never any guarantees, of course, but later in the day, the hotel has a better handle on what their occupancy will be like for the night," he says. "They’ll have a feel for how many no-shows and walk-ins they’ll have, and that’ll help determine whether they have any rooms to upgrade."
- Start saving ASAP. "It’s always been a good idea to set money aside for upcoming vacations," Schulz says. "However, now that savings accounts are yielding the best returns in years, that stashed-away cash won’t have to just sit there. If you open a high-yield savings account, that money will work for you. It may not make a huge difference, but every little bit helps with travel as expensive as it is."
LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 2,008 U.S. consumers ages 18 to 77 from Jan. 19 to 23, 2023. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. Researchers reviewed all responses for quality control.
We defined generations as the following ages in 2023:
- Generation Z: 18 to 26
- Millennial: 27 to 42
- Generation X: 43 to 58
- Baby boomer: 59 to 77