What Do Vrbo’s Host Fees Actually Entail?

Yes, we're doing this again

What Do Vrbo’s Host Fees Actually Entail?

A few months ago, a TikTok from comedian Jesse Martin (@jsmartinlive) went viral, sparking (yet another) lively debate surrounding Vrbo hidden fees. More specifically, host fees. In the video, which has garnered nearly 32,000 views, Martin attempts to break down a series of costs associated with a two-night Vrbo stay, which includes the actual cost, taxes, service fees and, of course, the host fee.

“You wanna know why we’re going back to hotels?” the video reads. “Because of this: $172 a night? Reasonable, cool. $344 for two nights? That makes sense. Taxes $95, not rocking. But $108 service fee? OK. $425 host fee? What you doing? You telling jokes or something? What you mean host fee?”


#greenscreen Airbnbs are robbing us now, used to be an affordable option #airbnb #broke #fyp #inflation #genz #millennial

♬ original sound – Jesse Martin

Here’s the thing — all rental platforms, Airbnb and Vrbo chief among them, are always going on about how they’re “striving to be as transparent as possible about pricing,” as Skift’s Srividya Kalyanaraman notes. And, in many ways, there is evidence of that being true.

“For instance, [Vrbo] displays an inclusive pricing feature in the search so guests have a better idea of the total cost of a booking as well as the nightly rate,” she writes. “Each listing page also includes itemized costs with details on fees and taxes. The company also encourages hosts to consolidate their fees, so the guest has a better expectation of the total cost when they’re searching. “

But, all of that said, guests are still encountering “junk” fees, packaged as host fees (that amount to more than the cost of the stay itself, nonetheless!). What the hell does a $425 host fee cover that the nightly rate, taxes and service fees don’t? (The answer, according to Kalyanaraman, is “air conditioning, linens, water and more” though, that isn’t explicitly spelled out in the listing.) Displaying the fee upfront is a step in the right direction to be sure, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it solves the issue of pricing transparency.

Further, it all feels even more disingenuous given that, under Airbnb’s cleaning fee “best practices,” they urge hosts to use the fee “to cover actual cleaning costs, not as a way to earn extra money,” which is an acknowledgement in and of itself that some hosts can use additional fees, like hosts fees, to earn extra money.

A Definitive Guide to the Airbnb Cleaning Fee
Get all the dirt on those extra charges before you book your next stay

Ironically, almost exactly a year ago to the day, I spoke to an Airbnb host about this exact topic. She told me that she’d set her cleaning fee to $25, as her property is a “small place and it doesn’t take too long to clean.”

“It always bothered me — before I was a host — the amount of cleaning fee I was expected to pay,” she told me at the time. “It felt like bait and switch. I’d find a place I wanted to reserve and then I would be faced with an exorbitant fee to clean. Hosts shouldn’t make money on cleaning fees.” And yet, a $425 host fee for a two-night stay for two-people that costs $344 would suggest that they very much are.

While this has gone largely unaddressed much to the chagrin of users, it was just announced that Vrbo is set to begin implementing penalties for hosts who cancel reservations in the form of a fee, determined by both the cost of the booking and the timing of the cancellation, for reasons that fall outside of “unavoidable cancellations.” An objectively good development for guests, it does still beg the question: how was this not a thing before? Perhaps the guest experience hasn’t come as far as they’d have you believe.


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