Why HomeExchange Beats Airbnb

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So after the worst travel day ever and just barely making it to Australia, we thought we’d be on easy street. Nothing but blue clouds, rainbows, and unicorns from here on out right?

Wrong.

Turns out, we weren’t done with jumping through hoops to be in Australia yet. We had to prove we were worthy. And as such, our HomeExchange host in Sydney cancelled on us at the last minute, so we suddenly found ourselves (at least temporarily) homeless.

Now, of course, this is completely understandable, given that there was a medical emergency that the host had no control over.

Normally, if this were an Airbnb, we’d be scrambling to find a replacement at double or triple the cost (since as anyone who’s tried to book an Airbnb last minute in popular expensive cities know, the prices skyrocket and your options dwindle to almost nothing). And given Airbnb’s record of being ever so helpful, typically offering compensation of a measly 10% coupon of the total booking price, you’re basically bending over and kissing your ass goodbye at this point.

But luckily, we didn’t book an Airbnb. Our experience with HomeExchange was entirely different.

According to HomeExchange, if your host cancels this is what will happen:

  1. Your GuestPoints will be returned to your account
  2. HomeExchange will help you find an exchange replacement that meets the basic criteria of your search
  3. If HomeExchange cannot find you an exchange replacement, and you wish to cancel your trip, we will reimburse your non-refundable fees directly related to the exchange (tickets for the train, plane, etc.) up to $120 USD/per night, depending on the situation, and in the limit of $1800 USD per exchange. 
  4. If HomeExchange cannot find you a substitute exchange, and you want to pay for alternative accommodation (for a hotel, for example), we will reimburse the charges you paid for the accommodation, up to $120 USD/per night, depending on the situation, and in the limit of $1 800 USD per exchange. 

So, for those that are new to HomeExchange, Guest Points are for non-simultaneous exchanges where the parties exchanging homes don’t have the same travel schedule or don’t want to go to each other’s location. They have no monetary value and can’t be exchanged for cash. They act more like “I owe you’s” so that hosts can later use it later to stay at someone else’s place as a guest.

As a guest if you get cancelled on, your guest points come back to you right away so you can use it for a replacement. Then, HomeExchange is supposed to help you find a replacement that meets your criteria.

I have to admit, this worried me at first because the multiple times I got cancelled on on Airbnb, their support found “matching replacements” that not only did not have my original amenities (eg. pool), they weren’t even in the same city! So, of course I was skeptical.

But luckily, according to HomeExchange support, if they can’t find you a suitable replacement, they will either let you cancel your trip and re-imburse you or pay for a hotel up to $120 USD/night.

Sounds pretty sweet right? But does it live up to its promise? Did HomeExchange support actually help us?

Well, the first thing they did was return my guest points. Then they sent me a list of questions seeing how flexible I was about dates, location, etc. I said I wasn’t flexible about the dates at all since my fights were already booked. And since the original location was 5 km from a beach, they said they would need to match that criteria when finding a replacement. I was pretty flexible on that point, so I told them anywhere within 30 minutes public transport to downtown was also acceptable.

And then without me having to lift a finger, HomeExchange went through the hassle of sending messages on my behalf to all the hosts in the area to find a place that matched my criteria. Turns out they have the ability to send out an “SOS” message that reaches all hosts in the community, even those whose calendars weren’t open for the dates I wanted. This is because HomeExchange is a community of travellers and friends who want to help each other out, since no money changes hands, and in that sense is more altruistic rather than Airbnb, which is purely capitalistic.

A few hosts responded to say they had a room available but not the entire place to ourselves. HomeExchange support immediately told me to disregard those since they weren’t equivalent to my original booking of an entire condo to ourselves. They also told me to book a refundable hotel, up to $120 USD/night, just in case they can’t find me a suitable replacement.

Luckily, one member responded and said they would open up their pool house for us, even though they weren’t originally looking to host at that time. It ended up being a very comfy place with a pool, just a 20 minute bus ride into downtown and worked out swimmingly (pun intended).

The moral of the story is, when your host cancels on you (with good reason) and you are left stranded, HomeExchange makes the process hands-off and stress free for you.  This was not the case with Airbnb, where I got cancelled on multiple times and had to scramble last min, only to get a crappier place that’s more expensive with very little help. When we first started travelling back in 2015, we lived almost exclusively in AirBnbs because they were such great value and their support was phenomenal. Now? I try to avoid Airbnb whenever I can now, because I’m just so sick of the terrible service (it takes days to get a real person to talk to you and even then they are reading from a script), the ghost hotels with bare minimum kitchen utensils, and the constantly worrying about getting cancelled on.

In contrast, HomeExchange support is so much better and I no longer have to worry about cancellations when I travel.

What do you think? Have you tried HomeExchange yet?


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32 thoughts on “Why HomeExchange Beats Airbnb”

  1. Thank you for the article, I’m a HomeExchange member myself so I can vouch for their quality service and the multitude of listings worldwide. Based on my readings of your previous posts I thought you didn’t have a home and used your down payment to invest and live off investments. So how are you exchanging a home? Just interested in how you’ve done it, no judgment!

      1. They used to reply but rarely do anymore. I wondered the same – could be they get some points for advertising the service via the blog posts. But I doubt that is the full story.

        If this blog is supposed to be a community then why not just answer simple questions like this, because we come here read and help support the blog and ad revenue. Maybe we should not bother with that anymore.

    1. I have the same question. I just tried to sign up for HomeExchange a few minutes ago and it seems like you need a home to exchange. Considering the foundation of this blog is FIRE without home ownership, I think the community would be very interested how to use HomeExchange without owning a home.

    2. You don’t have to own a home in order to use home exchange. During the pandemic, we had to get a long term rental in order to stay put and take care of family health emergencies. Obviously you’ll have to read the rental laws in your area, but in my area, as a tenant, you’re able to have guests (again, because no money changes hands, unlike Airbnb or sublets) as long as you like.

  2. Hello,
    I enjoy your blog and loved your book! No doubt you have helped many people improve their finances through your writing and sharing your story. I also really like the idea of one day traveling the world and experiencing new places and cultures that you vividly describe in your work. However, I am trying to minimize my carbon footprint and understand that flying is a carbon intensive mode of travel. Are there ways to live a life of abundant travel while minimizing one’s carbon footprint? Or should I stay put and travel locally? The best I idea I’ve come up with is sailing, but sailboats are pretty darn slow. Would love to hear any ideas you have on this quandary of mine.
    This website might be of interest: https://noflyclimatesci.org/
    Cheers!

    1. You can do more localized travel and choose to use trains. Or slow travel to reduce the number of flights.

  3. I hate Airbnb. They’ve left us high and dry twice now. I want to start FAIRbnb and take all their business away.

  4. Can you use home exchange if you don’t have a home to offer to exchange? For example if your living situation doesn’t allow you to have anyone else in your home, can you still use this service to rent other homes similar to air bnb?

    1. No. It’s a reciprocal community where no money changes hands. In your situation, you’ll have to stick with hotels and Airbnb unfortunately.

  5. “If HomeExchange cannot find you a substitute exchange, and you want to pay for alternative accommodation (for a hotel, for example), we will reimburse the charges you paid for the accommodation, up to $120 USD/per night, depending on the situation, and in the limit of $1 800 USD per exchange.”

    are there many places in/near downtown areas where you can get a hotel for 120/night?

  6. They rent an apartment in Toronto and use that for the exchange. They mentioned this about a year ago if I remember correctly. It’s very surprising to me that neither other residents in the building nor their landlord haven’t complained about the stream of strangers in and out of their apartment by now.

    1. Home Exchange guests are not like Airbnb guests. They actually clean up after themselves and don’t damage anything. You can also find long term guests, who can stay for months at a time, so it’s not a “stream of strangers”. It’s only 2-4 guests we’ve met through the community who we’ve become friends with.

    1. Feel free to not use Home Exchange then 🙂 It’s good filtering system for open-minded people and so far it’s working great for filtering out close-minded, suspicious people who I don’t want to be friends with.

  7. Good to read about your experience with HomeExchange. I had never heard of them. I’ve used Airbnb and have had the luck of not experiencing any sudden cancellations. But I am starting to notice a big difference between normal homeowners who rent out their vacation home and “people” who happen to have 20 properties on Airbnb in the same city. That’s just a business then and the face on airbnb is often just an employee I guess. If something goes wrong, in my experience, the service was totally different than when you’re renting from an actual homeowner. So with HomeExchange I guess this will be even better.

    1. You are right. Some Airbnbs are good. It’s kind of hit and miss. I think cancellation are also more common in big cities with low vacancies. But the thing that’s common for all Airbnbs that if you run into a problem, it’s very difficult to talk to an actual person on Airbnb support. So it’s all good if nothing goes wrong. Unfortunately, Airbnb will still need to be used in places where you can’t find a Home Exchange so we’re stuck with them until there’s an alternative. Hopefully they improve their support. They used to be good but I think due to pandemic they had to lay off a lot of their support staff.

  8. I haven’t been traveling as heavily as I used to, but thank you for sharing an alternative to Airbnb. I have been an Airbnb loyalist since the early days when you could only rent rooms, not entire apartments or houses! It seems they have lost their way with too many fees, difficult hosts and quality issues. Maybe they will come around, but it’s nice to have an alternative.

  9. Thanks for the tip. We have built, designed and developed several STR’s and they now represent a 50% portion of our overall real estate portfolio. We’ve never once canceled on a guest in 5 years. Also, AirBnb punishes guests severely for canceling: taking away their Superhost status, and forcing the host to pay high fees. So I’m surprised to read you’ve been canceled on several times! That is a shame. All that said, we don’t like AirBnb. They say they are their for the host and guest and have their backs. They don’t. But still, they are the biggest player in town and represents 75% of our bookings. For home exchanges, we like Behomm.com, A home exchange community for artists, designers and creators. For subscribers and FIRE community members who happen to also are in art, film, design or photography, highly recommend them. But, it is invite only. Not open to the public like Home Exchange.

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