Holiday rentals for February half-term are up to 50% pricier than they were three years ago, new research by Which? Travel has found.
A Cornwall holiday let cost £136 a night on average when booked through Airbnb or rival platform Vrbo in 2020. This year, that has risen to £203 - meaning holidaymakers must shell out over £1,400 for a week-long stay, with cleaning and service fees on top.
The popularity of self-catering stays rocketed during the pandemic, especially in rural and coastal destinations. Demand is down so far compared to last year - and yet Airbnb and Vrbo prices have continued to rise in many tourist hotspots, according to data from short-term rental analyst AirDNA. Holiday lets in West Wales have risen by 23%, with a week’s stay costing £455 more than it did last February, on average.
Our research also found cheaper prices elsewhere: booking a last-minute half-term holiday through a cottage provider instead could save you over £150 on a week’s stay.
The most expensive place to book a half-term Airbnb or Vrbo stay is Dorset, with holidaymakers forking out an average of £242 per night - 36% more than in February 2020.
Cornwall has seen the biggest price hikes, while nightly rates in Norfolk, Kent, West Wales, Devon, North East England and the Lake District have all jumped by 40% or more since 2020.
City breaks fell out of favour during the pandemic, and demand is down considerably in London and Edinburgh compared to February half-term 2020 - but prices have still risen by around a third.
|Average nightly rate in February half-term 2020||Average nightly rate in February half-term 2023||% increase|
|North East England||£131||£189||44%|
Table notes: The average daily rate was calculated from all bookings made for February half-term up to 20 January of each year through both Airbnb and Vrbo. The daily rates include rentals of all sizes, ranging from private rooms to large properties. Cleaning and service fees aren’t included.
Lots of holidaymakers have turned to Airbnb in the past decade, favouring a person’s home with all the facilities over an impersonal hotel room. Crucially, it was often more affordable as well.
But bargains were harder to come by during the pandemic, and the price gap between private holiday rentals and other types of accommodation has narrowed.
Hoteliers now face spiralling energy and food costs, so room rates have risen in the past year - but remain competitive. The average room rate in a three or four-star hotel during February half-term is £107, according to data from the comparison site Kayak. In February 2020, shortly before the pandemic, the average nightly rate was £99 - only £8 less.
We compared the price of a one-bed Airbnb or Vrbo with the cost of a hotel room in London for February half-term. Holidaymakers who booked a hotel only paid £5 more on average - £132 per night.
In Edinburgh, the average hotel rate in half-term is £98, while you’ll typically pay £90 for a night in a one-bed Airbnb or Vrbo - with the cleaning and service fee on top.
So if you don’t need a kitchen, hotels can be a good-value option - especially if breakfast is included.
Hotels aren't your only option. When we compared the average price of a two-bed rental in February half-term, we found that a stay booked through the UK’s biggest cottage providers - cottages.com, holidaycottages.co.uk and Sykes - was cheaper than Airbnb or Vrbo.
The biggest price difference was in the Lake District, where the average cost of a two-bed rental was £200 more expensive. You’d typically pay £640 for a week’s stay if you booked through the cottage providers, compared to £882 for an Airbnb or Vrbo rental.
In both Norfolk and Devon, a two-bed holiday let booked through the cottage providers cost around £175 less, on average.
Average price of a two-bed Airbnb or Vrbo
Average price of a two-bed booked through the UK’s biggest cottage providers
The prices in the table above don’t take into account the discount that some Airbnb or Vrbo owners offer if you stay for a week. But neither do they include the platforms’ service and cleaning fees, so the cost could end up being even higher.
The cottage providers weren’t always cheaper. When we checked available listings for February half-term, many cottage owners had dropped their prices. For those who booked pre-sale, rates were equal - or more - than an Airbnb or Vrbo in four out of five destinations. Follow our tips below to always find the best price.
Airbnb says: 'This data misrepresents prices on Airbnb. Hosts on Airbnb provide affordable accommodation options across the country and one in three says the extra income helps them afford rising living costs. Nearly half of guests say booking on the platform saved them money and a quarter said they specifically chose Airbnb over other types of accommodation for the same reason.'
Vrbo says: 'We operate as a two-sided marketplace, connecting holidaymakers and holiday home hosts, without being part of any contractual agreements between those parties at any time. Vrbo does not set, change or influence the property prices that a host chooses.'
1. Shop around
Even if you’ve found your dream holiday home, check whether it’s listed on a different platform for less. We found the same cottage on Airbnb £70 cheaper on holidaycottages.co.uk.
2. Broaden your search radius
Where you choose to stay has a bigger bearing on cottage prices than you might expect. For example, we found that the average price of a two-bed cottage was £100 more expensive per week in Cumbria than in the Lake District and Yorkshire.
3. Be flexible on dates
Check prices for a few weeks before and after your planned dates, if you can be flexible. We found that a week in a two-bed cottage is currently around £350 cheaper in February half-term than at Easter.
4. Find a cheap stay three miles down the road
Holidaymakers can save more than £400 on a one-week holiday just by staying a few miles away. We compared average hotel room rates at 10 popular towns, cities and seaside resorts with nearby destinations. The result? Holidaymakers could save between £24 and £59 per room, per night. See where we got the biggest bargains with our full story on hotel room rates.
5. Compare prices for the best-value room rate
When booking hotel stays, check price comparison sites, such as Travelzoo or Booking.com. No matter how good the price you’ve found online looks, always call the hotel directly to see if they can beat it. More often than not, our research has found they can.
Analyst AirDNA shared the average daily rate of Airbnb and Vrbo rentals in the UK in 2020, 2022 and 2023 in London, Cornwall, Edinburgh, Devon, Edinburgh, Dorset, Highlands, West Wales, North East England, Kent, Norfolk and the Lake District. Comparison site Kayak supplied average hotel rates for one night in a double room in 3 and 4-star hotels during February half-term 2020 and 2023.