Between the higher prices and reduced service, hotels have been getting a lot of flak recently. But in the debate between hotels versus Airbnbs, there’s one common Airbnb fee that you likely won’t find at hotels — at least not yet: cleaning fees.
Hidden travel costs like cleaning fees are commonplace on Airbnb. They are explained as a one-time fee pocketed by the host to cover the cost of cleaning their space. Cleaning fees come on top of the base price and a service fee (which Airbnb pockets).
But why are Airbnb cleaning fees so high — or are they? Just how much do Airbnb cleaning fees cost?
A June 2022 NerdWallet analysis looked at data from 1,000 U.S. Airbnb reservations with check-in dates in 2022 or 2023 across a range of locations, sizes and quality. The analysis only considered “entire place” properties, as opposed to part of a shared home.
Let’s dig into what we found about the dreaded Airbnb cleaning fee.
What Airbnb cleaning fees cost
Cleaning fees vary wildly, ranging from $0 to many hundreds of dollars. The median cleaning fee per listing for a one-night stay was $75, based on NerdWallet’s analysis.
Of the listings analyzed, 14% didn’t have a cleaning fee at all. With these stays, the base rate includes not just the ability to lay your head on that pillow, but to have it cleaned too — much like a hotel.
And while the median cleaning fee is $75, it’s important to understand the cleaning fee relative to the broader cost of the home rental. A $75 fee to clean up a 12-bedroom ski cabin might feel like a deal, but a $75 cleaning fee on a simple 400-square foot studio apartment might feel outrageous.
The $75 median cleaning fee amounts to about 25% of the total price paid for one-night stays at the listings analyzed. In fact, 34% of listings had a cleaning fee that was somewhere between 20 and 29.99% of the list price.
About a third of listings had cleaning fees amounting to less than 20% of the price. Surprisingly, 8% of listings had a cleaning fee that amounted to 40% or more of the overall price tag, assuming you stayed in the Airbnb for just one night. And some outliers are especially mind-boggling.
With that in mind, NerdWallet compared the cleaning fee against the base price.
Most low-cost Airbnbs have low-cost cleaning fees, hence the large cluster of dots in the bottom-left corner. Certainly, some expensive listings have hefty cleaning fees, hence the results on the opposite end of the chart.
But then there are some standouts. There’s a $1,000 listing with a $0 cleaning fee. There’s a $304 listing with a $300 cleaning fee.
And then, there are the bizarre cases where the cleaning fee is more than the base price.
Depending on seasonal rates, you might end up paying more for cleaning than you do for your stay.
Here’s one example of that — a four-bedroom Airbnb in Scottsdale, Arizona. Prices vary by night, with summer stays typically costing a lot less than in cooler seasons. In July, you can book one night for just $151. But the cleaning fees are fixed at $239, meaning that the $151 July nightly rate comes with a $239 cleaning fee — far more than the base rate itself. During Christmas weekend, the same listing has a nightly rate of $408. That makes the cleaning fee still hefty, but far more palatable.
The problems with Airbnb cleaning fees
Finding a listing in your price range can be tough
Cleaning fees can be hard to parse and make filtering listings by price complicated. You might have a nightly lodging budget of $200, so you set your filter to display homes with a maximum price of $200. But in doing so, you might still end up paying more, as you might find a delightful $100-per-night home with a $150 cleaning fee. Likewise, you might overlook a $210 per night home with a $0 cleaning fee.
There currently is no way to filter Airbnb rentals by cleaning fees.
You may still have to clean up after yourself
Just as hosts can set their own prices and fees, they can set their own house rules. It’s not uncommon for hosts to ask guests to take out the trash, run the dishwasher or start a load of laundry with the towels and sheets.
There’s no rule saying that Airbnbs can’t do both — charge cleaning fees and require some light housekeeping. That has caused outrage among some travelers.
You’re going to get “graded” as a guest
Because hosts can review guests, there is some pressure to be a good guest and follow the checkout cleaning protocols, as a bad review could jeopardize your ability to book future Airbnb stays.
Contrast that with hotel stays, which typically don’t require that guests have an account or positive reviews to stay. Unless you did something really bad, a major hotel chain won’t ban you, even if you tracked sand all over the floor and left towels strewn about everywhere.
One way to reduce Airbnb cleaning fees
Stay longer. Because cleaning fees are a one-time fee, you’ll pay the same rate whether you stay one day, two days or two weeks. So if the cleaning fee amounts to 25% of the rate for one night, it drops down to 12.5% of the rate for two nights. Spread a $150 cleaning fee over a two-week stay, and the cleaning fee shakes out to only about $10 per day. Had you stayed only one day, you’d still owe $150.
In general, Airbnbs tend to be far cheaper for long-term stays than hotels. But for short-term stays, it’s almost always cheaper to stay in hotels — and cleaning fees are a huge reason why.
If you can design your trip so that you stay in one Airbnb for many days versus staying at multiple Airbnbs over the same period, you’ll almost always save money.
When trip planning, choose a home base. If you’re planning a multi-week road trip in California, you might opt for an Airbnb in Orange County, as it’s roughly 100 miles south of Santa Barbara and 100 north of San Diego, making it possible to drive to both in one day. It’s also an even shorter drive to Los Angeles and Temecula.
Say you’re hitting Arizona and Utah’s canyon-filled recreational areas with national park visits to Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon. It might make more sense to book an Airbnb for longer in Kanab, Utah, which sits roughly in the center of the three parks.
Airbnb cleaning fees are brutal for short trips. If anything, the knowledge that you can spread out your cleaning fee over an extended stay might be an incentive to treat yourself to a vacation that’s a little longer.
Sam Kemmis contributed to this piece.
Sally French writes for NerdWallet.
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