In the debate between hotels vs. Airbnbs, there's one common Airbnb fee that you likely won't find at hotels — at least not yet: cleaning fees.
Cleaning fees come on top of the base price and a service fee (which Airbnb pockets).
A June 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.
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.
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 30% of 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 then, there are the bizarre cases where the cleaning fee is more than the base price.
Here's one example of that — a four-bedroom Airbnb in Scottsdale, Ariz. 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.
There is no way to filter Airbnb rentals by cleaning fees. And 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. There's no rule saying that Airbnbs can't charge cleaning fees and require some light housekeeping. That has caused outrage among some travelers.
Because hosts can review guests, there is some pressure to be a good guest and follow the checkout cleaning protocols.
One way to reduce Airbnb cleaning fees is to 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.
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.
French writes for NerdWallet.