Can HomeExchange Overthrow Airbnb? Here’s the Down Low on House Swapping

Open apartment window overlooking Paris.
Isaiah Bekkers

HomeExchange might not be a household name like Airbnb, but it’s poised to take off in a market looking to travel more fluidly for greater stints of time. As a frequent jetsetter, I can’t always justify paying for a hotel. I have to rely on homestay rentals, especially if spending weeks or months abroad. Whenever I leave behind my treasured apartment—with its high-end appliances, wonderful water pressure, stocked kitchen, comfy bed, peaceful balcony, you get the picture—an “affordable” long-term rental rarely feels congruent in trade.

Would I swap my own much-loved, lived-in home for any of these pads? No. Especially after discovering my $75/night summer rental doesn’t have central air.

Why don’t I just rent out my own place when I’m gone for long periods to subsidize these costs? For the usual reasons.

First and foremost, it’s illegal in my city—which is a good thing. I’d rather not push residents out from their homes in favor of transient, uninvested tourists. I’m also leery of gambling the sanctity of my apartment on a filterless community of renters. I’ll take lost rent over unvetted, irresponsible strangers having the run of my place.

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I ran my gripes by a close friend recently—a friend who routinely hosts travelers in his well-appointed apartment whenever he’s out of town.

“How’s it legal?” I ask. “And why do you seem to have such foolproof luck filling the exact dates you’re away with consistently solid renters?”

That’s when he introduced me to HomeExchange—and with one helluva sell.

For an annual $150 membership fee, my friend is part of HomeExchange’s vast network of qualified home-swappers—earning “GuestPoints” in place of cash to put toward future accommodation needs.

Empty cobblestone street with a charming row of homes
Bruno Martins

You’re probably aware that home swapping is a thing. You may be wondering how its logistics can actually align. What are the chances of two people mutually wanting what the other person has, in their exact city, and on the exact same dates, with the intrinsic value of each place (because no money is changing hands) feeling congruent?

That’s traditionally how a lot of home swapping services have worked, with varying degrees of success.

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HomeExchange’s reasonable rate, solid track record, and logistics-refined “Guest Points” system was enough to sell me on a membership.

While it’s too early to provide an experiential review, what’s already clear to me is that this service can help save a bundle on travel’s biggest expense. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The HomeExchange Deal

It begins with that annual fee of $150.

Think of this as a good thing. Anyone who voluntarily pays this ante naturally intends to use the service. In other words, you’re working with a network of motivated, like-minded members—all of whom have their own home to swap.

HomeExchange’s trusted network includes nearly half a million listings worldwide. They range from city centers to mountain homes, countryside houses to seaside bungalows.

The specific abode you’re listing may well be exactly what another user is looking for. “Every home has its exchange partner”—is the brand’s modus operandi.

Given that this $150 membership fee may be your only expense while using this service, a single short weekend away can become an immediate money saver.

How Do You Find a Fair Swap on HomeExchange?

Let’s say you’re in Miami and want to visit Australia, while the person in Australia wants to visit Japan, while the person renting from you might be coming from Knoxville.

On the HomeExchange network, everyone pays it forward with this swap. You all “rent” using accrued GuestPoints.

How do you assess the fair value of each swap? If it’s a reciprocal swap (all parties simply agree to it) there’s no system at play. All homes are eligible.

For a non-reciprocal “swap it forward” stay, the network imposes a scaled system—with each listing being assigned a certain value of GuestPoints based on how many people it can accommodate, its location and amenities.

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When you arrange a GuestPoints exchange, the amount you transfer to your host is the value of the GuestPoints assigned to their own home, multiplied by the number of nights you are staying there. For example, if you make a non-reciprocal exchange at someone’s house valued at 200 GuestPoints per night for five nights, 1,000 GuestPoints will be transferred from your account to theirs at the end of the exchange.

Apartment bedroom with open wrought-iron window overlooking neighboring building
John Towner

The Pay It Forward System

If you’re willing to let someone from the HomeExchange network stay in your place while you’re away, then someone from the network will also let you stay in theirs.

It’s a system built to serve those who offer quality for quality—but without discriminating based on location, size, and so forth.

Now, let’s say you’re traveling but aren’t in need of a swap—maybe your hotel expense is covered by work, or you’re crashing at a friend’s place—you can still list your apartment on the HomeExchange network. If someone stays at your place while you’re away, you earn GuestPoints—which can then be applied to future HomeExchange bookings.

Like Cash, Only Different

No money is ever earned by hosts or paid by guests through HomeExchange, just GuestPoints. This allows the service to be legal in most markets.

Moreover, given that the listings are typically “lived-in” apartments, they’re not technically displacing neighborhood residents—and thus can generally get around laws that impact homestay rentals or income reporting. You do need to make sure that your lease doesn’t specifically forbid outside guests of this nature—a rarity.

On the other hand, you don’t need to own your home in order to legally use HomeExchange.

Lastly, I like what HomeExchange offers to members who want to travel (for travel’s sake) for extended periods of time at next to no cost. Peruse the site’s vast network of listings available within your GuestPoints budget and the world is suddenly wide open to you.

A Network Built on Trust

I contacted HomeExchange to field some questions regarding its 450,000-strong listing network across 159 countries—and also to quell any insecurities people likely have about letting strangers stay in their place. Here’s what they assure:

  1. Home swaps on HomeExchange are 99.9 percent incident-free. Very rarely are any matters brought to their customer support team.
  2. There have been zero reported cases of theft from a HomeExchange swap.
  3. HomeExchange has insurance to cover any potential theft or property damage.
  4. HomeExchange has four Facebook groups (three exclusively for active members) moderated by the company for engaging with other members, finding your next vacation, sharing experiences, and building your HomeExchange network-within-a-network.
  5. HomeExchange offers a 100 percent flexible cancellation policy for canceled trips caused by COVID-19, with full GuestPoints returned to both parties.

Making HomeExchange Work for You

If you think you have something worthy of a fair swap, HomeExchange could save you tons of money on traveling.

My own plan is to reallocate some of these savings into my actual home budget to add amenities for future guests looking for the most value-added, vacation-friendly, GuestPoints-worthy rental—starting with an exercise bike (that I can also benefit from at home).

You get out of it what you put in.

HomeExchange’s network is plenty big to provide numerous options on your own travels, while giving you peace of mind with trusted guests in your own home. The most telling statistic regarding the type of traveler HomeExchange attracts is the average guest stay: over a week (7.5 days, to be precise_.

In other words, you’re catering to real travelers (not weekend party crowds) who want to immerse themselves in a local experience, settle in, and feel exactly the way you do when you’re out there exploring the world: comfortable and right at home.

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