Some home exchange networks are free. Some charge an annual fee. And others have more complicated pricing models, like a cost per night stayed. My post on the change in pricing model by Guest to Guest resulted in some interesting comments that led me to dig into pricing for home exchange networks more generally. You can find price information on all house swap networks in my spreadsheet. I did some analysis to summarize the current state of house swap network costs.
If you have a vacation home and want to join a luxury home swap network, you’ll pay a premium. So I excluded all networks categorized as “specialty” in my spreadsheet (28 total). This also excluded some specialty networks that aren’t for vacation homes, but many of them have odd pricing and membership models, so I think this makes for a more comparable group. That leaves 43 home exchange networks that are more or less generalist or location specific (i.e. focused just on swaps within Australia).
Number of networks by pricing category
- Free: 15
- Annual fee: 24
- Pay per swap: 4
(Note, I included Guest to Guest in the annual fee group, since I think the 130 euro plan will make the most sense for most regular home exchangers. But you could consider them a pay per swap model too.)
The only network with more than 5000 listings that is free as of 2019 (with the Guest to Guest change) will be Geenee. And Geenee appears to be relatively inactive, with an older website design, no social media activity since 2011, and declining listing numbers. They have no apparent revenue stream and so as a volunteer run project this isn’t surprising. Most of the other free networks have fewer than 2000 listings, and this may just be a startup strategy to attract members.
Among those 24 networks that charge an annual fee, the cost is $34-$240 with Love Home swap by far the most expensive. The next highest cost after LHS is $150, which is what HomeExchange.com charges for membership, and will be the cost of the Guest to Guest annual membership fee as well.
This means the average cost for annual fee home exchange membership is $88. The average cost for networks with more than 5000 listings is $120 (though LHS really skews this number, it would be $105 if we exclude them from the calculation). In my opinion, unless you have a special location requirement (i.e. can only swap within Russia) or a special group with whom you want to swap (i.e. only want to exchange with other vacation home owners), you’re better off joining the larger networks. The chances of finding swaps that match your destination desires are much higher with more listings. So I think the $105-120 average price is the real price to look at.
Consider that you would be lucky to find a decent hotel room for under $100 per night. If you’re traveling with more than two adults and a child, you likely need more than a single hotel room. But hotels probably aren’t the best comparison for home exchange costs. Airbnb is a better comparison since house swappers are comfortable staying in other people’s homes, and like to have the space and comfort of an entire home.
Sharebetter, an Anti-Airbnb lobbying group, put together some data in 2016 comparing lodging costs in major cities:
These are among the most expensive cities in the United States so they represent the highest average lodging costs. You can certainly get much cheaper lodging if you are visiting less popular destinations. And pricing in other countries is similarly variable depending on destination.
You can definitely bring down the cost of hotels and Airbnb lodging by limiting your requirements on size, amenities, and convenience of location. These are sacrifices we sometimes make in home exchange in order to find a match for our desired destination. But with home exchange we also sometimes get way more than we were asking for. I’ve stayed in some fabulous places that were far more convenient, larger and more amenity filled than I needed. And with home exchange the price is always the same (annual fee or per swap fee).
When you look at the cost of joining a home exchange network compared to the cost of hotels or Airbnb rentals, it’s hard to complain about even the most expensive of house swap networks. As long as you actively use those networks, you’re going to come out way ahead on cost, quality and comfort.