Vacation Rentals are more popular than ever, and easier to book all the time with advancements in new marketplaces and technology. However, keep in mind vacation rentals are still not hotels and the booking process is still very different. Not only is just about every rental very different from the next but so are the owners and property managers that rent them out.
These differences will show themselves very apparently after that first trip in a vacation rental. Why wait for that first misstep in booking the wrong place or not knowing what to look for when booking.
Take these 20 tips to help lead you down the right path for when you book a vacation rental
Talk to the owner, don’t just email
This just might be the single most important thing you do when booking a vacation rental. Even a short phone conversation can teach you a lot about someone that you would not learn over email. How forthcoming they are about the property, how they answer your questions and how available they are to talk in the first place can tell you a lot about the people you’ll be dealing with in case of problems.
Owner numbers are becoming harder and harder to come by on popular vacation rental marketplaces till after you have booked. Tripz.com believes strongly in that the more open the communication is prior to booking the better the guest experience will be.
Actually read the descriptions
We all just assume the description is going to be filled with marketing nonsense or some beautiful wordy description of a living room and outdoor space. Th reality is the owners often tuck in some very useful information that could dramatically affect your decision to book or not.
Items around noise tolerance, added fees, or general information about the property that cannot be portrayed through the check boxes of amenities the listings sites make available to owners when listing the space. There are a lot of solid gems of knowledge hidden in the description that you should absolutely take the time to read.
Read the reviews and don’t trust the star rating
We are all used to the star ratings on hotels and vacation rentals but that doesn’t paint the whole picture. A low cost low quality space can still get 4 or 5 stars from a traveler who feels they got what they paid for. That 4 or 5 star rated place may not be where you want to stay. Reading the actual reviews will tell a lot more than the star rating. Some people are perfectly satisfied when they shouldn’t be and others upset about things they shouldn’t be. Read through and see what travelers liked and didn’t like and pick out what’s truly important to you.
Also be warry of a property with all 5 star reviews. They are often fake or incentivized. Not even the best hotels in the world with the finest services get all 5 stars. You can’t expect and inexperienced home owner renting out their home to get nothing but 5 stars.
Take time to understand the location
Vacation rental owners may not publicly list the exact location or share the address. It’s not about deceiving the traveler but protecting the home. You would not want to publicly broadcast to the web where you home is located and exactly when it will be vacant and neither do vacation rental owners.
What you can do is take the general area and map it using services like google maps. Exploring the satellite view, street view and looking at the types of businesses in the immediate area. This will get you a good picture of the area.
One thing you have to look past is the generic location statements owners will used to entice you. Things like best location in town, minutes from the beach, and other statements like this give travelers the sense its closer or more convenient than the reality. Again mapping it and realizing homes are not located in the middle of tourist areas as much as hotels typically are. Use common sense when assessing the area and location of your rental.
Are calendars ever up to date?
Again much like the last point in terms of the home’s safety many owners keep in open or poorly managed calendar online. In addition owners want every traveler to see their property, booked or not. Why spend all the time an energy on the ad if its simply doesn’t show up to a blocked calendar.
Calendars are however getting more and more integrated with software and other connections keeping them up to date. As a traveler it’s still in your best interest to at least reach out despite the calendar status. Many owners and managers have homes not listed on certain sites and may have
Additional fees, yes, they are part of the process
Most of us that have booked vacation rentals are accustomed to the basic additional fees such as a cleaning fee and a security deposit. However additional fees can be much more complex and deceiving in terms of the total cost if you don’t pay attention.
Owners in different markets all seemingly have their own way of incorporating or tacking on additional fees. We have seen fees for linens, small general booking fees, additional guest fees, parking fees, the list goes on and on. Read again the description and additional fees so you truly understand the true total cost.
Use your credit card vs cash or check.
Checks are still a big portion of vacation rental transactions however provides little to no insurance to you the traveler. One of the many signs of a well managed vacation rental is their ability to take credit card payments through traditional channels and not PayPal.
Using your credit card assures at a minimum the ability to pull back funds in the event things go horribly wrong.
Vacation rental owners often will give discounts for paying in cash or check due to the processing cost of taking a credit card. Keep in mind the average going rate is about 3% so be warry of huge discounts to avoid processing costs.
It’s a vacation rental not a hotel
In a hotel stay if you have a question or concern you call the front desk. The same cannot be said about a vacation rental, often times with the owner or property management company being in a different state.
If there is a problem, it helps to have an actual person to deal with, so be sure to ask for a contact to be available during your rental period. A reliable emergency contact number is a must in the event of unforeseen issues like plumbing breaks, the electricity goes out or other problems.
Be upfront with the owner.
We all appreciate honesty. You expect an honest advertisement of a vacation rental and the owner expects honesty from those that stay there. If you do not want the situation to become uncomfortable be upfront about your details. Don’t try to avoid the extra guest fees be lying about the number or guest or that you have a pet. Don’t think for a second its your house to do as your please. You would never try to host an event at a hotel and expect not to get billed for it. Be honest about your plans and you will find the owner to be much more helpful.
Make sure to ask if others will be on the property.
Many properties are listed as the whole home or unit when in fact they are connected to or share with another unit. This means you could be sharing amenities or the general area with other renters or even the owners. Make sure you fully understand the layout and if there will be others on property or amenities that might be shared.
Waiting till the last minute is not a good strategy.
Many people have ready blogs and other aritcles and seem to think if you wait till last minute and offer the owner a low ball offer you are in for big savings. News flash, owners hate this and your likelihood for success is going to be low. Also vacation rentals still are not as straight forward as a hotel and you want to give yourself some time to speak with the owner to ensure you are booking the perfect rental.
Inquire about the simple things.
When booking a hotel we come to expect clean linens, towels, iron and ironing board, blow dryers, even soap and shampoo. Now some vacation rentals come overly stocked with everything a traveler needs while others leave out what may seem like a given necessity. There are vacation rentals out there requiring you to bring your own linens even your own toilet paper. Make sure you know what is all stocked at the home before you book.
Internet to some is still a luxury.
Considering vacation rentals are either investment properties or peoples second homes, often times added luxuries like internet may not be available. Owners based on how much they are at the home or how they like to enjoy it while visiting may or may not have internet available. If having internet access is important to you, make sure you discuss this before booking.
One night stays are not common.
Can’t say it enough the differences of vacation rentals and hotels. Owners do not want to be in the business of cleaning the property every night and deal with the constant guest turn over. You will find most commonly 3 nights or more as a minimum stay when it comes to vacation rentals.
However, don’t be afraid to ask for an exception, especially in the off-season when owners are usually more flexible.
Don’t be afraid to look up the owners
A vacation rental can be a transaction between you and another person, or a company. Take some time to look into that person or company like you would if you were hiring someone to watch your children. A bit of quick research can easily give you a better picture of exactly who you are renting from.
Ask for references
While we don’t think its necessary to call references. The owner should be at least comfortable with and have references on hand to give you. If they shy away from this it could be a potential red flag.
Ask detailed questions
Seems simple enough and is touched upon in just about every other tip. However asking simple detailed questions can make the difference in whether or not you should book a specific rental or not.
As an example if there is a fire pit in a picture ask if its for guest use, if there are no burn days or rules, or if there will be firewood or propane provided depending on the fire pit. If there is a picture of a beach ask where that picture was taken and how close it is to the property. As they may have used a stock image from the area and the beach nearby may not be nearly as pleasing.
Always compare and shop around
Statistics will tell you that travelers look on at least 6 sites before booking. So saying shop around is not exactly new to travelers. However now with more and more resources poping up and unlike hotels, vacation rentals are not priced the same on every website. Find the homes you love most and work to connect directly with the source as that will yield your best deal. Doing this is easy on Tripz.com.
Know the risks and the fees
Booking a vacation rental is a bit more risky than many other travel accommodations. Usually you must put down at least 50% to secure the rental often with that deposit not being refundable. It’s important you know the cancelation policy and what fees are refundable and which are not.
Read the rental agreement
Rental agreements as they should be are going to be written in favor of the owner to protect their property. However, they also often include other items like house rules that need to be followed or additional fees could be incurred. Along with this and other general liabilities you take on as renter its important you read and understand what you are signing off on.
Have any vacation rental tips or experiences to share with your fellow travelers? Post them in the comments below!