February 6 is National #bookdirect day. How did this come about? Within the last few years, big listing sites such as Homeaway started to charge travellers booking fees on top of the owners fees to list on their sites. They also made it so that contact information between guests were blocked so there was no communication outside of their booking platforms. Many vacation rental owners took a stand and started to build their own websites and social media pages in order to take direct bookings and save on extortionate fees.
Travel sites like AirBnB, HomeAway/VRBO, and TripAdvisor/Flipkey have added booking fees to either the traveler, the owner and sometimes both when you reserve a vacation property through one of their sites. These fees do NOT go to the owners, but rather to corporate giants such as Expedia. Book with confidence? Payment protection? The sites claim to offer protection but in reality, they will ask the traveler to initiate a charge back if the rental is inhabitable or does not exist. You get that with your credit card anyway so what are you really paying for? They claim to find you another place but it’s not always possible in peak season when majority of properties are booked or, you may end up in a sub-par property or in one miles away. If you could book directly with the owner, you could save these large fees and use them instead toward activities, souvenirs or meals.
The large sites have eliminated owner contact info, and they withhold your contact info from the owners making it challenging to book direct. They also monitor emails so if you try to enter your contact info in your message, it will be blocked out so the owner will not see it. Not only that, the sorting algorithms are designed to push travelers to book properties that will help THEIR bottom line, not yours. This is all done to ensure that they get their greedy fees.
Why should you book direct?
- Save the booking fees you are charged. In some cases, this could be in the hundreds!
- Direct contact with the owner or property manager will expedite any questions or issues that may arise.
- The lowest price will not be on listing sites. Owners may increase their rates on these sites to account for the fees they are charged.
- Many rental property owners have removed their homes from these sites. You may miss out on a great property.
- Owners have intimate knowledge about the destination and the property itself. Ask your questions like best restaurant or beach.
- Take comfort in knowing that the house you booked is the one you will be staying in. Many big listing sites allocate your property on arrival.
So how do you book direct and save yourself hundreds of dollars?
- First, look at the sort. On HomeAway/VRBO, do not use the default sort. Instead, sort by number of reviews. And in the filters, select Owner Operated if you truly want to book with an owner rather than a realty company. On TripAdvisor, likewise sort by reviews.
- Use Google search. On the listing itself, look for clues. Many owners will highlight the name of their company or their business, for example “Sunshine Villa Florida- Your house near the Mouse” or “Another Day in Paradise Chincoteague.” This can lead you to their Google listing, their own website, or the property’s Facebook page. Also, if you Google the owner’s name, their contact information is often readily available on the web.
- What if the owner hasn’t dropped any of these subtle hints? Try StaySavr.com, which has contact info for 70% of the VRBO listings that were in effect in 2016 or earlier.
- Check if the owner has a social media page like Instagram or Facebook and contact them through there
- Support the smaller no fee booking sites like: Houfy.com, Homeescape.com, or Floridarentalowners.com
How to rent safely:
- Check the owner’s online reviews. Also, try to determine ownership. Many counties have tax records available online.
- Google search the owner’s name, the property name, and any other information you may have gathered about the owner. This will help you to rent safely.
- Ask for a rental agreement. Many owners will also allow you to pay by credit card or PayPal. Ask to do that if paying by check makes you uncomfortable.