Vacation Rentals Pros, Cons, Savings, and Trade Offs: Part 1

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Moorea Vacation House - Yes, you can book a house in French Polinesia

Moorea Vacation House – Yes, you can book a house in French Polinesia Courtesy of FlipKey

Full Disclosure

I met with a FlipKey representative when I went to #TBEX in Spain, and shared my idea on writing a post about vacation rentals and the place they have in budget travel. Vacation rentals was a thing that kept me on the road before miles and points, and I still rent homes and apartments up to this day. This is a fantastic travel option, and I truly believe that every budget or even budget luxury traveler (yes, there is such a thing) should consider renting vacation properties as a part of their overall strategy.  

I have received a consideration from FlipKey in working on this post. It’s a long piece, so I’d rather provide this disclosure at the top of my post, to spare you the agony of scrolling to the bottom.  😆

It is going to be a two-post series. Long posts, short series. I thought I would be able to get it done in one sitting, but it’s gotten too long. Don’t hate me.

Why does renting a vacation home or apartment make sense?

To me, the answer is simple. Because it saves money and gives me more space at the same time.

I will only go so far to save money, though. I will not stay in a shared apartment for the same reason I will not stay in a hostel. Because I don’t want to bother perfect strangers and I don’t want to be bothered by them.

Hostels, as well as shared apartments, can be a lot of fun. I had my share of fun staying in hostels. But the time comes when you need to graduate from hostels and move on. I must be able to return home whenever I feel like without curfew, and at the same time, I need my beauty sleep, too.

I have been using vacation rentals for the last 20 years, well before I learned how to use airline miles and hotel points. That’s a lot of rentals, believe me.

I don’t travel in a large group. My wife hates flying, and so I either travel solo or with my cousin and wingman Timmy. If using vacation rentals makes financial sense even to me—then it must make even more sense for a large group of people sharing living expenses. No?

Back then, no one would even think about renting an apartment for 3-4 days, and no one would rent it for a solo trip. I broke that mold. Me! Well, maybe not me alone, but I did what I could.

In the mid-90s, the Internet was still a new animal to the industry. So were credit cards. Rental owners asked for a check or money wire to secure the rental. The check—needless to say—would have to clear first.

Credit cards? Are you a comedian? One out of ten—maybe—would take a credit card back then. Yes, maybe!

I’ve rented everything: apartments, condotels, houses, villas, even houseboats. Nowadays, if anyone asks you to send them a check, money order, or wire transfer, you know better. It’s easy to avoid unnecessary risks. Back then it wasn’t, and somehow I’ve never gotten burned. That itself is a miracle!

I am indifferent about hotel services

I just don’t care. I don’t need someone to open the door for me, and even worse—I don’t like it. I’m perfectly capable of calling for a cab. I don’t need a concierge to make my reservations. All I need is a clean room and working WiFi, and I’m a happy fella. You won’t hear a peep out of me.

I don’t need room service or a minibar—why not throw your money into the toilet and be done with it? I don’t interact with hotel staff beyond the exchange of pleasantries or unless something’s broken. Or if I eat at the hotel restaurant, which I rarely do unless it’s a free breakfast.

I know that most people don’t feel like that, and by all means, yes, service is important. I won’t say no to a good hotel, especially if I get it on points. But what I really value is space and savings. I like to have more personal space so much that, even to this day, I often forgo a “free” hotel point stay and go for a vacation rental. Crazy, huh?

Let’s See Exactly How Crazy It Is

  • I’ve stayed in a modern, two-bedroom apartment with a view of Copacabana Beach for $80-$100 a day. A comparable hotel room? I don’t even want to know!
  • I’ve stayed in a beautiful oceanfront 3-bedroom condo with a huge Jacuzzi in Miraflores, in Lima for $70. A comparable hotel room? Please!
  • I’ve stayed in a luxury 4-bedroom villa with a million-dollar view and private pool in Buzios, Brazil for $150 a night?
  • An authentic—if slightly rundown—3-bedroom apartment in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, 3 minutes to Rambla: cost us less than $100 a night (and we overpaid slightly).
  • I’ve stayed in a Boardwalk-block condotel’s 2-bedroom suite in Atlantic City on summer weekends for $100 a night, when a simple hotel room was going for at least $300-400.

Crazy, right?

Of course, it doesn’t mean that rates like these can be easily reproduced nowadays, but hotel prices grow too, you know.

Here Is What I Love About Vacation Rentals

  1. Space
  2. Savings
  3. Kitchen
  4. Often comes with a car space
  5. More local authentic experience

Here Is What I don’t like About Vacation Rentals

  1. Higher risk that What You See (in the picture) Is Not What You Get (in fairness, same is often true about hotels)
  2. Higher risk that something goes wrong
  3. When something breaks or doesn’t work, assistance is not immediately available
  4. Security deposits

Like I said, I don’t need hotel service. Most people are not like me. So for most people vacation rentals might not be a viable option. Gee, even I’m sometimes not like me if you catch me at the right moment. I’ve stayed at amazing hotels and resorts and thoroughly enjoyed them.

On the other hand, even if you are the most passionate hotel devotee, you might consider vacation rentals at one point of your life or another. The chances are, one day you will vacation with a couple of kids, or a group of friends, or an extended family, and a simple hotel room might not just cut it!

My Project

In August, I’m flying my mom to Paris. Both of us need some personal space, so staying in the same hotel room is not ideal. Booking 2 hotel rooms or a 2-room suite would be great, but whacky expensive. The hotel rates in central Paris in summer… well, you know! My mom has limited mobility. She is scooter-bound.

So I began this to kill two birds with one research—to get material for this post and find us a place in Paris for our trip in August. I quickly dropped the idea, however. It’s hard to find an accessible hotel in Paris, let alone an apartment. What is the number 1 concern to my mom and me won’t apply to 99% of travelers. Since accessibility is the most important issue to us, it requires a different approach.

So let’s forget about my mom’s special needs for a moment. What if you simply want to stay in central Paris and get the most bang for your buck?

The vacation rental marketplace is huge, even if it’s still a drop in a bucket compared to the market called Hospitality.

The Industry

There are dozens of players in the vacation rental marketplace, but here are the major ones in alphabetical order.

  • Airbnb
  • FlipKey
  • HomeAway
  • Vacation Rentals
  • VRBO (subsidiary of HomeAway)

Most of these companies have very similar looks. So much so, that if you check one website after another, you might get confused. You can also notice that a lot of properties are listed across multiple platforms, and that the prices are very similar.

There are two things that I like about FlipKey more than others. First, they code their transactions in the Travel category rather than Real Estate, so you can use a Barclaycard Arrival card and get reimbursed. Second, it’s a Trip Advisor company; and Trip Advisor probably knows a thing or two about dealing with fraudulent  reviews.

While all these companies might look alike, they use different pricing models. Airbnb and FlipKey don’t have a subscription fee, but they charge hosts and guests for every booking. Vacation Rentals and VRBO don’t charge for bookings, but they do charge an annual subscription fee. HomeAway has a mixed model where the host can choose a subscription fee or pay on a per-booking basis.

What you also should know is that not all properties are posted by owners. A lot of rentals are posted by management companies across multiple platforms, but that is clearly disclosed.

Can You Bargain?

You can, and I’ve done it successfully in the past. However, as you can imagine, hosts don’t like it, and they will refuse to go down in price more often than not. If you find a place that’s priced competitively, I wouldn’t try to bring down the price—instead I would try to negotiate some extra perks. If you need an early check-in or late check-out—ask for it. You can definitely ask for extra linens or/and towels. Sometimes, you can ask for an extra day if the calendar shows availability. Extra perks are always easier to negotiate than the price.

Exception: if you want to go somewhere on a whim, you can ask for the last-minute discount. Some owners will still say no on principle, but others would rather offer you a discount than see their place stay empty.

Under all circumstances, be very polite. Tell them how much you love the place and reassure them that you will treat their home as if it was your own. Think what you would like to hear from a guest under similar circumstances.

Alright, this post has already reached 1600 words, so I gotta stop here. My next post is about my case study for a stay in Paris. Stay tuned.

To be continued

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5 Responses to Vacation Rentals Pros, Cons, Savings, and Trade Offs: Part 1

  1. bluecat says:

    “and Trip Advisor probably knows a thing or two about dealing with fraudulent reviews.” — ha ha ha ha ha

    That’s a joke, right?!

    Someone told me that I should always use Expedia or Hotels.com for reviews because you at least know that the poster actually stayed at the place. This helps keep down the number of touts.

    Otherwise, good post. We need to be reminded that points stays at hotels are not always the best option for travel….

    • Andy Shuman says:

      Thanks for your comment. I know there are a lot of different opinions about TripAdvisor reviews. But I also know that TA “reviews” reviews all the time and they periodically delete bunches of reviews they deem questionable. I might be wrong, but to me personally, TA reviews have worked without a hitch so far. I think the sheer number of users act like a counterbalance to gamers, of sorts.

  2. Erik says:

    I love vacation rentals too. It makes family travel a lot more relaxing because you have that space, a kitchen, and separate bedrooms. More often than not, you also get the feeling of living (dare I quote Rick Steves) “as a temporary local”.

    On your comment about bargaining…you will be more successful if you negotiate during shoulder/off-season or an event that has caused travel to that area to drop below normal. In 2009, the year after the global financial crisis hit, I scored a lovely 2 bedroom apartment in Provence for about 300 euros less than the published rate for a week’s stay. I simply told the owner what I could afford and they replied, fine, no problem. It was a great place and perfectly located for making day trips around the area.

    One additional tip: if you can speak the language (or know a native speaker who can inquire on your behalf) you may get more favorable rates. Especially in places like Italy.

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