The small, block ad that popped up on my computer would have gone unnoticed if I hadn’t been veering toward desperation after spending an hour searching major travel sites for hotels that could accommodate us last New Year’s Eve.
When I clicked the ad, I had no idea it would lead me to rent a modern, well-furnished loft in the heart of the Niagara-on-the-Lake historic district for less than half of what we would have paid at a hotel in that Ontario, Canada, locale. That trip taught me a lesson I try to share as often as I can — take the extra time to search, and you will save major cash and gain more comfort.
Perhaps I’m just traditional, but when my husband and I had agreed with our friends to meet at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, I immediately began looking for hotels or B&Bs. The more I searched, the more disappointed I became as I pictured a cramped hotel room and a major credit card bill.
That ad I happened upon listed houses, condos, apartments and lofts at an array of prices. Still, a nagging voice told me that they were too good to be true. That’s where the travelers’ reviews came in. There weren’t just a few that one might suspect were written by the proprietor’s friends but rather dozens and dozens. I decided to give it a try.
The bottom line — we booked, we loved it, we paid less than imagined, and we can’t wait to return.
That doesn’t surprise David McElveen who joined with Joe Murray in 2004 to co-found Oregon Beach Vacations.
“We have everyone from single people to groups of 22 or more,” said McElveen of the company’s clients. “We have some groups of 40-50 people that just want enough space to enjoy themselves.”
Although summer months are the boom time, there are still deals to be had for any number guests, he said. And many travelers prefer off-season rentals because they can affordably stay for a month or longer.
Whatever time of year suits someone’s travel, they should consider a few ideas to make sure they get the best rates and lodging, said McElveen.
Talk with the owner or manager
Photo (cc) by Boris Baldinger
When you rent a hotel room, you’re one of a number of anonymous travelers. Sure, some hotel reps will try to help you find a bargain or a good deal, but they won’t put as much effort into it as those that rent private properties. If you are courteous and ask plenty of questions, it will go a long way toward securing a deal on a quality property.
Photo (cc) by Takashi Hososhima
“We appreciate people letting us know that money matters to them,” he said. If a client can’t afford a prime property in Lincoln City, Seaside, or another highly desirable area, he may be able to steer them to a just-as-nice property that is off the beaten path but works better for their budget. And, yes, there are still properties available this season.
Photo (cc) by Pauline Kenny
I’ve found it’s easy to get carried away when browsing properties and have opted for a much larger space than I needed. I’ve found myself wishing I had considered a more suitable size that would have saved me some money. That’s common, said McElveen. “If a couple is looking at a three-bedroom house, they may want to reconsider,” he said. “Do they really need all of this space?”
Photo (cc) by Bart Speelman
Do you really want a hot tub? What about a fire pit? If you haven’t used those in the past, what makes you think you’ll use them now? If you really think you’ll enjoy them, great. But if not, why spend the money?
Ask about discounts
Photo (cc) by Glenngould
If you are renting a place for more than a week or you are renting multiple properties, ask if there is a price break, McElveen recommended. If five families in a group all rent separately, they could be spending a lot more money than if they had booked at the same time. If you return to a property multiple times, don’t forget to let the owner or manager know. You may receive a discount for that, too.
Photo (cc) by Dave Rosenblum
Some of the best bargains are had when travelers are flexible on dates or can take advantage of last-minute deals, McElveen said. If you’re courteous to the property owners, it goes a long way too, reports Kiplinger. Property owners may prefer to leave their listing vacant than rent to someone who is rude, Kiplinger noted.
Beware of scams
Photo (cc) by Alan Levine
There are a lot of good deals, but some will appear a little too good to be true — and, indeed, turn out to be scams. These rip-offs typically take one of two forms, as we recently reported:
One, the person you’re dealing with doesn’t actually own the property. Instead, he or she has lifted the photos and a listing from another website. Typically, you get a contract to sign and return along with a security deposit. When you show up, luggage in hand, you are out of luck while the fraudster disappears with the deposit.
Two, you have a place to stay, but the home was misrepresented by the owner and not at all what you were expecting.
It helps to start with a reputable rental site — such as Airbnb, Vacation Rentals by Owner and Homeaway — which have built-in fraud protection features. For lots more tips on avoiding getting scammed, check out: “7 Tips to Avoid Vacation Rental Rip-offs.”
What’s your experience finding affordable vacation lodging? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.