7 Checks to Avoid Hidden Vacation Rental Costs and Scams

Photo by Luis Molinero / Shutterstock.com

I travel frequently and have grown quite fond of the large, luxurious short-term rentals I’ve booked through Flip Key, Airbnb, HomeAway and similar sites. The prices are usually lower than those for hotel rooms and include fewer hassles such as housekeeping’s inevitable, inconvenient arrival and more features such as full kitchens.

Plenty of other leisure travelers are trying vacation home rentals. The Vacation Rental Managers Association reported that 24 percent of leisure travelers stayed in vacation home rentals from 2010 to 2012. In 2009, only 20 percent of leisure travelers opted for such housing, an increase from 11 percent in 2008.

The downside, as you’ve probably guessed, is that some travelers are finding less-than-truthful landlords if not outright scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently reported that thousands of would-be renters have contacted them with complaints about such rentals.

As we’ve previously reported, there are certainly plenty of honest landlords and great deals on short-term leisure rentals. But it’s important to know some of the minor and major downsides you might encounter with this type of specific housing:

1. Keep track of totals

My infatuation with this type of housing splintered when I booked three nights in a room advertised at $125 a night and the total came to more than $700. Many emails and calls later, I discovered the apartment’s owner had tacked on various additional charges. The $125 price tag had been a way for the landlord to appear to offer the lowest-cost housing. I was surprised because the previous landlords from whom I rented did not charge extra fees. But it turns out that some landlords will charge listing fees, security deposits, cleaning fees and more, notes attorney Stephen Fishman writing for the legal website NOLO. And some charges, such as those I encountered, are not included in the posted rental price.

2. Don’t wire money

We all think we’re too smart to do something like that, then experience the rush of excitement to reserve what we think is a premiere property. The FTC reminds us that wiring money is the same as giving cash. That means there’s no way to track the payment.

3. Watch for red flags

Forbes contributor Vanessa Grout encountered warning signs when she discovered none of the online listings that enticed her were available. That type of “bait-and-switch” con is common, she reports. Landlords hope the elegant properties will hook desperate renters who will agree to rent lesser properties.

4. Don’t dismiss negative reviews

When I look at properties, I always read the comments. When I went back-and-forth with the landlord who had not worked his charges into the advertised rate, I read the comments again. Sure enough, a few other renters called the landlord dishonest. “The feedback from previous renters that appears on sites like Airbnb and VRBO is invaluable,” writes Grout for Forbes. “And in some cases, you’re even allowed to pose questions to other users.”

5. Go with your gut

I’ve rented from some very pleasant hosts. Not everyone is that lucky. “Some people know what they’re doing, but some don’t,” advises Fishman. “A rotten host or one who is overly intrusive could turn your vacation into a nightmare.” Although one plus about short-term rentals is that you’re not working with a corporation that can be a minus if the host is intrusive or rude. Also, Fishman notes that the landlord or host may be breaking laws or rules by renting the property.

Pay attention to your instincts when you contact the rental owner. Is the host harried, rude, uncertain when you ask questions, insistent that you pay cash? Move on to another rental property or find a hotel.

6. Read the fine print

If you arrive at a hotel room and find the bed unmade, the bathroom dirty or the thermostat broken, you can almost always find immediate help. But what happens if you arrive at a private rental property and find those conditions? Worse still, what if you arrive at what should be your rental and find there is no property to be had? Completely fictitious properties and bait-and switch deals — where you end up with something less desirable that what was advertised — are among the hazards of renting through peer-to-peer sites.

Find out what recourse you have before you book. Read the fine print of all online rental company sites because policies vary widely and change frequently, notes Fishman.

7. Don’t rely on others to check details

When groups rent properties, each person tends to believe someone else is double-checking details, notes Grout. Check all the details just as you would if you were solo, and you may avoid losing money or arriving at a nonexistent rental.

What’s your experience renting direct from owners? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
8 Award-Winning Products That Impressed 40,000 Shoppers
8 Award-Winning Products That Impressed 40,000 Shoppers

The Product of the Year awards help shoppers find the best pet products, personal care items and everything in between.

8 Ways to Slash Your Internet Bill
8 Ways to Slash Your Internet Bill

No matter what price you are paying for internet service, taking these simple steps can lower it.

The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them
The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them

Rescuing a retirement from regret starts with these steps well before it’s time to quit working.

10 Things You Should Never Buy on Amazon
10 Things You Should Never Buy on Amazon

Just because you can purchase something on Amazon doesn’t mean that you should.

What is the Cheapest Grocery Store?
What is the Cheapest Grocery Store?

Aldi, Kroger and Walmart: Which grocery store is the cheapest?

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Whether you resell it for a big profit or add it to your own wardrobe, this type of clothing is a hidden steal.

10 Things Frugal People Never Buy
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy

If you’re a true tightwad, the mere thought of spending money on these items gives you the willies.

7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking
7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.

This Simple Mistake Might Weaken Your COVID-19 Vaccination
This Simple Mistake Might Weaken Your COVID-19 Vaccination

Avoid doing this before you get vaccinated.

10 Cars You Are Most Likely to Keep for 15 Years
10 Cars You Are Most Likely to Keep for 15 Years

The cars that owners hold onto the longest have one thing in common, a new study shows.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners
The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners

If you’re looking to ease into investing in the coronavirus economy with just a little money, check out these easy-to-use tools.

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Taking a Multivitamin? Here’s Why You Should Reconsider
Taking a Multivitamin? Here’s Why You Should Reconsider

A new study has bad news for the millions of Americans who spend money on multivitamins.

13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

11 Products Now in Short Supply Due to the Pandemic
11 Products Now in Short Supply Due to the Pandemic

Many goods we take for granted have become tough to find in 2021.

9 Things You Should Never Leave in a Car
9 Things You Should Never Leave in a Car

Thinking of leaving these possessions in a car? Prepare for unexpected consequences.

9 Mistakes People Make When Cleaning With Vinegar
9 Mistakes People Make When Cleaning With Vinegar

Cleaning with vinegar can save you a lot of money, but using it like this can cost you.

8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today
8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these items.

10 Things Successful Retirees Do Differently
10 Things Successful Retirees Do Differently

These habits and characteristics can help put you on the track to success.

7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook
7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

Did you realize all these tax credits and deductions exist — or that they apply to retirees?

7 Costly Health Problems That Strike After Age 50
7 Costly Health Problems That Strike After Age 50

As we age, our bodies wear down. Here is how to cut costs associated with some common ailments.

Prepare to Pay More for These 31 Drugs in 2021
Prepare to Pay More for These 31 Drugs in 2021

More than 700 prescription medications have seen price hikes so far this year. Here’s a look at the worst.

29 Purchases That Can Save You Money Every Day
29 Purchases That Can Save You Money Every Day

Sometimes, you’ve got to spend to save.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.