The small 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 on New Year’s Eve.
The ad led me to rent a modern, well-furnished loft in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic district — for less than half the cost of a hotel in that Ontario, Canada, town. That trip taught me a lesson: Take the extra time to search, and you will save major cash and gain more comfort.
Perhaps I’m just traditional, but I automatically began looking for hotels and B&Bs for that trip. That search ended in disappointment as I pictured a cramped hotel room and a major credit card bill.
Vacation home rentals, however, take many forms — including houses, condos, apartments and lofts like the one I stayed in that New Year’s Eve. See for yourself by checking out the variety of listings on a vacation rental website.
While Airbnb is probably the best known example, other major vacation rental sites include:
- VRBO (short for “Vacation Rentals by Owner”) — which is among few sites that have “long worked with travelers looking for vacation homes ranging from ski condos in Vail, Colo., to beach houses in Tulum, Mexico,” the New York Times reported earlier this year. VRBO was founded in 1996.
- Homestay.com — which caters to tight budgets. It “offers a network of accommodations in over 150 countries where hosts offer affordable lodging, breakfast and local intelligence,” the Times reported.
The bottom line: We booked that loft in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we loved it, we paid less than imagined, and we can’t wait to return. So don’t count out vacation rentals the next time you search for lodging just because you’re new to them.
These tips will help ensure you get the best rental at the best rate:
1. Talk with the owner or manager
When you rent a hotel room, you’re one of many anonymous travelers. Sure, some hotel reps will try to help you find a bargain or a good deal, but they probably won’t put as much effort into it as those who rent out private properties.
Plus, if you are courteous when dealing with vacation rental representatives and ask plenty of questions, it will go a long way toward securing a deal on a quality property.
If you’re willing to budge on other factors, like the exact location of a vacation rental property, you might find you can negotiate on price.
“We appreciate people letting us know that money matters to them,” Oregon Beach Vacations co-founder David McElveen says. If he knows a client can’t afford one of his company’s prime properties, 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.
3. Consider space
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. McElveen says that’s common.
“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?”
4. Weigh luxuries
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?
5. Ask about discounts
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.
For example, 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.
6. Be flexible
Some of the best bargains are had when travelers are flexible on dates or can take advantage of last-minute deals, McElveen said.
Being flexible about your travel dates is also a great way to save money on flights — it’s tip No. 1 in “14 Super Smart Ways to Save on Travel.”
7. Beware of scams
There are a lot of good deals, but some will seem a little too good to be true — and turn out to be scams. These rip-offs typically take one of two forms, as we explain in “7 Tips to Avoid a Vacation Rental Ripoff“:
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.
For more tips, check out “7 Checks to Avoid Hidden Vacation Rental Costs and Scams.”
What’s your experience finding affordable vacation lodging? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.