Surfing for a Vacation Rental
Surfing for a Vacation Rental
By MICHELLE HIGGINS - New York Times, 1/18/2012, original
WITH hotel rates on the rise, vacation rentals are looking attractive, often providing more space and amenities for less than you would spend on a hotel. But finding that apartment in Paris or seaside cottage in Florida can be a daunting task.
The Internet has made it possible for just about anyone with a spare room to post a listing. And travelers can spend hours searching online. Currently, there is no one-stop shopping site, but each option has nuances, and some are better than others, depending on where you are going and what you’re looking for. Most offer a broad range of prices. Here’s an overview of several online vacation rental sites to help simplify your search.
A pioneer in the couch-surfing tradition, Airbnb.com is the go-to site for the budget traveler set. It allows users to post a free listing — whether it’s a pull-out sofa in the living room or a private apartment. So far, there are 100,000 listings in 192 countries, with a good chunk in cities like New York, San Francisco, London and Paris. You can narrow your search to spare rooms or entire homes, among other filters.
Linking your Facebook account to Airbnb will let you see places your friends have rented as well as any connections to hosts through mutual friendships or school affiliations.
Find something you like? You pay Airbnb by credit card or PayPal, with a booking fee of 6 to 12 percent added on. To help ensure that guests are treated well and accommodations are as described, the money isn’t released to the host until 24 hours after you check in. Recently, after one San Francisco host’s rental fiasco, in which guests vandalized and burglarized her home, Airbnb beefed up its support measures, including adding a 24-hour hot line and e-mail address for emergencies.
Bottom line: Airbnb may offer a wide range of accommodations, including luxury homes and yachts, but it stands out for budget travelers who don’t mind having a roommate. While more than 57 percent of listings are entire houses or apartments, 43 percent are spare rooms or shared rooms, including a sofa bed in a flat in the Marais neighborhood of Paris for $59. There are also the occasional quirky places. How about a treehouse overlooking San Francisco Bay for $150?
With more than 290,000 listings in 145 countries, HomeAway.com is among the largest vacation rental sites out there, and it will appeal to those looking for a traditional private vacation home. About 100,000 of the listings are concentrated in the United States and a hefty number are in Europe, especially France and Spain. Travelers can whittle those figures down to a manageable list by choosing the features they want, like a pool or pet-friendly accommodations.
You can also search by price, dates or location. If users sign in with an e-mail address, they can keep track of properties, tagging them as favorites or clicking “compare” to look at offerings side by side. The site allows guests to post reviews and rate the accuracy of its listings on a five-star system.
Bottom line: HomeAway.com focuses on stand-alone properties from second-home owners, so you won’t find rent-a-bed or owner-occupied listings here. There is no upfront booking fee. Rental costs and terms are determined by the homeowner; some hosts do not accept credit cards. Lots of listings and easy searching make this a good site for travelers who don’t want to waste a lot of time digging through a long list of properties.
With some 40,000 listings in more than 3,700 destinations — mostly in Europe and Asia — Roomorama.com is a good site for travelers headed abroad. Though individual homeowners can list apartments or even a spare room, 70 percent of the available properties are second homes that are handled by a management company. In addition to searching by destination, price and other filters, travelers can post what they are looking for (a three-bedroom for four adults and two children in downtown Palm Springs, Calif., with a heated pool, for example) so hosts can make an offer. It also has a perks program that offers discounts — typically 20 percent off — on local services like guided tours, spas and restaurants.
Roomorama asks guests and hosts for a scanned photo ID and assigns “certified host” icons to profiles of those who have been well reviewed. To ensure that hosts are held accountable and maintain a level of quality, travelers receive a code upon booking. If everything is in order on arrival, the traveler presents the code to the host and Roomorama releases the payment.
Bottom line: Listings in the United States are still very limited — for example, only one listing was available in Palm Springs, compared with 952 in Bangkok. Guests are charged a booking fee of 8 to 12 percent, depending on the length of stay. But the site, which is free to search, is worth a look, particularly for international travelers who want a private home or apartment rented by a professional agency.
Unlike its international sister site, HomeAway.com, VRBO focuses on second homes in popular United States getaways like Cape Cod and Orlando with about 175,000 listings, for which no fees are charged. One major drawback is that you can’t search by price. Filters are limited to location, availability and categories like number of bedrooms. Essentially, VRBO.com delivers offerings in one long list, requiring users to click through for specific details and photos of each property. Once you click on a property, the usual details, including photos, are provided.
Bottom line: Though the site can be clunky to navigate, it is still worth checking out for those headed to mainstream vacation destinations in the United States. That is, if you have the patience to sift through listings: a recent search for Palm Springs rentals turned up over nine pages, with at least 40 listings a page.
Better known as a hotel review site, TripAdvisor has teamed up with several vacation rental sites, including FlipKey.com and HolidayLettings.co.uk, to offer more than 200,000 listings, mostly in the United States and Europe, particularly Britain. For obsessive vacation planners who want to go beyond a basic rental search, the site offers various tools, including a calculator to compare the potential savings of a rental versus a hotel, as well as destination forums. As on HomeAway, you can easily narrow searches by a number of preferences or view properties on a map, and there are no upfront booking fees. And like Airbnb, linking a Facebook account enables users to see if friends have written a review. In addition, travelers can post their own photos of rentals they’ve booked through the site, offering more transparency on the quality of the rental.
Bottom line: Unlike the other sites, vacation rentals is just one aspect of TripAdvisor, which also reviews restaurants, attractions and other destination information, which can be helpful when planning your trip.