You’ve seen the ads on TV, the garden gnome who professes that that you ‘won’t lose sleep’ with their price match guarantee or the owl who will search hundreds of accommodations saving you 30% or more. They all guarantee the same thing…the lowest rate. And that sounds good, right?
Except here’s the thing: these ads or online travel booking sites can’t guarantee that you are getting the lowest price for your accommodations because they don’t OWN any of the accommodations themselves.
But we can. You get the benefit of knowing you are getting the lowest price when you book directly through a hotel or vacation rental’s website – and we’re not talking about just our vacation rental. We’re speaking of ALL hotel and vacation rental properties.
Over the last few years, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb and other major vacation/hotel listing sites have changed their business model. While they were once straight advertising/listing sites – basically, online vacation rental classifieds – they have slowly evolved into behemoth booking engines, similar to Hotels.com.
So what?, you say, you like online booking via credit card.
So do we. But that’s not the change that concern us. Here’s a list of what does cause us concern (and it should concern you too)
1. You’re Now Paying up to $499, Per Booking, in Service Fees
Have you noticed the new HomeAway and VRBO service fee? It was introduced in 2016. Essentially, in exchange for the convenience of booking online, HomeAway and VRBO (owned by HomeAway) now charge an average of 5-12% on top of each booking. And beware: Fees can go higher than 15% per booking.
Put in real numbers, when you book a $2,000 vacation rental on HomeAway or VRBO, you’ll now pay up to $240 extra (or more, depending on HomeAway’s algorithms) for that privilege.
The Airbnb guest service fee is calculated at 5-15% percent. Again, on that $2,000 rental, be prepared to pony up an additional $100-$300, just for the privilege of booking via Airbnb.
Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Expedia all charge similar guest ‘convenience’ or service fees at time of booking.
The problem with this practise is that guests do not see the actual ‘base rate’ for the accommodation they are interested in booking. These service fees are often quoted as part of the default rental rate shown.
These booking sites make it nearly impossible for owners and hoteliers to offer potential and returning guests deals or special discounts.
Vacation rental owners have reported that, if the booking site’s online messaging/rate system catches an owner trying to give you a deal, the site will simply increase the service fee and bring the total back to the original amount. It’s lose-lose, at least for the both of us.
If you want to do something special on your trip, like say a romantic dinner for your sweetie you won’t see anything about these offerings or amenities. What if your vacation accommodations wanted to offer you a complimentary margarita every Thursday night? You wouldn’t know about these perks until after you checked in or worst…you may not know about it at all!
3. They Hide Your Contact Information
In the past, vacation rental owners could chat with perspective guests before they booked. Guests could ask us questions, we could answer. We could point you to our website, send a link to photo albums, invite you to give us a call, and send emails back and forth.
In June 2017, HomeAway laid down a new law: No more pre-booking contact. No more one-on-one phone discussions about properties that interest you. No more back-and-forth emails.
In Dec 2018, AirBnB took away our abilities to ‘see’ what each other looked like. While we understand and support that they wanted to avoid discriminatory rental practises (as they should), they also took away a vacation rental host’s ability to ensure we were renting to the actual person who booked the reservation.
4. Customer Service Isn’t What You Think
The big booking platforms would like you to think their 24/7 customer service is worth up to $499. Moreover, they justify these service fees as a guarantee that you will receive a ‘customer first’ experience. We don’t think so.
First, the booking processes are typically automated, so unless you have an unusual problem you won’t be speaking to someone ‘live’.
Second, if you have an emergency and need to adjust your reservation it’s difficult for a vacation rental owner or hotelier to help you. Why? These booking sites collect YOUR money and hold it until AFTER you check in or check out. So, we cannot refund your money because we don’t have it!
And when it comes to visiting a new vacation destination, how can a customer service rep, located across the ocean and who have never been to our vacation rental, help you figure out the DVD player, or recommend the island’s best restaurants, or direct you to that beach you read about? They can’t.
It’s OK if You Didn’t Know!
So you may be asking yourself, ‘how do you book direct’ and get a better vacation booking experience?‘
- When you find a hotel room or vacation rental you wish to stay in from any of the booking sites, make note of the property name and location
- Google the name of the owner/manager or the name of the property
- Contact the owner or property administrator through Facebook, their own website or use a ‘no-fee’ listing site
- Do your homework. Check reviews and rental history on listing sites for longevity
- Make your reservation directly with the property/owner or adminstrator
- Make sure there is a written agreement defining the rental period and rate
- Don’t wire money or pay in cash. Use traceable money exchange services or apps
Now, if after reading this you do book a room through another booking site, we, (and many other Hoteliers and Vacation Rental Owners) won’t treat you any different than if you had booked directly. It doesn’t change your experience once you arrive.
However, booking direct will change the accuracy of the pricing info you see and possibly even the booking/pre-check in experience. Good owners, (including us) are always available to assist you.
Call. Email. Contact us however you please. And when you book, know that you’re not paying anything for the privilege of booking!