Why Pay More to Vacation? #BookDirect
I remember several years ago I was searching for a vacation rental for a ski trip to Bachelor Gulch, Colorado and as I'd done many times in the past I went directly to VRBO. I found a great place, entered our travel dates and received an "instant quote" for our potential booking. As I read through the quote I came across a "service fee." At the time I thought the fee was charged by the property manager, so I moved on to find another property that would not charge me said fee. Time after time I found this "service fee" added to my booking quote....then it hit me; this is NOT something the property managers or vacation owners are charging, this fee is being charged by VRBO. From that moment on when I found a place I liked on VRBO I searched the web to find a way to contact the property directly. Fast forward a couple of years and I find myself on the vacation owner side of the equation and I dislike the "service fee" even more. Our prospective guests often don't realize they are being charged this fee to book via an Online Travel Agency (OTA) and since HomeAway/VRBO has removed the option of communicating with guests prior to booking it makes it very difficult for an owner to explain how this additional fee is determined. And don't assume this is something done only by HomeAway/VRBO, this is true of all Expedia owned OTA's as well as TripAdvisor and Airbnb. What does this "service fee" get you? I found the following on the HomeAway help page: "The service fee is paid by the traveler when booking through the HomeAway websites. This fee helps cover the costs of operating the websites for owners and travelers. Some of the costs to run HomeAway include: facilitating secure transactions, developing our products and services, and providing 24/7 customer service."
Let’s take a look at what this statement means to the traveler:
1. "This service fee is paid by the traveler when booking through the HomeAway websites."
Yes, this is definitely true, the traveler pays a service fee in the amount of 6%-12% of the cost of the rental. Again I quote from the HomeAway help page "The service fee is between 6-12% for most bookings but can be above or below, based on the reservation. The percentage rate may change from time to time." They can change the rate at will? Is there no definitive formula for how they determine the service fee you will be charged?
2. "This fee helps cover the costs of operating the websites for owners and travelers.
As of today's date (2/14/19) owners pay HomeAway/VRBO $499.00 per year to list EACH property. Owners also have the option to list on a pay-per-booking basis, this means the owner pays a percentage of the rental amount to the OTA for each accepted booking. It’s hard to imagine the fees payed by owners are not enough to cover the cost to operate the HomeAway/VRBO websites.
3. "Some of the costs to run HomeAway include: facilitating secure transactions, developing our products and services, and providing 24/7 customer service.”
“facilitating secure transactions” - the fees for processing credit cards are deducted from the vacation rental owners profit; therefore, the service fee is not covering this cost.
“developing our products and services” - there are around two million bookable listings on HomeAway/VRBO and if only half of those listings pay $499.00 per year…do the math…seems like plenty of money to develop their products and services.
“providing 24/7 customer service” - this is the big one for me, as an owner and as a guest, I have to ask what type of customer service can an OTA provide? How is someone based in a country far, far away from the rental home going to be able to help if a problem is encountered? It is highly unlikely the representative on the other end of the phone has any first hand knowledge of the property or the area.
Bottom line - What do you get for that hefty service fee? NOTHING, except the right to be charged more for your vacation. What do property owners get from the service fee you pay? NOTHING, that money goes directly into the pockets of the online travel agency.
Don't book through OTA's find the property online, and #BookDirect. Follow these steps to help you book safely and never again pay more than necessary for your vacation rental.
HOW TO #BookDirect
Google the name of the owner/manager or name of the property.
Contact the owner through their own website, FaceBook, Twitter, or Instagram
Search for the property on a no-fee listing site such as www.houfy.com
Do your homework, check reviews, talk to the owner/manager, ask specific questions about the property such as “Is there an iron, and where is it located?” Ask things only the property owner or manager would know. This way you are assured the property is owned/managed by the person with whom you are speaking.
Read reviews of the property and don’t be afraid to ask for references. Former guests are typically more than happy to share their experiences with potential guests.
Make sure you receive a rental agreement from the owner or manger defining the rental period, rental rate and terms of the rental.