It's no secret that I love vacation rentals and slow travel.
The thing about vacation rentals, though, is that you take on more responsibility in finding the right place for you. Part of the fun is looking through options, but it can also be tedious and frustrating. Sometimes it feels risky. Will it be like the pictures? What if something goes wrong? How will I know it's the right place?
My best advice is to listen to your gut. Even if your gut is a scaredy cat. Start early because you might need time to find a rental that not only looks great, but feels right for you. If if seems too good to be true, it probably is. If the manager or owners don't seem attentive or interested in your experience, they might not be. If you're not comfortable with the payment system, go elsewhere. Read reviews carefully. Look at the photos carefully. Ask questions. Be picky!
You're in control of your trip and you choose who gets your money. There are always going to be other options, including hotels. Wait to find something that suits your needs and comfort level. It's simple, but it bears repeating.
We are in the middle of honeymoon planning and have had some disappointing experiences in the past few weeks. I thought it would be a good time to pull back the curtain a little bit to show you that booking a rental isn't the same as booking a hotel. It isn't always quick and easy, even for someone who has experience.
A few weeks ago, we found a place we liked. It was lovely. The view was amazing. The reviews were great. It was everything we needed. But they only accepted bank transfers and had no cancellation policy. I wouldn't even consider it. Some people are comfortable with those terms, but I'm not.
We sat on the honeymoon plans for awhile and finally found another beautiful place this weekend. The apartment was on Homeaway, which has a nice "Book Now" system. You can see the rate, the total charges, enter your payment information, and off you go! I love that I'm not sending off a bank or money transfer and there's the protection of using a credit card. Bonus: the cancellation policy was great! Success!
S and I celebrated and started daydreaming about how wonderful our honeymoon will be. . .until I got an email the next day. The owners decided they only want to book weekly rentals for certain months, which doesn't work for us. They changed their policy overnight. And just like that, we're back at square one.
Who knows? Both of those rentals might be wonderful. I even considered asking the second one to honor the original rate, but my gut says to move on. So we're moving on. Because the other thing about vacation rentals is that taking your time and finding the right fit usually pays off.
August 27, 2014 Update
I decided to email Homeaway and see what their stance on changing rates was:
Homeaway sent me this back:
I'm not surprised by the email, but it's disappointing. My specific question wasn't answered and it reads like a canned response to every generic pricing question. The email also included a link to a complaint form, but I'm not interested in filing a complaint.
What I gather is that the owners can change the rates whenever they want to and the "Book It Now" button should be called "Put It On Hold." It fast tracks your booking and makes payment easy if the owner/manager accepts your reservation. The owner/manager has 24 hours to either accept or refuse the reservation. If they don't respond, it expires and you aren't charged anything. This is similar to Airbnb's "Request to Book" button, whereas Airbnb's "Instant Book" is a true "book it now" feature that doesn't require host approval.
All-in-all, the moral of the story remains the same: trust your gut, do your research, read the fine print, and look elsewhere if something doesn't seem right.