Enjoy Travel

5 Tips Before Booking Your Next Vacation Stay

Maura Anderson  |  December 10, 2019

Booking a vacation stay online is easy and there are tons of sites to choose from. Before you rent any place online, be sure you’re protected.

Treehouse in Atlanta? Charming castle in Ireland? Luxury home in the Catskill Mountains that sleeps 20? If you have your mind set on booking anything but a hotel for your next vacation, you’re in luck. Travelers who choose nontraditional lodging are usually looking for a unique experience, insider tips from local hosts and, of course, money savings.

With access to thousands of unique vacation listings across the globe, how do you choose the right one? Before you book your next vacation stay, here are tips to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

Use a Reputable Online Booking Site

Using an online booking site can make planning your next vacation a breeze. There are dozens of major vacation rental sites, and each has their own policies on booking, payments and cancellations. Research what types of properties and/or locations the site offers, their booking and cancellation terms, and any service fees they charge.

Airbnb, for instance, features both hosted stays (rooms) and entire apartments and homes. Both the host and the guest must verify their identities, and full payment must be made through the site. HomeAway, on the other hand, specializes in vacation homes. Potential guests contact the owner to determine availability, method of payment and any specific rental agreement terms.

Read the Reviews

While hotels are usually graded by a five-star system, understanding the quality of your hosts and accommodations can be a bit more tricky. Depend on (and read between the lines of) reviews from previous travelers when choosing a place to stay. “Personally, I prefer to book a place that has at least 10 reviews,” says Barry Choi, a budget-travel expert at MoneyWeHave.

Be wary of properties with no reviews, or reviews that note the owner is difficult to contact. Choi also suggests making sure the reviews are legitimate by checking to see whether the reviewer has reviewed other places as well. If you have the name of the rental property (“Sunset Cabana”) or the name of the management company, it doesn’t hurt to do an online search to see if anything questionable pops up.

Talk to the Owner

Unlike a hotel, there’s no front desk staff to help you if you arrive late or lose your key. Contact the property owner via email or phone before you arrive. 

Some good questions to ask are:

  • Tell me about the neighborhood.
  • Who should I call  in case of maintenance issues during the stay?
  • If renting in a foreign country, will the contact person speak English?
  • What are the house rules?

Protect Yourself Against False Advertising

A loft in Tribeca with an in-ground pool for only $150 a night sounds like an amazing steal. But if a property looks too good to be true, then it most likely is, says Lori Zaino at ThePointsGuy.com. Pay close attention to the photos and be wary of too many close-up or poor-quality pictures. “Feel free to ask the host for more photos or to show you the property via Skype,” says Zaino.

Also, make sure that there’s a process to address any issues on your arrival if your host won’t be present. If you run into a problem when you check-in, immediately contact the owner to see whether the issue can be resolved.

Protect Your Payment

Booking with a credit card is the best way to pay. Your card issuer will typically be able to step in if there’s a dispute and you can’t resolve it with the owner or rental agency. “Although many legitimate owners request bank transfers as form of payment, use extra caution if asked to pay in this way,” says Laurel Greatrix of TripAdvisor Vacation. “Never send funds via instant wire services such as Western Union or MoneyGram.”

Before you send any money, make sure that you have a rental agreement with either the agency or the owner. 

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