Congratulations, you have worked hard, saved up some money and enough time off to book yourself a vacation!!! But where do you start to book the perfect get away!?!?
Before even venturing to a booking site, there are a couple of things you should determine as this will affect what the best place is to look as well as what properties will be available to you.
Location, Location, Location
First thing is location. Where would you like to go on vacation? Perhaps you want to head to a relaxing mountain getaway. Or maybe an oceanside beach resort is more to your liking. Or maybe the great plains of the midwest is your dream location. This is the first step, as it will determine the best places to begin your search for that perfect vacation property.
Dates of Stay
You will want to determine what days do you have available for your vacation. Most vacation rentals determine their rates by the night, much like a hotel. Although some may have weekly rates that may be of a savings for you. The longer you can stay the more negotiating power you possibly have with the owner.
Next you will want to determine, who will you be going on vacation with? Will it just be you and a significant other? Or is this the perfect time to make some memories with some cousins you haven’t seen in years. This decision will determine do you just need a 1 bedroom studio apartment or do you need a 6 bedroom cabin. Also, is anyone going to want to bring any furry companions with them. Many homeowners do not allow pets in an effort to keep their properties allergen free or to avoid accidents that could cause damage. Others welcome pets with open arms even providing toys and watering bowls. Either way this is important to determine up front in the planning stages.
Your must have Amenities
Once you have the above items figured out you will want to discuss with your entire party, what are the must haves at the property for our stay? Do we absolutely want a Hot Tub to relax in? Maybe your trip is in the winter and you just want to sit in front of a roaring fire? Cooking your thing, then don’t settle for less than a fully stocked kitchen. Determining your must haves up front will help you considerably narrow down your search.
How much do you want to spend for the entire trip? Figure out what your max spend will be for the trip. Take off of that what you need for travel expenses, how much you plan on spending to eat for the time period both on groceries and on meals out. Set aside a little for attraction tickets or entertainment expenses. The remainder should be what you have left for your lodging. When looking at the lodging rates be aware that the advertised nightly rate is just the tip of the iceberg. Just like hotels, vacation rentals also have taxes, resort fees, cleaning fees, security deposits, etc etc etc. Sometimes these fees can add up to almost a quarter of the nightly lodging rate. For instance in my area the taxes alone (State Sales Tax, County Sales Tax, and County Lodging Tax) add up to 13%!
Ok so you have all the above figured out, now it is time to begin your search. One of the best places to start with is probably one of the major booking sites. I am talking about VRBO.com, AirBnB.com, Booking.com, Expedia.com
These sites have 1000’s of properties all different sizes and types of amenities. These are a great place to begin your search. Enter in the closest town you are interested in. For instance lets say you want to visit Blue Ridge, Ga. Type that in. Then enter your check in and check out dates. Lastly enter in the number of adults and number of children in your party, and choose if you will be bringing pets. (See why it was so important to determine all that) That is all you will need for your initial search.
My initial search came up with 300+ results!!! That is alot to look through. So next you will want to hit filter. Here is where your pre-planning comes to play. One of the first filters is cost of stay. Lets say your trip is 7 days and you determined you didn’t want to spend more than $2000 on lodging. Great, now enter your max trip as $2000. This will weed out all the high end homes you cannot afford. You may also want to set a minimum. Lets say $1000 because you don’t want to see any dumps that only charge you $30 a night either.
Sweet I am down to 272 choices.
Next lets narrow the # of bedrooms. Well for my example I am saying we have 4 adults and 4 children because we are two families. So we would like 3 bedrooms. One for each couple, and one for the kids. So lets choose 3 bedrooms and at least 2 bathrooms so we don’t have to fight over that too much.
Next, filter down on your amenities. I absolutely want a hot tub, I need internet to check emails, we want a washer and dryer to do laundry since we are there 7 days. And whatever else you want to check. Now we are down to 111 properties.
Still quite a few but better. Next since we are going to the mountains I really want that cabin feel. So under property type I select cabin. Lastly lets go ahead and choose Premier Host because why risk staying with an owner that is unproven. Premier hosts have 4+ stars or more on average and few if any cancellations and other issues. Now I am down to 76 properties much more manageable.
Hit ok on the filter screen and it will come up with all your choices. Last step is you may want to sort Price: Low to High. Now you can start looking though their pictures and reviews and see what looks best for you.
Now if you find something you could book right from these sites and be done with it. The four sites above are very reputable, however their ease of use comes with a price. And that price generally equates to about a 15% surcharge on the rate. Owners have to pay at a minimum 5% to these booking sites to process your booking. So most owners raise their rates by at least that much to cover that charge. Then on top of that most of them charge the guests a booking fee of 10%. They justify this by saying they will help you if you encounter any issues during your stay. But truthfully all the booking site does when you contact them with an issue is forward the issue to the owner who takes care of it anyways.
Advanced Tip: How to move from booking engine to booking direct
The booking engines do their best to not give you the owners contact info, so you can’t just contact them directly to ask for better rates or about booking direct. And I don’t blame them as this is how the booking site stays in business. But most property owners try to give their property a unique name and market it heavily on many different sites. So if you find a property you love on one of the booking sites, try googling the property name and see if you can find the same property listed elsewhere.
For example, my VRBO listing is: https://www.vrbo.com/2048513 and you can see our property name is Woodhaven. If you google just woodhaven though you get the town of Woodhaven, NY, a woodworking store called woodhaven all sorts of things we aren’t looking for. So if we go back to the VRBO listing, right at the beginning of all the listings is the owner name. In this case my name is Steven Clark. If you google, Woodhaven Steven Clark then the 4th entry you will see our company name Woodhaven Rentals LLC. Google Woodhaven Rentals LLC and the first 3 entries are links to info about our LLC, which is good because it shows we are a legit business. But then the 4th entry is our direct booking site, woodhavenrentals.com .
Now that you have the direct booking site you can put in all your info into the booking form. In notes you could even say, I found your property on VRBO and really like it, but the price was $XXXX.XX could you give me a slight discount from that by booking direct? This lets the owner know exactly how much you were looking at at the other site and 9 out of 10 times the owner is going to beat that price to earn your business. Now you are in direct contact with the owner who will most likely send you a quote via email and you can now engage in discussions with any additional questions you may have about the property or the area.
Also I recently added our site to a website called Staysavr.com. They are a site where you can research whether a VRBO or AirBnB listing offers direct bookings as well. Also on their site they offer a Safe Booking Guide that goes over some of the info I offered above. Check it out for more tips and details and making sure that direct booking is legitimate.
Awesome you just booked your first vacation rental property and even saved money doing it!
If you enjoyed this article please share on social media and bookmark us for future tips about short term rentals!