If you’re one of scores of Americans planning a trip this year, you may choose to bypass a hotel or bed and breakfast in favor of renting a vacation home from an online outfit like AirBnb, VRBO, Booking.com or FlipKey. These furnished homes, apartments or condos are becoming more and more popular, but you want to make sure you book the right one.
People are opting for these rentals because they offer more space than a typical hotel room, allowing groups of friends to stay together or family members to spread out and not be on top of each other. Kitchens mean you have the option to have some meals in, and larger communal areas make it easy to watch a movie or play board games at the end of a long day.
But just because booking a stay like this is becoming the norm, doesn’t mean you won’t run into some lemons. This could include everything from no washer/dryer or parking to cramped bathrooms or a lack of blinds on the bedroom windows.
But by taking a magnifying glass to vacation rental listings, you’ll have a better chance of securing lodging that will please the whole family. Here's how:
Pay Attention To Photos
The last thing you want is to show up at your vacation rental, groceries in hand, only to discover the kitchen described in the listing is a two-stove burner and mini-fridge. Or, that the bathroom has a shower and no tub, making it hard to bathe your two-year-old.
One way to get around this? Make sure there are photos of each room in the property and that they contain the amenities you need. Oftentimes, landlords won’t include photos of the areas of the home they think might take away from the attractiveness of their property, and consumers are often none-the-wiser – until they show up.
If you’re wedded to a property you find online, but it is missing key photos, ask the owner or property manager to email you shots of the spaces you need to see before booking.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” says Jodi Grundig, editor of Family Travel Magazine. If they balk, chances are they are hiding something.
Finally, photos of unmade beds or cluttered kitchen counters should also give you pause, as this might indicate a homeowner who is messy and may not keep the other parts of the home as clean as you would like.
Pay Attention To Words
When booking, scour the listing for certain red-flag words that can indicate something less-desirable than what’s being described. This includes “cozy,” which might mean small or cramped, “quaint” which is often code for “old” or “rundown” and “vibrant” which some use to describe being in a noisy neighborhood.
You’ll also want to marry what’s in the listing text with what the photos show.
For example, “oceanview does not mean a good oceanview,” says Travel Advisor Suzette Mack. “Any view, even a sliver of one through trees or between buildings can be considered oceanview. Do the photos show that you can see the ocean from the living area, or are they only shown from outside with no sense of where the person was standing to get the shot? Or are there no photos of the view at all?”
If you run into this, be extra vigilant about double-checking the photos attached to the listing.
Pay Attention To Price
Everyone loves a deal, but if you are looking at three-bedroom homes in a certain area and all clock in at $900 a night except for one that’s listed for $500, you might want to hit pause before booking. Lower prices like these may be part of a bait-and-switch in which the owner ends up charging you more for use of the pool or kitchen, for example, or indicative of a listing that’s lacking certain amenities like the kitchen and bath arrangement listed above.
You’ll also want to look for “surprise” fees that may be tacked on at the end of your stay, such as cleaning fees, or extra fees for certain amenities used, like a fitness or pool club.
“It’s important to understand what the cleaning fees are,” says Grundig. “These can often increase the price of the rental dramatically, especially for a shorter stay.”