8 Vacation rental sites to have on your radar and why
There are a lot of vacation rental sites out there. I mean a LOT. Where do you even begin to look? It’s not easy. No one site has all of the answers, unfortunately. During my research for a trip to Spain, I ended up booking with four different agencies, and researched about nine different accommodation options. This doesn’t even include the hotels that would be part of our trip.
You can let it overwhelm you or you can arm yourself with the knowledge you need to jump into the process head on. By knowing the bigger players in the vacation rental game, you will be one step ahead of that other person trying to snag the perfect villa in Tuscany or bungalow on the California cost.
Property locations: 187 countries with more than 350,000 properties worldwide, including the United States. Property types include hotel rooms, apartments, villas, bed and breakfasts, and even farm houses — and all are booked the same as a hotel.
Booking available on site: All properties are bookable online.
Minimum Stay: While Booking.com does not have a minimum-stay policy, durations are determined by the respective properties.
What makes them different: Paul Hennessy from Booking.com tells us: “Our website is extremely easy to use with filters to help customers find exactly what they are looking for. With 25 different accommodation types, ranging from 5-star resorts, to hostels or igloos to tree houses, Booking.com has the largest number and widest diversity of properties. Our website is also in over 40 languages so that customers can engage with the website in their native language. Customers get the same great experience via desktop, smart phones or tablets. Our model provides customers the flexibility of paying after they stay, and allows for ease of cancellation without a fee up to the day before of the reservation date… Booking.com does not charge a booking fee. Ever. Booking does not end its support when the customer presses “Submit.” We’ve got 24/7, 365 day, customer service support in over 40 languages.”
Why is it good for families: Hennessy went on to say that: “The site allows users to filter search results by hotel theme (i.e. Family). With over 24 million customer reviews, Booking.com users are also able to filter reviews by traveler type (i.e. families with young children) to find hotels with top rated customer service and family-friendly amenities. Best of all Booking.com operates its own in-house customer service team, which is available 24/7 to assist guests in their native languages and ensure an exceptional customer experience.”
Why I love them: The site is very easy to use, which always gains a site extra points with me. There is nothing worse than having to dig through a site just to find out a property doesn’t allow children. Booking.com also has a huge range of properties. We stayed in a guesthouse in Slovenia, and a gorgeous rehab in Croatia during a road trip last October. We were able to filter by how many people were staying with us and where we wanted to be. Even some of the more obscure spots, where you would have to go to a local site, possibly not in your native language, were covered. This made getting up close and personal with the locals just one step easier.
Dwellable (NO LONGER IN BUSINESS)
Website: Dwellable.com (NOTE: this website is no longer in business when last checked in 2017)
Property locations: USA and Canada
Booking available on site: No, you book through the owner. Dwellable connects travelers to property owners who have been screened and with whom Dwellable has established a relationship.
What makes them different: Kirby Winfield from Dwellable says: “I sum it up like this: We’re free, we’re beautiful, and we’re mobile-first. While the cost of other vacation rental sites can be pretty expensive for independent property owners, Dwellable is 100% free to list for owners and renters. Dwellable is also a beautiful website and app with high-resolution photos and an intuitive interface that adapts to every screen size. Perhaps most importantly, we’re mobile. We know that mobile devices are the future–especially for travelers. Dwellable launched on the iPad Retina, more than half of our traffic is from mobile devices, and we are the fastest growing vacation rental app on the market.”
Why I love them: You know the guys who started UrbanSpoon.com, the restaurant review site? Yeah, they have moved onto the vacation rental market. After a disappointing rental experience in Hawaii, one of the founders of UrbanSpoon decided to change the market. Dwellable provides free listings to owners and that comes along with unbiased reviews by renters that the owners can’t delete, even if they are negative. It gives you just a tad more peace of mind when booking your next vacation. They also have gorgeous photos and encourage owners to take hi-resolution shots that will show off their property.
Property locations: 240,000 properties covering every region in the world
Minimum stay: Set by the property owner.
Booking available on site: Currently, not all properties are available for online booking. You may have to book through the owner.
What makes them different: Tara Gardner from FlipKey said: “We have the world’s largest collection of authentic, verified vacation rental guest reviews making us the most trusted vacation rental site. We are a TripAdvisor company, giving homeowners and property managers an advantage that other booking sites cannot offer them by attracting more than 25 million travelers monthly. We also have an online booking platform, which not all sites out there offer.”
They also have “a 48-hour response policy to encourage quicker response rates from owners. If they haven’t responded within 48 hours, you get your deposit back.” Their “messaging platform enables travelers and owners to communicate seamlessly and allows us to look back at the conversation if any he said/she said issues arise.”
Why is it good for families: Gardner said FlipKey “gives families the ability to easily search and sort listings and reviews so they can confidently book the vacation home that fits their families’ needs; they can narrow their search by key features, including number of bedrooms, pet-friendly, and even child-friendly properties. We also clearly list the price per night so you can easily run a comparison of the cost of staying at a rental versus a hotel. Another added perk is that we offer vacation rental specific travel insurance to make the booking process worry-free. Once you are at your rental, you can rest assured that all our rentals have kitchens so families are able to save money by dining in.”
Why I love them: The map in the left sidebar is really what drew me to FlipKey. I was hunting for a place in Seville, Spain. I had no idea what were the best spots to stay. On other sites, property titles didn’t give me much to go on as far as location. I’d have to dig deep into a listing to figure out if it would work for us. I knew the one or two attractions we wanted to see and needed to look for lodging based on that. Other sites may have maps, but this really stuck out to me because it was so easy to see and use. Another great thing was the owners; they responded quickly. Local companies managed many of the properties I looked at. If the property I was looking at wasn’t open, the property manager would suggest other properties in their portfolio that were comparable in price and space. It made the booking process easier.
Property locations: Properties are available 17 European cities.
Booking available on site: Users always book through GowithOh via website or telephone. The user never books through the owner of the property.
Minimum stay: This depends on each apartment. Some of them have a minimum stay of 2 or 3 nights, while a few may be available for a single night. GowithOh focuses on city apartments, from a few days to one to two weeks.
What makes them different: Cristina Aragones from GowithOh said: “We only offer handpicked rental apartments that follow strict standards, like comfort, appealing decoration and good location. ‘No dingy digs or dodgy dives for us! It’s quality holiday apartments only, all the way.’ We don’t censor customer reviews, even if they’re negative, so that future clients have detailed information about their accommodation.”
GowithOh also goes the extra mile to ensure a pleasant overall experience for their clients. “Before, during and after our client’s trip, we help them choose the right accommodation and plan their journey, with our city guides or our discount vouchers for customers, so that the only thing they have to worry about is to enjoy their holidays.”
Why is it good for families: From reviews to detailed descriptions about what child amenities are available (high chair, cot, etc.) you will know the information you need before you book. Most apartments are centrally located, giving you access to the attractions you want to see without a long commute. The site is easy to use, and they are very quick to respond to inquiries through their customer service department 365 days of the year, and in 6 different languages.
Why I love them: Social media is key these days when booking lodgings. Anytime I have trouble finding what I need I take a peek at a company’s Facebook and Twitter pages. When I couldn’t find exactly what I needed in Madrid, GowithOh was able to quickly help me out through Twitter, suggest several properties and held my hand a bit along the way. Unfortunately I was not able to book with them for our trip to Madrid, but I will be checking back with them for our next trip to Europe. And yes, there will be many more.
HomeAway and VRBO
Property locations: More than 775,000 properties in more than 171 countries. Their properties comprised of second homes that are located in regions an owner would want to travel to; they’re primarily located in vacation destinations where demand tends to be higher for rentals.
Booking available on site: Most properties you will have to book by emailing or calling the owner. However, some properties on HomeAway have the option to book online. A green “Book It Now” button located under the pricing information on the listing indicates these rentals. By selecting “Book It Now,” travelers immediately send a paid reservation request directly to the homeowner. However, the traveler is not charged until the owner confirms the reservation, which they have up to 24 hours to do.
What makes them different: Cindy Vanhoutte, from Homeaway, said: “HomeAway offers travelers second homes, meaning that the homes are primarily used for the purpose of renting to travelers (as compared to primary homes where the host either lives in the home while the home is rented or temporarily moves out of their home). The majority of HomeAway’s inventory is concentrated in vacation destinations (Orlando, Breckenridge, Destin).”
How is it different from its sister company VRBO.com: Vanhoutte clarified that “HomeAway, Inc., is the parent company that owns and operates HomeAway.com and VRBO.com. HomeAway and VRBO are basically the same in terms of inventory; the main difference between the two is the user experience. VRBO has been around for nearly 20 years, so some vacation rental travelers are more familiar with the brand as well as the look and feel of the website, which is different from HomeAway.com. It’s really more about personal preference.”
Why I love them: Who doesn’t love options? I’ll admit that VRBO is my go-to stop when I first start looking at lodgings when we travel to Hawaii. It has been around for longer than I have been searching for vacation homes. There is a nice variety in price and types of homes. My dealings with owners have been fabulous for the most part. There are a few properties that I have come across where the owner never responded to my request, but there are always more than enough options for me to move onto and book.
Property locations: Five European Countries (Scotland, France, Italy, Spain and Croatia), Mexico and Anguilla (Caribbean). They are currently looking at several unique historical accommodations in Ireland as well.
Booking available on site: No. You can contact Villa Specialists via email or telephone to discuss your vacation.
Minimum stay: European properties require a 7-day night (Saturday to Saturday). Mexico/Anguilla require at 10 night or 14 night minimum stay during holiday/festive season. All other seasons are 3-5 night minimums. No restrictions on which day you arrive (like Saturday is Europe), as long as it’s available.
What makes them different: Hosted Villas is a much more catered experience than merely renting a vacation home. You pay a premium for these villas, but you get extra service to go along with it. As their website states: “Your most important luxury is time. That’s why, from our first contact to your fond farewell, Hosted Villas works to make your vacation stress-free.” Think of them more as a trip-planning service than a mere vacation rental agency.
Why is it good for families: Take the guesswork out of your next family vacation. If you want to splurge, or go on a trip with your extended family, this is the perfect site to check out and book through. With more than 20 years of experience, the Villa Specialists can help you arrange transportation, babysitting, cooking classes, language lessons and more. Once you arrive, a local host will give you the inside scoop on the area and make sure you have all you need to make your holiday the best it can be.
Why I love them: I love to plan travel, but even I need a break now and then. Their collection of villas are situated in prime locations to relax, dive into a bit of local history, eat fabulous food, sample wine and focus on what really matters—your family. If you were looking for a bit of luxury on your next vacation, I’d start here.
Property locations: 250,000 listings in more than 15,000 destination across the globe. However the majority of their properties are located in Europe.
Booking available on site: All rentals are booked through the website, never directly from an owner. All payments are taken by HouseTrip and only transferred to the host 48 hours after check-in, so that guests can report a problem and get any issues sorted out before payment goes through. This safety net can’t be in place when paying an owner directly.
Minimum stay: Dependent on the individual host. Many hosts do offer discounted rates for Guests paying “per week”.
What makes them different: According to Andrew Matthews from HouseTrip: They “are the only holiday rentals company that rewards loyalty. When guests book 10 nights on HouseTrip, they get one night off their next trip for free. Also, the founders of our company are from the hospitality industry, who, until creating HouseTrip, were en route to becoming hoteliers. Other companies in our sector are founded by entrepreneurs not necessarily people who have been ingrained with hospitality and always been on that career path. This means that all decisions made at HouseTrip are designed to keep our users happy, and customer satisfaction is the number one influence of every single decision we make.”
Why is it good for families: Matthews goes onto say that: “apart from greater supply, families should consider booking through HouseTrip because we specifically try to offer the best service for families, they are the main audience we try to help. Hosts get extra “Quality Score” points for being family friendly, and the loyalty programme I mentioned previously (book 10 nights get the 11th free) is highly appealing to families looking for a family break high on value.”
Why I love them: The second I had a question and couldn’t figure out what to do I jumped on HouseTrip’s social media channels. I quickly got an answer to my question and an email address so we could discuss my question in greater length (140 characters can only do so much). This quick action was necessary for me, a stressed out mother trying to book several different accommodations for our trip to Spain. Later, I was able to contact the owner of the apartment we wanted to rent directly through the HouseTrip system. My correspondence with the owner is in my HouseTrip account so I can keep track of all of our questions and have a detailed record to show HouseTrip in the event of an issue arising once we arrive. This quick action, not to mention the large inventory of properties in a variety of price ranges, is why I will be heading back to their site for our next trip to Europe.