How to Save Money on Vacation Rental Properties
Use these strategies to pay less for an apartment, condo or house when you travel.
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When I travel with my family, we tend to stay in vacation rental properties rather than hotels. Why? They offer more space and a kitchen to cook our own meals at a price that’s typically lower than a hotel room.
For example, the average nightly rate for a vacation rental in New York City listed on Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO.com) is about $219; whereas, the average nightly rate for a hotel is $350. According to VacationHomeRentals.com, prices for the properties listed on its site are 15% to 50% lower than hotels or resorts. The average size of a rental property is 2,000 square feet versus 400 square feet for a hotel room, according to VacationHomeRentals.com. And many rental properties allow pets.
Despite the fact that vacation rental properties can be a bargain compared with hotels, they still aren’t cheap. The average price for a two-bedroom/two-bath home on vacation rental site HomeAway.com is about $1,500 per week, says Jon Gray, senior vice-president of HomeAway. However, there are several strategies you can use to save money on a vacation rental property.
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Rent directly through property owners. If you book an apartment, condo or house through an owner rather than a property management company or resort, you can avoid the mark-ups charged by the middleman. You can find owner-operated properties through sites such as Airbnb.com (opens in new tab), HomeAway.com (opens in new tab), VRBO.com (opens in new tab), VacationHomeRentals.com (opens in new tab) and VacationRentals.com (opens in new tab). A recent search for a rental property in Pensacola, Fla., revealed that a two-bedroom condo in the Portofino Island Resort would cost $2,939 for a week at the end of June if booked through the resort but only $1,925 if booked through an owner of one of the resort’s units listed on VRBO.com.
Be aware that every rental property is different. So read reviews about the properties you’re interested in, ask owners about anything that is important to you, such as whether the property is pet friendly, and pay by credit card or PayPal, Gray says. If an owner requires you to mail cash or use a wire transfer service, consider it a red flag and move on to another rental.
Book rentals as early as possible. The best-priced rentals tend to go first, says Gray of HomeAway.com. On average, rentals are booked 90 days in advance of stays, but the sooner you can get started, the more options you’ll have, he says.
Take advantage of last-minute deals. Although you’ll have more options if you book several months in advance, sometimes you can luck out by waiting until the last minute (or a few weeks). That’s because property owners are usually more willing to negotiate on the price so their rental home doesn’t sit unoccupied, says Tom Gilmore, CEO and founder of VacationHomeRentals.com. I got a 10% discount on a vacation rental recently by waiting just a few weeks before my travel date to book. Check the VacationHomeRentals.com last-minute deals page (opens in new tab) for discounted properties or look for owners on the sites listed above who are advertising discounted rates for their properties.
Be courteous to the property owner. If you want to try to get the property owner to lower his or her rate, be gentle in how you approach the negotiation. “Saying, ‘I love your house, but it's a little more than we were hoping to spend’ is different from ‘We want the first week in August, and we're contacting multiple properties. We'll stay wherever we get the cheapest rate,’" Gilmore says. Property owners who don’t have to rent for income may prefer to leave their unit unoccupied than rent to someone who has been unpleasant or rude, he says.
Be flexible with your dates. Rental property rates vary a lot throughout the year, though rates are higher during an area’s peak season. For example, the average rate for a New Jersey shore rental property listed on VacationHomeRentals.com for May is $2,000 a week, then jumps to $3,000 in June and as high as $6,000 in August. If you’re able, travel before or after peak season, which is the summer months for most beaches and December and January for winter retreats. If you can travel only during peak season, check rates for a variety of date ranges because rates do vary from week to week even in the peak season.
Book properties farther away from popular tourist attractions. Proximity typically comes with a price, so look for places that are farther from the tourist hot spots, Gray says. For example, beach houses that are a few blocks from the ocean typically are several hundred dollars cheaper per week (or even per night) than beachfront properties. And in some resort areas, rentals that aren’t in the resort itself sometimes offer access to the resort’s amenities, such as a golf course, but cost much less than a room in the resort. So don’t limit your search to one beach, one neighborhood or even one city in an area you want to visit. The farther off the beaten path, the greater your savings likely will be.
Find friends to split the cost with you. With vacation rental properties, you have the option to book an entire home. If you can find another family or friends to travel with you, you might pay less for a big home once you split the cost than if you booked a property just large enough to accommodate your family.
Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.