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Planning a vacation but don’t want to go the hotel route? Vacation home rentals can be an ideal solution — you get the extra space, separate bedrooms, a kitchen and much more, often for a better price than a hotel. Millions of people use vacation rental websites, like VRBO or HomeAway, every day to find the ideal vacation rental and the best deals.
But how do you know which websites provide the most legit vacation rentals? And if you’re a property owner looking to advertise your vacation home, which websites are the best to list with? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and more — and to see our picks for best vacation rental websites.
Before we move on, be aware that HomeAway owns both popular vacation rental websites VRBO and VacationRentals.com. All three sites essentially share the same features, provide the same services and insurance and display many of the same listings across the board, so, for this article, we’re combining HomeAway, VRBO and Vacation Rentals.com into one “HomeAway” review.
- Why Are Peer To Peer Rentals Better?
- Best Rentals For Renters
- How To Avoid Scams
- Websites For Owners
- More Rental Websites To Consider
- Benefits Of Rentals vs Hotels
- Travel Inspiration
For those of us who love to travel (especially off the beaten path), it’s a no-brainer to turn to a vacation rental website. More often than not, you can find any type of accommodation you desire at a more affordable price than staying in a hotel.
It also allows you to experience your destination in a more realistically local setting than you would in a hotel. It’s obviously an appealing alternative.
According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, an estimated 59% of U.S. vacationers have turned to the vacation rental route.
If you’ve never tried a vacation rental website, you’re certainly missing out.
As a traveler, you have millions of rental options ripe for the picking on vacation rental websites. Some of these sites are very reliable and have your back in case things go wrong. Others, not so much.
See our top picks for top vacation rental websites based on several factors:
- Site search features
- Quantity and consistent quality of rentals
- Payment options
- Insurance availability
- Direct contact with the property owner (or rental agency)
- Customer support
HomeAway, VRBO and VacationRentals are the best vacation rental websites for travelers, hands down. As mentioned above, HomeAway is the parent company to VRBO and VacationRentals.com, and its parent company is now Expedia. However, they share the same peer to peer rental features. With well over a million listings to choose from and the best search features out there, it knocks its competition out cold.
It also offers insurance policies that other sites just don’t match (although it charges some hefty fees). And its reach for listings is impressive, whether you’re looking for a regional U.S. beach vacation or going abroad, Home Away and VBRO can deliver listings like no other site can.
If you’re a property owner or manager, HomeAway and its two companion websites are pricier to list rental homes compared to most other sites. You have two options: a $349 annual fee or a 10% booking fee with each rental (applies to all three websites), so you’re getting much better exposure than you would with any other vacation rental site.
HouseTrip has excellent listings and superb customer reviews. Acquired by TripAdvisor in April 2016, HouseTrip remains a European based company at the time of writing this review. HouseTrip has a wide variety of listings, from single rooms and studio apartments to large homes and even castles.
A majority of its listings are in Europe, but it does have a fair number in the U.S. — a total of 20,000 destinations around the world. HouseTrip gets excellent customer reviews for the quality of its rentals and ease of process. However, it offers no type of insurance to protect guests or hosts. It now provides TripAdvisor’s Payment Protection, which protects guests for up to $10,000 if denied access or the website substantially misrepresented the rental property.
HouseTrip has pretty hefty guest booking fees (thanks to the acquisition) at 5% to 15%, but it charges a nominal 3% booking fee for owners. If you’re not concerned with damage insurance, we recommend you try House Trip.
Read Previous Renters’ Reviews
Always read reviews posted by previous renters. If a rental property doesn’t have any reviews, it’s not necessarily a red flag, but you won’t have that third-party verification to put you at ease. And if a site doesn’t allow reviews, you probably want to steer clear.
Payment Forms Matter
Look for rentals that require a credit card, PayPal or another form of traceable payment. If they ask you to wire payment or pay in cash — red flag! Another red flag: if you’re asked to pay the full amount more than two months before your stay. Reputable vacation rental websites typically require an initial deposit, followed by payment in full one to two months before your arrival date.
Get The Facts
Confirm with the owners or agency that a “full kitchen” is, in fact, fully functional. Does the description say “three bedrooms?” Make sure all are full bedrooms instead of one being a sunroom, an open loft or another type of makeshift room. Get the skinny on any additional fees you could incur which the rental website may not advertise.
What do you do if you arrive at your rental, and it’s not as advertised or is something not working that should be? If you’ve rented through an agency, ask for another property. If you’re dealing directly with property owners, take photos so you can compare them to what’s on the rental website. If you decide to stay, ask for a partial refund. If you don’t stay, ask for a full refund.
See below for our top picks for top picks for best websites for vacation rentals by owner. We based our selections on several criteria: damage coverage, popularity/marketing reach of the site, listing fees and more.
What Do You Need To Know Before You List Your Property?
- Check On Your Local Ordinances: Many localities have rules in place for licensing a short-term rental as well as occupancy tax.
- Neighborhood Associations: If you own a home and pay neighborhood dues, many homeowner’s associations have regulations against renting out your property or at the very least, some guidelines to follow.
- Make Sure You’re Covered For Insurance: While some vacation rental websites offer damage insurance, make sure you’re covered for that as well as personal liability claims and theft of personal property like jewelry or artwork.
- Cleaning And Maintenance: With most vacation rental websites, you’re in charge of setting up (and setting fees for) repairs and cleaning of your property before and during your guests’ stays.
Airbnb is our top pick for best vacation rental website for hosts. What’s the main difference between Airbnb and VRBO? Its listings are usually places where people currently reside versus HomeAway’s VRBO which are second homes and not occupied full-time.
What sets it apart? With a reasonable 3% booking fee for each rental and a free “Host Guarantee” that covers up to $1 million in damages to your property, you get a lot of bang for your buck. And Airbnb is another powerhouse vacation rental site, with more than 1.5 million listings, so you’ll reach a large audience of potential renters.
For travelers, Airbnb has easy, fairly thorough search filters and a cool feature that lets you know the percentage of rentals still available based on your search criteria (dates, location, occupancy, etc.). In other words, book now because your options are running out. You can even view the owner’s profile, which includes reviews from previous renters.
In 2019, Airbnb acquired HotelTonight the popular App for booking last minute hotel deals at high-end and boutiques. If you are new to Airbnb, get an exclusive $35 credit towards your first trip via this link.
Another Europe-based company, Wimdu isn’t the site to find your regionally popular or lesser-known vacation sites within the U.S. But if you’re looking global, it’s worth giving it a shot — a majority of its listings are apartments in European cities. And you can find some magnificent deals! A double occupancy room in the heart of London for less than $50 per night? Score! If you’re considering a trip to Europe, we highly recommend you see what Wimdu has to offer.
And, if you own property, Wimdu allows you to list for free, and you only incur a 3% booking fee with each rental. Wimdu offers owners damage insurance up to 500,000 Euros (roughly 545,000 U.S. dollars) per claim, and owners are only responsible for 150 Euros for each claim. This liability insurance, however, doesn’t cover properties in the U.S. or Canada.
Although the following vacation rental websites didn’t make our top picks, they’re still worth considering as a vacationer and as a property owner/manager.
A German company launched in 2011, 9flats has more of a global, large-city focus heavily concentrated in Europe. 9flats is not the vacation rental website for you if you’re looking for a lot of U.S. beach or smaller city destinations (although they do have a good number of rentals in Miami). Like Airbnb, you can rent a room in addition to larger properties — and it offers a wide variety, including castles, treehouses, igloos, etc.
Property owners get host insurance in case of damages, which covers up to 500,000 Euros (approximately $545,000 U.S. dollars), but they also incur a hefty host booking fee. Still, 9flats gets excellent customer reviews, largely from their European clients. So, if you’re looking for a great deal abroad, check out 9flats.
FlipKey’s parent company is the hugely popular travel review website TripAdvisor, so you’ll find the most authentic guest reviews and more photos compared to other sites. FlipKey has an intuitive, search-friendly interface and even has a feature that tells you how many people have used FlipKey to book each vacation rental home you view. It also offers more daily deals than other sites.
The downside? With roughly 300,000 rental properties in 11,000 destinations, it doesn’t have as much selection as its larger competitors. Its booking fees for renters are higher than most sites we’ve seen. And, although it offers a Payment Plan Policy, there’s a pretty strong consensus by customers online that FlipKey doesn’t have your back if things go wrong.
VacationHomeRentals.com is another vacation rental website owned by TripAdvisor, but unlike other TripAdvisor-owned sites, VHR is simply a place for owners to list their vacation rentals and connect with vacation seekers. VacationHomeRentals.com has the smallest number of listings (100,000) out of all the sites we reviewed. As a traveler, you’ll largely be dealing with the property owner for rental payment, cancellation and other terms of your agreement.
From a host/property owner perspective, you’ll incur an annual $399 fee for listing and booking (per property listing). And your listing will be featured on TripAdvisor’s site as well, which has a reach of 250+million travelers. It’s easy to give VacationHomeRentals a try — for hosts, it offers a 60-day free trial period, and there are no booking fees for renters. But you do need to pay attention to the details on this site.
The following video by HomeAway (our top pick for vacationers) illustrates the benefits of finding a larger rental space for you and your family — and how easy it is with sites like the ones we’ve reviewed.
We hope this best vacation rental sites overview serves as a useful guide to help you discover a whole new vacationing world! And next time you plan a trip, compare it to hotels and you might be pleasantly surprised to see what you find and how much you can save.
Which websites do you rely on to find the best vacation rentals?
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