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If you've ever stayed in one, you already know all of the advantages a vacation rental has over a traditional hotel stay - especially for trips that will last longer than a night or two. Because vacation rental properties are usually fully-furnished apartments, condos, and houses, they give you a home away from home. From kitchens with all of the pots and pans to make a gourmet meal, to washers and dryers that mean you don't have to pack as much clothing, vacation rentals can have it all.
How do vacation rental properties work? Many are owned privately, and the owners take a lot of pride in making sure you have a fantastic stay. You may arrive to find complimentary snacks on the kitchen counter or a binder full of local recommendations for things to do and restaurants to visit, and your hosts could even stop in to introduce themselves.
Saturday, December 4th
When you get to your vacation destination, you want a fantastic place to stay and the most accurate, crowd-sourced information about what to do there: where to eat, what to see, which tours to take. Right? That means you probably already know that Tripadvisor is the site to use for your next vacation rental, giving you all of that and more in a single website and mobile app.
Fun & Easy
Using Tripadvisor is fun and easy. Browse rentals in popular locations like Gatlinburg or Key West, or enter your destination and check-in/check-out dates at the top of the site. There are properties in over 200 countries and all 50 states, so you'll have no trouble finding plenty of options in most locations.
Off And Running
Once you've put in those parameters, your results page gives you helpful info right off the bat. For example, looking at Niagara Falls rentals in August, Tripadvisor let us know that we would be traveling during peak season, and that there were only 15 rentals left (out of a total of 25 in the area) that matched our desired dates.
Narrow Down Your Results
On that results page, you'll have access to filters that can narrow down the vacation rentals to what you're really looking for. Choose the number of bedrooms, enter the number of guests, specify which amenities are your must-haves, or even say what distance you'd like to be from a point of interest.
Property Owner Information
Each listing gives you plenty of detail to help you know more about the rental. We really liked the extra information about the property's owner: languages spoken, response rate and average time, and length of time the rental has been listed.
No Booking Fees
We were also very excited by the fact that, unlike most vacation rental sites we've used, Tripadvisor doesn't charge booking fees. Any fees you will pay are clearly listed by the price - no extra links to click, no need to enter payment information first - and those may include fees charged by the owner. For a one-week summer stay in Washington DC, our rental fee was $2000 and the only owner fees were $200; there was no breakdown given, but that would have to include taxes, cleaning, and literally everything else.
Tripadvisor ups the ante with Payment Protection on many of its listings. If you're denied access to your vacation rental at check-in, or the property was substantially misrepresented, you'll be covered up to $10,000 as long as you've paid for your entire stay through the Tripadvisor site, you make the claim on the first day of the rental period and don't stay overnight at the property, and it's a rental specifically listed as having Payment Protection. Keep in mind that this doesn't apply to issues regarding cleanliness, maintenance issues with amenities or services, or the availability of local attractions.
Unbiased Traveler Reviews
Of course, once you reach your vacation locale, you can take advantage of Tripadvisor reviews to pick somewhere to eat, visit, play or shop. It's probably the world's most often-used site for unbiased traveler/customer reviews, and we've had lots of experiences and meals we might have missed if it weren't for detailed, helpful suggestions from previous visitors.
Positive Customer Feedback
This is one of the only vacation rental platforms to earn a good rating from the Better Business Bureau (an "A") and an overall positive track record with its users. We do recommend that you look at listings carefully, though - some of the vacation rentals listed through Tripadvisor come through other services in our review that didn't score as well. That could give you issues that are outside of Tripadvisor's control, so caveat emptor.
As Easy As Possible
Tripadvisor makes it about as easy as it could be to find the perfect vacation rental and plan out everything you'd like to do there. With a strong reputation and customer-centric policies like their Payment Protection guarantee, listings in 200+ countries, and options for every type of accommodation you could imagine, Tripadvisor easily earns our highest rating for vacation rentals.
Vacasa focuses on making the vacation rental experience as hassle-free as possible for both owners and travelers. Since 2009, Vacasa has been putting technology to work to help property owners care for their listings by using around-the-clock support from local management services - which means that renters can count on professional service, comfort, and high standards for cleanliness. Plus, listings are reviewed for honesty and even offer 3-D tours, letting you see exactly what you'll be getting with your booking.
Missing Some Destinations
Start your Vacasa experience either by typing in a destination and check-in/check-out dates, or using the maps further down the page (if you're looking outside of North America, be sure to click on the corresponding tab to see those maps). You may notice right away that there are no listings in most of the Midwest (Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan being the exceptions), Eastern Europe, or the Caribbean, and none at all in Australia or Asia. Vacasa has hopes to expand to those areas in the future, so be sure to check back if your travels take you there later on.
Filtering Your Choices
Once you've set the destination, you'll see a results list with all of the properties there. As you enter more specifics - dates, number of guests, or any of the filter options (number of bedrooms/bathrooms, min/max price, desired amenities) - you'll see only those listings that match your search. At a glance, you'll see the nightly price range, the number of bedrooms/bathrooms, how many people the vacation rental can sleep, and the average rating from previous guests.
When you click on a listing that interests you, you'll likely find a 3-D tour that gives you a virtual walkthrough of the vacation rental. You can also see the availability calendar for the property, in case your selected dates weren't open and you have some flexibility to choose a different range. You'll also see the details about the rental, from amenities provided to helpful information from the owner about things to do nearby.
Watch Out For Those Fees
Once you have your dates selected, your total price will be shown at the top of the page. You can click the down arrow to see your full pricing details, which will include any fees and taxes (and there are further dropdown arrows there if you want an itemized list of what those fees and taxes include). Those can be significant, so we appreciate not having to wait until further on in the booking process to see those costs. As an example, for a 3-night stay in a cute coastal town in Texas, the price for the vacation rental was $888 - but with nearly $300 in fees (cleaning, damage waiver, booking) and $150+ in taxes, our total cost would have been almost $1340.
Good Rating, But Significant Property Issues
We were impressed to see that Vacasa not only has an "A+" rating from the Better Business Bureau, but accreditation as well. That can be hard to come by in the vacation rental industry, so that's a definite plus for this service. On the other hand, we found more than a dozen reviews written within days of our evaluation that expressed significant issues with the Vacasa service. Renters described safety hazards (like doors that don't latch securely allowing toddlers to access swimming pools), soiled bedding obviously not changed prior to guests' arrival, and unresponsive local management.
The good news is that, both on the BBB site and the places we found those negative reviews, Vacasa representatives were very responsive and apologetic. The vacation rental industry can be tricky sometimes, with properties often being managed independently and relying on guest reviews to choose one that's usually in good shape, and we're happy to see that Vacasa takes their customer service reputation seriously.
Love The Detail
For that reason, we still give this vacation rental service a high ranking. We love the level of detail on the site, especially the virtual tours, which can make it much easier to find a property that works for you. We hope to see more good things from Vacasa as time goes on.
Vrbo is one of the oldest vacation rental sites on the market, getting its start in 1995. The company is part of the Expedia family and several sister brands are part of the group. These include names you may know, like HomeAway and Stayz, and several you might not recognize (e.g. Homelidays, Abritel, FeWo-direkt, and Bookabach).
More Than 2 Million Properties To Choose From
You can use Vrbo the traditional way, by entering a destination, arrival and departure dates, and number of guests. But, you might have more fun browsing where it says "Find spaces that suit your style". Sure, you can choose a house, condo/apartment or cabin - but why not click the right arrow and see more than 50,000 bungalows, 17,000 villas, 2,000 chalets, or caravans, country houses, boats, castles or towers! There are more than 2 million properties in over 190 countries listed on Vrbo, making it one of the most abundant sources of vacation rentals you'll find.
Helpful Save Feature
When you enter your destination, date range, number of guests and if you want to bring pets, you'll get the list of properties that correspond to your travel party. In each listing's preview, you can see the per night price, number of ratings and their average score, number of beds/baths and guests the property can accommodate, and whether or not you can cancel for free at any point after making the booking. There's also a helpful "Save" button to keep track of the rentals you like, plus photos that you can scroll through before clicking on the listing itself.
Ask The Property Manager A Question
Within each listing, you'll see all the details you expect: traveler reviews, a street map showing the location, cancellation policies, and so on. You can also see who the property manager is and click to ask them a question. We noticed that some vacation rentals on VRBO are managed by Vacasa, another service in our review.
Costs Can Add Up
Be sure to click on "View details" below the total price, to see the itemized list of any taxes and fees that will apply to your stay. Depending on the rental you select, these could add a lot to your final payment. Each property sets its own cleaning fees, and then Vrbo has a booking service fee as well. As an example, for a one-week September vacation in a Bend, OR rental, the cost for the lodging was $1,307 - but a cleaning fee of $65 (very reasonable, compared to many destinations), service fee of $135, and taxes of $167 brought our total to $1675 and change.
Unfortunately, Vrbo has a negative reputation with the Better Business Bureau: the company received an "F" grade as a result of 90 unresolved complaints and nearly 1000 complaints filed there in the last three years. These complaints were from both property owners and travelers alike, describing issues getting customer service from Vrbo reps. Disconnected calls, late (or nonexistent) refunds, and zero help resolving problems between renters and owners are just a few of the problems we found.
Vast Majority Of People Have No Problems
That being said, Vrbo is used by thousands of people every day to book vacation rentals, and the vast majority of those trips are completed with zero issues. We've had firsthand experience with Vrbo listings throughout the US, without a single problem. In fact, we found over 70,000 4- and 5-star reviews for Vrbo's service.
Good Site To Use
For those reasons, Vrbo still gets our recommendation as a good site to find vacation rentals - but not our highest ranking. Chances are good that if you use this platform to book a vacation, things will work out fine. But, if the property turns out to have issues, expect that a satisfactory response from Vrbo's customer service team might be hard to come by.
If you're open to considering accommodations that are completely different from a traditional vacation rental, Home Exchange could give you a novel way to see the country or the world. It's important to state upfront that this service involves trading a stay in your home for time in someone else's - hence the name "Home Exchange". Most people will either love or hate that idea, and if you fall into the latter camp we recommend that you consider the other vacation rental services in our review. On the other hand, if you're excited by the thought of having your lodging cost you virtually nothing and doing some reciprocal home-sharing, read on!
Over 400,000 Members
This platform represents the merger of two well-known home swap services, Home Exchange (started in the early '90s) and GuestToGuest. As a combined exchange company, it has exploded in popularity - going from 65,000 members at the time of our last review to over 400,000 just a few years later!
Enter Your Home's Info
Here's how it works. The first step is to create a listing on the Home Exchange site. It won't cost you anything, and it lets you gauge interest in your home/destination while browsing members' homes for the destinations and dates you're considering. Be sure to put your home's availability in the calendar, so that prospective visitors will know when they could stay.
Finding Available Homes
Next, the fun part: find available homes for where and when you'd like to travel, and start messaging the owners. Once you find a match that works, you'll need to become a paid member to finalize the exchange. A one-year membership costs $150 for unlimited exchanges. Home Exchange offers a guarantee, too: if you don't find an exchange during your first year of membership, they'll give you a second year for free.
Earn Reward Points With Every Stay
Since our last evaluation, Home Exchange has included a feature known as GuestPoints. This system makes it possible to share your home and stay in the destinations you want without it having to be a 1:1 swap. You'll want to read the FAQ to understand the nitty-gritty of how this feature works, but generally speaking it means that you can earn points when you have someone stay in your home, and then you can use those points to stay wherever you like. Your home's GuestPoint value is automatically determined by the Home Exchange site, and it factors in your location, your home's amenities, and so on.
Great If You Already Live In A Tourist Destination
Home Exchange is a great resource - for certain kinds of travelers. If you're single or a couple without children, and you have a reasonably nice home in a popular tourist destination (think NYC, LA, Miami, Vail or Park City during ski season), you will probably be inundated with offers to exchange. On the other hand, if you live in a rural area with few attractions, or you have a studio apartment in a not-so-great part of the city, you could find yourself with lots of places you'd like to stay but no one who wants to book your home. Additionally, many hosts prefer not to open their homes to families with children or pets.
In short, Home Exchange could be the right route for you, if you've got some flexibility and you want accommodations that are essentially at no cost. Lots of people don't even know that something like this exists, and since the service is trustworthy we give it high marks and a positive recommendation. However, because most travelers are looking to book specific dates and times for their vacation rentals, without the added obligation of having people they don't know stay at their house, Home Exchange stays in the middle of our rankings.
You might not be familiar with Agoda, but we're pretty sure you know at least one of the other brands in the "family": they're part of Booking Holdings, which includes Priceline, Kayak, RentalCars, and OpenTable. While the service has a heavy focus on Asian travel destinations, you can still find vacation rentals throughout the US and other parts of the world.
Choose A Hotel Or A Home
To get started, you'll need to decide if you want to see listings for both hotels and homes or just homes. Unless you have a strong preference for whole-house rentals, we suggest clicking on "Hotels & Homes" to see every possibility available to you and your travel party. Choose your destination either by browsing the links at the bottom of the site or entering the city (or even a landmark!) in the search bar.
Website Easy To Use
This site is remarkably easy to navigate. Enter your dates of travel and the members of your party (e.g. adults, children and ages, etc.) and you'll get a list of properties that match in your preferred location. Those results can easily be filtered by location, budget, traveler reviews, and so forth. There are toggle buttons on the side that let you see only properties designated as "family friendly" or breakfast included, change your preference to show just homes or include hotels, and so on.
Not Much Guest Feedback
Many of the vacation rentals on Agoda didn't have any feedback from guests, and the ones that did often had fewer than 10 reviews. We also noticed that options for families are harder to come by: for a search in downtown Chicago, for example, we came up with 145 listings for couples traveling, but only 19 that were specifically "family friendly". Even when we didn't toggle that option, but just entered one child as part of the travel party, the number of available listings decreased considerably.
Pricing Good For Only 20 Minutes
You also won't know what additional fees will be charged until you're on the "Book Now" page. This could include cleaning fees, taxes, and more. On that booking page, you'll also be able to specify any preferences related to smoking/non-smoking, bed configuration (large bed vs. two twins, and so on), and anything else you'd like to request. The pricing on the vacation rental you select is only good for 20 minutes, so be prepared to make the reservation as soon as you enter the booking process.
Price Match Guarantee
Agoda offers a Price Match Guarantee: any property you find will be at its lowest advertised price internet-wide, otherwise they'll match it or refund the difference. You might also find discount offers sprinkled throughout the site. For example, when we entered our hometown (just for fun), there were no properties available - but we got a notification box saying we'd earned a 5% discount and just needed to activate the coupon by clicking on the button.
Failing Grade Disappoints
How does this source of vacation rentals stack up against the competition? Reputation-wise, not very well. While we were glad to see thousands of five-star reviews across several third-party sites, the BBB listing for Agoda said that the company hadn't responded to nearly 100 customer complaints filed there, out of more than 200 filed against the business. That earned Agoda an "F". Customer complaints centered around billing issues, reservations that were charged but not actually booked, and refunds that were slow to be credited (if at all).
Better Choices Available
Agoda gets a spot near the bottom of our rankings not only because of their "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau, but also due to their database having fewer options than their rivals. Nearly two million properties in 50 countries sounds like a lot, but that comes up short when looking at vacation rental sites that have twice as many options in nearly four times as many nations. This isn't a bad site to use for booking your accommodations, but you'll have more to work with if you use one of the higher-ranked vacation rental services.
For just over a decade, Airbnb has been making a splash in the vacation rental marketplace, with options ranging from "couch space" to castles and literally everything in between. With over 4,000,000 listings in almost 200 countries worldwide, this service is likely to have a rental in almost any destination you choose.
You May Be Sharing The Space
One big difference about Airbnb vacation properties is that you may be sharing the space with the owner. That might be a great fit if you're a young professional traveling for work or an adventurer who just needs a place to crash for a night while you explore a new city. This service tries to vet every listing to make sure that anyone posting a property isn't going to be a problem, but we still recommend that you take a look at reviews from other people who have stayed there. Usually, you'll find lots of comments about fun and gracious hosts who go the extra mile to make your stay comfortable and offer insider tips for things to see in the area.
Use The Filtering Options
On the other hand, if you're vacationing with young children or if you like some privacy, that's probably not going to appeal to you. Fortunately, Airbnb has plenty of listings that let you rent the whole apartment, condo, or house without having to share - just make sure to use the filters to eliminate any options that don't match what you need.
Traditional, Monthly, Or Experience
You'll find those filters once you've started your search. Either type your destination in the search bar or browse by one of the major US cities listed at the bottom of the page. Next, you'll have three options: find a place to stay (your typical vacation rental), find a monthly stay (if you're planning on being there four weeks or longer), or find an experience (we'll give you more info on that last one a little later).
Choosing Your Rental
For most vacations, you'll pick the first option. Select your check-in and check-out dates, enter the number of guests (adults, children, infants), and you'll get a preliminary list of results. This is the page where you can make use of the filters function: the basic filters let you indicate if you only want rentals where you can have the whole property to yourself, ones where you don't have to be approved by the host before your stay is booked, and price range. Selecting "More Filters" lets you get down to the nuts and bolts of the rental properties' features. Does your travel group need a certain number of beds, bedrooms or bathrooms? Is access to a swimming pool a must-have? Are you planning on bringing Rover? The more specific you are with your filters, the less time you'll have to spend eliminating vacation rentals that ultimately won't make your list of possibilities.
Save The Ones You Want To Consider Later
You'll get a good overview of each property on your results list: scroll through a few photos, see the rating average and number of reviews, a brief blurb and nightly/total cost. You can also click the heart in the upper right corner to save any vacation rentals you want to consider later - this will save you a lot of time if there are a lot of properties at your destination.
Read The Details
When you click on a listing, be prepared to read carefully! This is where you'll get to see the name of your host(s), what types of cleaning protocols are in place, if you'll be checking yourself in or meeting with your host, cancellation policies, and so on.
Off And Running
Alos, be sure to carefully read the pricing information. Some Airbnb users get excited when they find a listing that sounds like a total bargain, but they're shocked to find out how much they'll be paying in taxes, service fees, cleaning fees, and more. For example, on a dreamy ocean view property in Nags Head that sleeps a whopping 28 guests, our nightly price was $1,005. However, our weekly stay tacked on an extra $1,000+ in Airbnb service fees, another $1000+ in taxes, and a cleaning fee of $255 - bringing our nightly price up considerably, to $1,340.
Innovative "Experiences" Feature
Remember the option you have to choose "experiences" through Airbnb? It's probably one of their most novel features. Have you ever wanted to try meditating with a Japanese monk? Cook with an Italian chef? Get inspired in a one-hour Zoom session with an Olympian? You'll find all of that and much, much more. Better yet, these one-of-a-kind opportunities aren't limited to your travel destination: many of them are held online, so if your vacation becomes a "stay-cation" at home, you've still got the chance to do something amazing.
Why They've Fallen
Why has Airbnb fallen to the bottom of our rankings since our last review? While it's true that this platform still has its share of controversy - with communities resisting Airbnb rental properties being listed within their midst, hotels pushing for more oversight, and so on - you'll find less-than-positive press about any vacation rental service. Airbnb is not the only one to receive an "F" from the Better Business Bureau, but they are the only BBB listing with an alert saying that, due to massive layoffs, the company is no longer responding to complaints. Granted, that's only with respect to problems sent to the BBB - you can still reach out to Airbnb through your account - but it's not a good sign overall. If something goes really south on your vacation rental, you want to know you've got options if the host isn't being helpful (or is completely AWOL).
Proceed With Caution
You've got a lot of options with Airbnb, and it may ultimately be your best resource if you're looking for a less-than-traditional vacation rental or just want one of those cool experiences. But, if you're committing a significant part of your hard-earned travel budget by booking a stay, you'll probably feel more secure if you use one of the higher-rated services in our review - to ensure that someone will pick up the phone if you need help with your vacation rental.
Other vacation rentals are owned and operated by management companies, so your experience might feel more like a traditional hotel stay. No matter how your property is managed, it's a great way to have a more relaxing, private vacation. Plus, with unique destinations that include castles, chalets and even boats, vacation rentals are only limited by your creativity (and maybe your budget!).
However, not all sites offering vacation rentals are equal. You won't care if the service you used has millions of properties if they leave you hanging once you've checked in, or if you can't get help from a responsive customer service team when a problem arises. Which one should you choose for your vacation?
Here are several things to keep in mind as you consider the options:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best vacation rental websites available today. We hope this information helps you find the perfect spot for your next adventure, whether it's a county or a continent away!
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