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BBB Travel Tips: Vacation Rentals for the Budget-Traveler

4/1/2010

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Vacation rentals can be a great way to save money when traveling on a tight budget and many travelers are foregoing the mint on the pillow experience for more reasonable and less cushy accommodations. Better Business Bureau advises vacationers to do their research before booking rentals because sometimes the properties are not as advertised.

In a tough economy, a vacation rental is one way to save if you’re willing to forgo some of the luxuries. According to a summer 2009 survey by TripAdvisor.com, 43 percent of respondents said that they were planning to stay at a vacation rental in the coming 12 months. On average, the price per square foot for a U.S. hotel is more than twice the price per square foot of a vacation rental according to a report by HomeAway, an online vacation rental company. 

“Many travelers have shaved hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars off of their vacation costs by renting a house or condo instead of paying for a hotel or resort,” said Alison Southwick, BBB spokesperson. “A vacation rental can seem riskier than booking a hotel, but if you do your research and pay attention to the fine print, it can be a safe way to save money.”

There are many different Web sites that travelers can turn to for finding a vacation rental. Some companies specialize in connecting renters and vacationers—and take a cut for their efforts—while other sites cut out the middleman and potentially some consumer protections like money-back guarantees.

BBB offers the following advice to travelers looking to save money with a vacation rental:

Start Planning Now. Rental properties in popular locations get snatched up quickly so start your search early before all of the best properties are booked.

Do your Homework. If you plan on enlisting the help of a business, such as a third-party Web site or professional service, to connect you with a renter, always check them out with BBB first at bbb.org.

Manage Your Expectations. A home rental is not a hotel so you can’t necessarily expect the same level of professionalism, cleanliness or modernization.  Some companies will guarantee that the property meets your expectations. If a guarantee isn’t being offered, consider travel insurance.

Take a Virtual Tour. Sometimes the pictures and descriptions of the property posted by the renter can be deceiving. Research the property on your own online and take a virtual tour of the surrounding area using Google Maps Street View. Don’t be tentative about asking plenty of questions about the property. 

Get it all in Writing. Make sure that all of the verbal agreements are included in the rental contract including details on the deposit, rules on pets, refunds, and what is included in the cost of the rental such as utilities, internet, etc.

Use a Secure Form of Payment.  Do not send money until you’ve signed the rental agreement and never pay via money wire, such as through MoneyGram or Western Union. When possible, use a credit card which can provide some amount of consumer protection.

Vacation Rentals By Owner. Take extra precautions when renting from an individual, particularly for international rentals. If possible, get references from previous renters and double-check the location of the property to avoid getting stuck in international waters.

More tips for the budget-savvy traveler can be found at http://www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-travel/.

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