“Save Hundreds of Dollars on Your Next Vacation Rental with this One Weird Trick!”

Book Your Next Vacation Rental Direct

I freaking hate clickbait headlines… But they’re funny, you know? Also, in this particular case, it’s completely accurate. Here’s the weird trick:

Did you find a place that you’d love to rent on a site like Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals or similar? Does the place seem to have a branded name (you know, like in our case “Elrod Villa”)? GOOGLE THAT NAME.

That’s it.

How can that save you hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on your vacation rental?

It’s called “direct booking.” In the same way that most hotels would rather have you book directly with them (rather than via some other online service), many professional vacation rental operators want you to do the same.

In many cases, you’ll be able to easily find the direct contact information (either the owner/operator or management company) for that vacation rental. Inquire directly via the owner/manager’s own site, email or phone/text information listed there.

You’ll save money because:

  1. You won’t pay an absurd booking fee to the vacation rental listing site. (In some cases — as on TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals — these fees can add a whopping 20% to your cost!)
  2. Many owners (us included) offer a best price guarantee or preferred pricing for direct bookings.

Not every vacation rental makes this easy for you, but savvy vacation rental operators have a saying, “Listing sites are for looking. Owner sites are for booking.”

Here’s an example of what happens when you search “Elrod Villa” — the name of our Palm Springs vacation rental — via Google (here, I just typed that into the Safari browser address line on my iPhone):

The Google Business listing for “Elrod Villa” vacation rental in Palm Springs, CA

See that blue banner with all the icons and stuff? That’s our Google Business listing. It contains all of our contact information and links directly to our own dedicated website for our vacation rental. On a full desktop web browser, such a listing will appear on the right hand side of the first page search results, like this:

Our vacation rental’s Google Business listing as it appears on desktop. Google Business listing on the right. If you squint, you can see that our dedicated site, evillapalmsprings.com, shows up as the fourth listing in the text search results.

Now, not every vacation rental with its own site will be as well “search engine optimized” as ours… And not every one will have quite as unique a name. You may need to get a little bit creative. Try adding the name of the city to your search (e.g., search instead for Elrod Villa Palm Springs).

For example, the dedicated Google Business listing and dedicated website for our friends at “Desert Knoll” (another excellent Palm Springs luxury vacation rental), can be hard to find if you only search for Desert Knoll (because there are some other businesses with similar names). However, searching Desert Knoll Palm Springs brings them right up. And you’ll find both their Google Business listing and their own website in the search results.

A Couple of Caveats

While direct booking can save you money on your vacation rental, obviously fraud is one potential concern. There have been no shortage of “fake” vacation rental listings on the various listing sites. And I suppose it’s possible that fraudsters might take the time and energy to create fake (or spoofed) direct booking sites as well.

But note that the guarantees promised by many of the booking sites aren’t always adequate protection, anyway, and there are some “common sense” things that you can do to avoid being ripped off.

Here are a couple of tips that can help you avoid the most obvious types of fraud:

  • If you want to make sure that a direct booking site you’ve found is run by the same folks as the ones who posted a listing on Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, TripAdvisor or similar, here’s one thing you can do: After contacting direct, also send an inquiry through the listing site in question. Simply say, “Hi, I also contacted you directly via your phone/email/website I found online. Did you get my inquiry there?” Note that, in many cases, you’re not going be able to actually paste an URL or phone number as often that type of information is blocked.
  • Make sure that your rental is governed by an actual written contract that spells out the terms and conditions of your rental, cancellation policies, etc. In our case, we execute an e-signable rental agreement with every guest, regardless of whether they book with us direct or via some other online service. (Many first-time users of those sites don’t realize that this is best practice when booking a VR or that, in some municipalities like ours, it is required.)
  • Use a major credit card to pay for your vacation rental. You’ll get the standard fraud protections that come along with using that form of payment. Professional VR owners and managers will either offer you a secure online payment system (similar to what you’d get on one of the major listing sites) and/or let you make a credit card payment via PayPal, Venmo or similar (which is essentially the same thing).
  • Never pay for a vacation rental with a wire transfer or direct bank transfer. No real vacation rental operator (whether found on a listing site or on a direct website) is going to ask you to do that. There have been cases of fraudulent or hacked listings where the fraudsters “took over” a listing and responded to guests telling them not to pay through the site’s own payment system.

Have any other tips, questions or experiences about directly booking a vacation rental? Let me know in the comments!