Should I be looking at places other than Airbnb when planning trips? That's the question I find myself asking as 2018 gets underway. And that's because I saw an advertisement for VRBO — Vacation Rentals By Owner — just a few days ago that caught my attention.
VRBO is not a new vacation rental website by any means — they got started in 1995, according to Tripping.com — but they are new to me, and looking over their website, I continue to be intrigued.
At a glance, the site looks suspiciously like another vacation rental outfit called HomeAway, which is no coincidence: VRBO was acquired by that company in 2006. Everywhere I've looked, the standout statistic, if you'd like to call it that, seems to be that as of 2014 VRBO features more than 794,000 rentals across the world.
One of their biggest selling points appears to be that they largely focus on whole house/apartment rentals (as opposed to Airbnb, where the listings generally fall under three categories: shared rooms, private rooms, or entire houses/apartments). For those travelers seeking a space all their own, it would certainly be nice to know you're only looking at that kind of property while perusing the listings on VRBO.
Further digging on VRBO, however, reveals that property owners and renters alike have not been too happy with the site lately. Why? Well, Expedia — a company you may have heard of — bought HomeAway (and VRBO by extension) in early 2016, and apparently there have been lots of changes to the brands' business model(s). One such change, for example, is that VRBO and HomeAway started charging guest/service fees.
Other changes might be better described by the not-so-happy campers who have been affiliated with either of the websites over the last couple years:
"VRBO/HomeAway was a great website and I had a successful relationship with them, then they were sold to a large company. Customer Service is outsourced. When I called for help, regarding a mistake on the billing, they told me I had to work it out with renter, who did not return my calls. They charge a very high fee and offer (zero) support..." — H. from Austin, TX, on MyThreeCents (10/24/17)
"As owners we have used VRBO for 8 years. Our subscription runs out the end of January and after reading all the reviews from both owners and tenants we will not be renewing ... We like to have personal contact with our tenants and feel that we have lost the ability to have control over our own property. The fees they are charging the guests are ridiculous as we already pay a pretty hefty fee to advertise with them." — Louise from Cortez, CO, on Consumer Affairs (01/04/18)
"As a beach condo owner in Florida, I had a relationship with VRBO for over 8 years. They recently made changes to benefit themselves - increasing costs for renters, and complexity for owners. VRBO actually de-listed my property one month after I renewed because they said I was not responding to all requests. We have a building mandated 2 week stay - and I don't respond to weekend ONLY requests. They didn't notify me I was being de-listed, and would not extend my listing or refund fees. Ridiculously rude to me when I was trying to resolve. Good bye VRBO!!" — John B. from Florida on SiteJabber (12/04/17)
As you can see, those are all pretty recent, not to mention overwhelmingly negative. Look through other reviews on those three sites, or wherever you can find them for VRBO/HomeAway properties, and I'm certain you'll find more of the same.
So I find myself in an odd position. Here I was, all gung-ho to tell you about this awesome vacation rental site I'd just discovered, only to find out while doing further research for this post that they are not so awesome after all — very far from it, in fact!
Fair warning not to use VRBO/HomeAway is probably good enough travel advice in and of itself, but I feel it's my duty to leave you with something you can do, rather than just alerting you about something you should avoid. And so, instead of leaving you with a new recommendation, I'll again turn to my trusted, tried-and-true (and still-standing) go-to: Airbnb.
I told you all the way back in May 2017 that Airbnb was one of the tools you needed to arm yourself with in undertaking modern travel, and right now, with this post, published seven months later, I reaffirm that truth to you. And, because I am so generous, I share once again my referral link — www.airbnb.com/c/lhansen709 — which can help you shave $40 off your first trip (you're welcome).
So, the answer to my question from the beginning of this post — should I be looking at places other than Airbnb when planning trips? — would seem to be "no" at this juncture. That is, unless anyone out there has a vacation rental site they'd highly recommend? Let me know down below.
P.S. Just as a semi-random afterthought on lodging: Freehand Hotels, which runs hotel/hostel hybrids located in Chicago, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, offers accommodations worth checking out, too, should you find yourself in one of those cities.