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Just recently I helped my mom and uncle plan a trip to Santa Barbara. After arranging the flights, I set out to find them accommodations.
Because of the time of year, prices for both hotels and vacation rentals were inflated. They wanted a spot where they could relax and cookout together, so I decided to search on Airbnb because a vacation rental usually provides more space for socializing.
When searching for a rental, I always start by checking to see if any shopping portals are offering cash back or bonus travel rewards, or if there are any applicable Amex Offers. In the past, I’ve saved up to 12% on a vacation rental booking just for going through a cash-back site.
This time around there weren’t any great deals available, but after finding a particular rental through Airbnb, I searched for that same property on other booking sites (Booking.com, VRBO, Agoda, etc.) to compare prices. I also did a quick search on Craiglist.
When searching for a particular property on various sites, I find it’s easiest if the property has a unique, identifying name. For example, the property I found for my mom and uncle was named “Villa Azul,” so I could just put this in the search bar on each site.
It’s important to compare prices because each booking platform charges its own fees. The same rental often will cost less on one site than on another. And if you can find a way to contact the host directly (for example, via Craigslist), you might be able to avoid extra booking fees altogether.
The downside to this, of course, is that you won’t be able to use one of the best credit cards for travel to pay for your rental. Nor will you have the protections offered by whichever booking platform you might have used. But in this particular situation, saving hundreds of dollars on the rental was worth it.
I own and manage a vacation rental and have had renters contact me directly before, so I know I’m not the only one who uses this tactic.
Here’s how the numbers worked out:
Airbnb was quoting me $258.17 per night for six nights plus a $175 cleaning fee and a $222.40 service fee, for a total of $1,946.40. But after emailing the manager through Craigslist and noting that she had the rental priced at $250 a night on that site, she only charged me $250 per night for six nights and the $175 cleaning fee, for a total of $1,675. That’s a savings of just over $270.
In this instance, I also had the benefit of having my sister, who lives in Santa Barbara, check out the rental beforehand. That way I felt comfortable negotiating directly with the rental manager. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you’re comfortable booking directly with a vacation rental owner or manager. I always suggest a quick phone call too, just to get a feel for who you’re dealing with.