7 simple ways to save hundreds on a vacation rental

The small ad that popped up on my computer would have gone unnoticed if I hadn’t been veering toward desperation after spending an hour searching major travel sites for hotels that could accommodate us on New Year’s Eve.

The ad led me to rent a modern, well-furnished loft in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic district — for less than half the cost of a hotel in that Ontario, Canada, town. That trip taught me a lesson: Take the extra time to search alternative lodging options, and you can save major cash and gain more comfort.

Perhaps I’m just traditional, but I automatically began looking for hotels and B&Bs for that trip. That search ended in disappointment as I pictured a cramped hotel room and a major credit card bill.

Vacation home rentals, however, take many forms — including houses, condos, apartments and lofts like the one I stayed in that New Year’s Eve. See for yourself by checking out the variety of listings on a vacation rental website.

Major vacation rental sites include:

  • Airbnb — which is probably the best-known vacation rental site.
  • VRBO (short for “Vacation Rentals by Owner”) — which is among few sites that have “long worked with travelers looking for vacation homes ranging from ski condos in Vail, Colo., to beach houses in Tulum, Mexico,” the New York Times reports. VRBO was founded in 1996.
  • Homestay.com — which caters to tight budgets. It “offers a network of accommodations in over 150 countries where hosts offer affordable lodging, breakfast and local intelligence,” the NYT reports.

The bottom line: We booked that loft in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we loved it, we paid less than imagined, and we can’t wait to return. So, don’t count out vacation rentals the next time you search for lodging just because you’re new to them.

The following tips will help ensure you get the best rental at the best rate.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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7 simple ways to save hundreds on a vacation rental

1. Talk with the owner or manager

When you rent a hotel room, you’re one of many anonymous travelers. Sure, some hotel reps will try to help you find a deal, but they probably won’t put as much effort into it as those who rent out private properties.

Plus, if you are courteous when dealing with vacation rental representatives and ask plenty of questions, it will go a long way toward securing a deal on a quality property.

2. Negotiate

If you’re willing to budge on other factors, like the exact location of a vacation rental property, you might find you can negotiate on price.

“We appreciate people letting us know that money matters to them,” Oregon Beach Vacations co-founder David McElveen says.

If he knows a customer can’t afford one of his company’s prime properties, he may be able to steer them to a just-as-nice property that is off the beaten path but works better for their budget.

3. Consider space

I’ve found it’s easy to get carried away when browsing properties and have opted for a much larger space than I needed. I’ve found myself wishing I had considered a more suitable size vacation rental that would have saved me some money.

McElveen says that’s common.

“If a couple is looking at a three-bedroom house, they may want to reconsider,” he says. “Do they really need all of this space?”

4. Weigh luxuries

Do you really want a hot tub? What about a fire pit? If you haven’t used those in the past, what makes you think you’ll use them now?

If you really think you’ll enjoy them, great. But if not, why spend the money?

5. Ask about discounts

If you are renting a place for more than a week or renting multiple properties, ask whether there’s a price break, McElveen recommends.

For example, if five families in a group all rent separately, they could be spending a lot more money than if they had booked at the same time.

If you return to a property multiple times, don’t forget to let the owner or manager know. You may receive a discount for that, too.

6. Be flexible

Some of the best bargains are had when travelers are flexible on dates or can take advantage of last-minute deals, McElveen says.

Being flexible about your travel dates is also a great way to save money on flights — it’s tip No. 1 in “14 Super Smart Ways to Save on Travel.”

7. Beware of scams

There are a lot of good deals, but some will seem a little too good to be true — and turn out to be scams.

These rip-offs typically take one of two forms, as we explain in “7 Tips to Avoid a Vacation Rental Ripoff“:

  1. The person you’re dealing with doesn’t actually own the property. Instead, he or she has lifted the photos and a listing from another website. Typically, you get a contract to sign and return along with a security deposit. When you show up, luggage in hand, you are out of luck while the fraudster disappears with the deposit.
  2. You have a place to stay, but the home was misrepresented by the owner and not at all what you were expecting.

It helps to start with an established, reputable rental site such as:

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