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.

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