The Right Way to Avoid Homeaway & VRBO's Service Fee

The introduction of the HomeAway / VRBO service fee has caused sudden concern for both property owners and travelers alike. The service fee is a fee charged by HomeAway or VRBO to the traveler and is calculated on a sliding scale of 4% to 9% of the rental amount, excluding the deposit or taxes. Owners are appalled and even offended by the addition of this fee, which inflates the nightly price charged to their guests for a promise of services that HomeAway cannot deliver.

To help buffer the service fee backlash, HomeAway introduced the "Book with Confidence Guarantee" (found here), which owners argue is a scare tactic to justify acceptance of the service fee by travelers, but that includes items that are impossible for HomeAway to guarantee, specifically: 

1.) "Premium customer service that is available 24/7 to help you if you have issues or questions regarding your stay"

The argument: A HomeAway customer service representative cannot offer solutions to the vast majority of issues or questions regarding a travelers stay, because they have never physically set foot in the property and know nothing about the home.

 2.) "Rebooking assistance to help you find another vacation rental should your booking be cancelled by an owner or manager at the last minute, for example moving a Traveler to a comparable property."  

The argument: In many locations, especially major resort destinations during peak rental periods, moving a traveler to a comparable property is simply not possible, even for locals in the business, and especially for a customer service representative at midnight.

How should travelers avoid this unnecessary fee? Remember, when renting a vacation property, the owner, not HomeAway, is your best friend when it comes to ensuring the quality of your stay. Respect their livelihood and please don't try to avoid the fee by doing this:

The Wrong Way to Avoid the HomeAway / VRBO Service Fee:
Ask the Owner to Absorb the Fee
Don't ask the owner to deduct the fee from the total cost of their rental. Why should owners absorb the service fee? Some owners already pay upwards of $1500 annually to list a property on HomeAway or VRBO. If they are on a Pay Per Booking model, fees for the owner already start at 8% per booking. Add in the cost of taxes and credit card fees, and that leaves little to no room to absorb additional fees. Again, nobody finds the service fee more offensive than vacation rental owners.

Instead, consider this:

The Right Way to Avoid the HomeAway / VRBO Service Fee:
Be a Savvy Traveler and Educate Yourself
Instead of asking owners to absorb the cost of the fee, travelers can easily find many vacation rental owners on other listing sites which do not charge fees. Savvy travelers already know the best price comes from booking direct, whether it's a hotel, airline or vacation rental. Travelers can research properties on the major listing site of their choice, and then perform Google keyword searches (i.e. Avalanche Ranch Montana) to find owners through other avenues or through the owner's personal property website to book direct.

Ingrid Genest is a travel blogger specializing in alternative lodging trends, marketing, and advertising including Vacation Rentals, Inns, B & B's, private rooms, and sublets.

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