Booking a Vacation Rental? Beware This Trap

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  • Private rentals tend to offer more space than hotel rooms, and they can be more economical.
  • Hotels tend to have more flexible cancellation policies than the vacation rentals you book through sites like Airbnb.

You could end up losing money if you aren't careful.

Although summer is still a few months away, if you're planning to take a trip, now may be the time to reserve your lodging. As summer gets closer, the cost of lodging is likely to rise as demand increases. And while you may have some hotel points you can cash in for a free stay, if you're paying fully out of pocket, you'll want to do your best to snag as much savings as possible.

Now when it comes to booking lodging, you have choices. You could opt for a traditional hotel room, or you could book a private vacation rental using a site like Airbnb or VRBO.

There are definite benefits to going the latter route. For one thing, with a vacation rental, you'll generally enjoy more space at a comparable cost to a hotel room. In some cases, you might even be able to rent a whole house at a lower price than what a hotel will charge you for a cramped room with two double beds.

Plus, vacation rentals tend to come with fully equipped kitchens. If you're on a budget, that can be a huge money-saver, as it gives you the option to cook meals rather than be forced to constantly eat at restaurants while you're away.

But while vacation rentals have their perks, there's one trap you might fall into if you book one. And it could be a costly one.

Beware the inflexible cancellation policy

When you book a hotel room, you're required to make your reservation with a credit card. But often, you'll have the option to cancel your room up to 48 hours in advance and avoid having your card charged.

With a vacation rental, you're highly unlikely to get that same level of flexibility. Some vacation rentals do offer cancellation policies, but usually, you'll have to cancel your plans a solid month in advance for a full refund. And in some cases, you may only be entitled to a partial refund.

That's why it's important to read the fine print before booking a vacation rental. If your plans change, you could get stuck having to pay for a property you're unable to use.

What to do if you're stuck with a vacation rental you no longer need

So, say you've booked a vacation and realize you can't keep your plans at the last minute. Are you completely out of luck? Not necessarily.

Another good thing about booking a vacation rental is that you're dealing with a human, not a corporation, on the other side of that transaction. If you reach out to the owner of your vacation rental and explain your predicament, they may be willing to work with you.

Some owners, for example, will give you your money back in full if they can rebook the property in time and avoid losing out on the income they were anticipating. Others might give you a partial refund even if they can't rebook. It's worth reaching out and seeing what options you have.

Proceed with caution

If you're hoping to travel later on this year, booking lodging in advance is smart. It might not only save you money, but also help guarantee that you don't get shut out.

But if your plans aren't firm yet, you may want to steer clear of booking a vacation rental. The last thing you want to do is get stuck paying for property you don't end up staying at.

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