I love using sites like Homeaway, AirBNB and FlipKey to get a good deal on a place to stay during a vacation. Being a budget traveler, I can’t always afford hotels that have all of the amenities I am looking for. A couple of vacations ago, I got turned on to renting entire apartments, especially for European travel, and I have been very pleased with my experiences — for the most part.
Renting an apartment gives you a few more luxuries than a normal hotel room would. I love having a kitchen because that can cut down on food costs for the entire trip. Making breakfast while you get ready in the morning, packing a lunch for a picnic and even cooking a few dinner meals in can really save a lot of money. Renting an apartment also gives you and your family more space to spread out. Even with only 3 of us, a hotel room can get cramped with all of our luggage. I like having the ability to unpack into a dresser, put snacks away in an actual kitchen and doing a load or 2 of laundry to cut back on packing.
Homeaway seems to be the site that I gravitate to the most. It’s user friendly and I like the options, descriptions, reviews and pictures it has readily available. Here are a few rules I have in place when renting an apartment for vacation online.
- It must have pictures. I am not walking into an apartment overseas that I don’t know what it looks like. This one seems like a no brainer but it is a rule.
- It must have at least 2 reviews. I realize that any review could be bogus but it helps me feel more comfortable that there is a possibility other people have had a good experience there.
- I request the exact address before booking. It’s been my experience that what is provided is a general area of where the apartment is located. I always email the owner and ask for the exact address before I book. I’ve found everyone that I’ve asked is more than happy to provide this for me. I then take that address and type it in Google Earth and do the “Street View” option. I look at the front door, the street and neighboring streets. While it is not a real time view, it does give a good overview of the area. I like knowing what is around the apartment, it helps me narrow down my choices. Is the apartment above a nightclub, well that’s a no go. Is there a park down the street and a bakery around the corner? Well that might be a really family friendly area. This is by far my #1 tip!
- Ask questions to the owner. There can be a lot of hidden fees when booking apartments. I thought I was asking all of the right questions, but this last vacation I got stuck with some hidden fees I wasn’t expecting and when you’re a budget travel it can be a deal buster. I was actually charged an extra $25 at check in at one of the apartments I rented in France. While $25 doesn’t seem like a lot, that’s a trip up the Eiffel Tower, a lunch out or 25 baguettes. Here are some questions I highly encourage you to ask:
–Do you charge a cleaning fee or do I clean myself? I only stay places where I can clean the apartment myself upon check out. I know I’ll do a good job and avoid the unnecessary fees.
-Do you charge an extra fee for children or more people? This actually happened to me. I booked a room and paid the deposit for an apartment that slept 3 people per the description. After they had received my payment they informed me it was an extra $5 a night for that 3rd person. Technically, I don’t know if that was truly legit based on Homeaway’s policy but the homeowners did expect me to pay it when I arrived. I didn’t push the issue but you should be aware.
-Do linens come included with the rental? Some apartments provide all of the bedding and towels, some provide them for an extra fee and some don’t provide them at all. We’ve stayed in apartments where it is provided at no extra charge and this is best. This last vacation we packed our own bedding (a fitted sheet, flat sheet and pillow cases and then picked up a few towels at the grocery store to avoid high linen fees. Bringing your own is most definitely more budget friendly.
-Is there a stay tax and how much is it per night? Some places impose a stay tax that the homeowner will pass on to you. We have stayed 2 places where they have a stay tax. It was around .66 per person, per night at both places.
-Do you charge a security deposit? While you are more than likely to get it all back, you still do need to factor this into your budget to have the cash on hand. Sometimes, the owner will accept a check which I like because you don’t have to convert so much money and pay the transaction fees.
-Are there any discounts for paying cash? Homeaway encourages all payments to be done via the website to protect the customers. But they charge fees to the owners. Sometimes, you can get a discount by paying cash upon arrival. This is a do at your own risk kind of thing. But I’ve had good luck paying the deposit online and then paying the rest in cash when I check in.
- Search rentals only in your budget. Don’t increase your budget “just to look”. Just looking to look is a mistake because you will undoubtedly find something better and try to convince yourself $10 a night more isn’t that bad. I promise you’ll be able to find something you like in your price range but when you browse outside of that you set yourself up for disappointment.
These tips save me a lot of cash and most of the time we wind up in an apartment that I really like. If you are traveling soon, I hope these tips help you. Have you rented and apartment while on vacation before? I’d love to hear your experience below in the comment section!