A few years ago we had a traveling revelation that changed our approach to vacationing ever since. It was all thanks to booking direct and developing a relationship with the vacation home owner.
We flew our family of four to the Yucatán to meet up with some friends to escape the cold wet winter weather. We had three littles between the two families so the prospects of taking the whole group out to restaurants in a foreign country was not very appetizing. Our first destination was Valladolid, which is a small city between Chichén-Itzá and Riviera Maya. It is not the most tourist-forward city so we rented a vacation home owned by a local family. In discussing our restaurant-with-kids conundrum, the home owner hooked us up with a neighbor’s cousin who was in culinary school to be a private chef for us. Our minds were blown! The food was amazing, at a price point that was lower than a restaurant, and we got the opportunity to share some of the local culture with a local.
Thanks to getting to know the local vacation home owner, our whole approach to travel changed for the better. It also changed how we operate our own vacation home, Lucky Bend Lookout. As soon as we got home we made arrangements to start offering private chef services to our guests.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to create that kind of transformative experience for your family? Book your accommodations direct with the owners to get the best local advice and meet some new lovely people. As a bonus you will save some money as well. Below we will tell you how to get the benefits of booking direct while minimizing any risks.
Book Direct to Save Money
Whenever you book with an Online Travel Agency (OTA) such as Airbnb or Travelocity, the OTA is the middle-man and they will find a way to charge you extra, whether via a higher nightly rate, or by tacking on an extra fee. The extra fee is usually called a booking fee, or a service fee and can add hundreds of dollars to the total cost of your stay.
Do you want a discount on your stay? The vacation rental owner will more willingly offer you a deal if you book directly with them, because you are saving them money too! The OTA isn’t just charging the traveller fees, they are also charging the owners a fee as well! So if you are helping the owner save that fee, then they can pass along that savings to you.
Credit Cards Offer Better Protection than the OTA
That extra money you pay might make you think you bought some peace of mind, that you booked a legitimate accommodation or can cancel in case of emergency. But you are not truly guaranteed protection because everything is at the discretion of the OTA who is taking fees from both sides and therefore, not completely on your side.
So then how do you get true peace of mind when booking direct with a vacation rental? When you make your purchase with a credit card, your purchase is protected by your credit card company. So If the accommodation is a scam or vastly different than as as advertised, then you did not receive what you paid for and can request a refund. If the owner does not refund you, then you can dispute the credit card charge.
Trip Insurance for Extra Protection
Another layer of protection can come from trip insurance. Insurance will cost you between 4-10% of the total trip. This is going to be less than the OTA service fees which usually run from 6-14%. If you need to file a claim with the OTA, they are making the decision about whether to refund you any money, while the trip insurance company is independent from the vacation rental and they are going to be on your side because YOU are their customer, not the vacation rental owner!
Book Direct and Get to Know the Owners
Of course the best peace of mind is achieved through the interaction with the owner. You will develop a sense of who they are and whether they are trustworthy. When you are interested in a vacation rental on the OTA site, you have to message the owner or manager through the online system. It is not possible to get the owner on the phone to ask questions or make sure they are a real person who cares!
Booking direct encourages a connection between you and the owner. You will feel comfortable to call the owner, or send them a direct email to get answers to all of your questions. The owner will want to serve you as their VIP customer and will want to build a long lasting relationship with you, so you can enjoy many vacations at their place. They will have the ability to be more flexible with you, such as granting early check-in, and if you have a problem or concern you can deal with the owner one-on-one and won’t get stuck on eternal hold with the customer service line. When you form a relationship with the owner before you arrive, it creates trust and ease and you can get to enjoying your vacation right away.
The Best Advice and Recommendations
As noted in the opening story, you can get the personalized advice that will take your vacation to the next level. The owner knows the house and surrounding area the best, so when you go to make that phone call or ask that question by email, you can be assured that the owner will be a great resource for you. They will gladly give you the local tips, help you with planning your trip, and recommend local restaurants and attractions.
Here’s How to Book Direct
Use Google the smart way. Type in your search terms, but DON’T click on the listings or links at the top of the page. If you look at them closely, they will say in small letters VRBO, Airbnb, Turnkey, etc. Scroll down the page, ignoring the ads and look for individual vacation home names or for local rental agencies. You will likely need to look past the first page of search results to find a direct link.
Go to Houfy.com and search their listings from all around the world. Houfy is a platform where guests connect with owners and managers without the control of a middleman. All of their listings go through a rigorous verification process and they do not charge online service fees or commissions. It’s like VRBO used to be!
Use the web sites for the local visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce. These sites are funded by tax dollar so guests can be rest assured that the listings and owners are licensed, have permits, and are providing legitimate vacation experiences.
Google Image Search
Try Google image search. Copy the image of the vacation rental from the OTA site and search for it. You can then find the original source of that photo and book direct with the owner’s web site.
Google Name Search
Start with the OTA site to find the place you want, then find the same place with Google. Look for clues in the description of the property, such as the name of the house and do a google search for that name.
Social Media Search
Use the Facebook search box the same way you would with Google. Many vacation rentals have a Facebook business page which makes them easy to reach. You can also find reviews on the Facebook business page.
On Instagram you can find a vacation home by searching for the location or searching for “places”. Type in the city or region into the search bar and look for photos of houses. They will likely be vacation homes! You can also search for the hashtag #BookDirect and you can find lodgings to book directly from all over the world.
It’s always worth a shot to try to #BookDirect. You will save some money, enjoy better customer service, and you will support the little guy in the local economy but cutting out the corporate middle-man.
By the way, you can also enjoy most of the benefits above by booking direct for the other aspects of your vacation like the flights and even hotels.
This local insight brought to you by your hosts at Lucky Bend Lookout; a modern yet family-friendly Russian River vacation home. Check our availability and book online or call/text Sarah at 415-516-6961 to reserve.
You’re right direct contact with the owners of a vacation home is a bonus. The Russian River area looks great, when all this is over and we’re in the States, we’ll shurely come to the region.
Thanks Cosette! We look forward to hosting you when you come over. Your last post about Switzerland was great. I was last there in 98 but my parent just came back from a hiking adventure in Zermatt and reminded me how great it was. Looking forward to bring the kids along someday.
That’s a long time ago that you were in Switzerland. Our son especially loved the cheese museum and the ice cave. I’ve heard great things about the Russian river region, we’ve been to about 23 stated, but haven’t been above San Francisco in California.