I love to travel. But it can get expensive, especially if you plan a multiday stay at a large rental. Even if you’re on a road trip and only stop for one night in each location, the cost of staying in different hotels can add up.
So, how do you save money on lodging when you like to travel? One solution is to consider booking your stays using HomeAway, a travel website that specializes in vacation rentals.
HomeAway was established in 2005 as WVR Group, but the name changed in 2006. Over time, the company bought rival sites VRBO and VacationRentals.com. In 2015, HomeAway was acquired by Expedia for $3.9 billion in cash and stock.
Today, HomeAway competes with Airbnb in the vacation rental space. It has a similar business model that allows people to rent out their homes to travelers.
Here’s what you need to know about using HomeAway.
How to use HomeAway
Using HomeAway is fairly straightforward, much like using any other hotel booking website. Simply enter your city of choice, the dates you want to stay, and how many guests you have.
For example, say you’re planning a three-day trip for four adults and four children. After entering in this basic information, you’ll be shown available listings and a map of the area.
To filter through listings, you can adjust your preferences for pricing, number of bedrooms, and more. It’s also possible to find bookings that offer instant confirmation, so you don’t have to wait to see if your reservation is approved.
Click on a listing to learn more about the home. You can see pictures of the rental, read details about its location, and see how many bedrooms and bathrooms are available. You can also review house rules before booking so you know what to expect.
Once you’re comfortable with a rental, click on “Request to Book.” You’ll submit your information and receive a decision within 24 hours. If you book a home with a lightning symbol on its listing, you’ll clinch the deal immediately.
You can ask homeowners and managers questions about the property through the HomeAway website. If you’re curious about location, you can review the map provided by HomeAway. That makes it easier to see whether the neighborhood makes sense for you, especially if you’re looking for something within walking distance of attractions.
Before booking, you might want to read the fine print and communicate with the owners.
Okeoma Moronu Schreiner, an attorney and family travel advocate, has been using HomeAway since 2009. She recommended asking the owner questions to get a feel for who’s in charge.
“Trust your instincts when it comes to owners,” she said. “If they’re not friendly, helpful, and responsive during the booking process, things probably won’t get better if you need their help during your stay.”
You can also read HomeAway reviews of the property before booking to decide if it’s someplace you want to stay.
Booking your vacation rental
Once you choose a rental, go ahead and move forward. As you go through the process, you’ll review the policies of the rental, decide whether you want to add trip protection, and enter your payment information. Trip protection costs vary based on the cost of your stay and whether the owner offers it as an option.
Realize that the owner or manager of the property will decide if they’ll accept your booking request. HomeAway suggests that leaving a message about why you’re coming to town and who you’re traveling with can boost your chances of being accepted.
HomeAway doesn’t force you to book online either. If you need help, you can call 888-640-6970 at any time of the week. Make note of the rental number so you can reference it when you speak with a representative.
Your booking page includes a breakdown of fees you’re likely to pay. Some properties also charge a refundable deposit.
After your stay is complete and the owner or manager verifies that you haven’t damaged anything, you’ll get your deposit back. But that deposit will be part of the upfront cost of renting the home.
Is HomeAway cheaper than a hotel?
Depending on your situation, HomeAway can be cheaper than a hotel. Consider the trip to Denver above. In that scenario, there are eight people traveling together. In order to accommodate the group at a hotel, you’d need a suite or two rooms.
Using Orbitz, it’s possible to find hotels that charge much less per night.
However, you’re paying per night, per room. So if you have two rooms that cost $57 each, that’s $114 per night. With taxes, the total is $382.14. Plus, you don’t have to worry about cleaning fees, extra service fees, or deposits.
Compare that to the $480 cost you’d pay for a home rental on HomeAway. That amount doesn’t account for the deposit you’ll pay when booking.
On the other hand, a nicer hotel like a Marriott property could cost you more. You could easily end up paying $658.20 in total with taxes.
While HomeAway beats a hotel with nightly rates closer to $100, at first glance it looks like you could do better by staying at a cheap hotel.
But is that really the case?
Schreiner said that having a kitchen saves her money, especially during an extended stay. In our trip to Denver, for example, you pay less than $100 extra for staying at a HomeAway property. Compare that figure to how much money you can save by cooking your own meals.
Schreiner said that being able to go to a local grocery store and cook most of her meals easily saves her money.
I can attest to the money you can save when you have a kitchen.
While using Airbnb in Toronto one summer, my son and I bought groceries at a store around the corner from our rented condo. We fixed our own breakfasts and dinners, eating out only for lunch.
Instead of spending between $100 and $125 a day eating out for three meals, we spent $75 on groceries and $30 a day on lunch. Over the course of three days, instead of spending close to $375 on food, we spent $165.
HomeAway is more comfortable for large groups than a hotel
Even if you could save a little money by staying at an inexpensive hotel, the reality is that a HomeAway rental is likely more comfortable. Many of the rentals come with common spaces that a larger party can utilize.
“I believe my accomodations while on vacation really set the tone for my trip,” said Schreiner. “Anyone with toddlers knows it can be exhausting trying to keep little ones entertained in a tiny hotel room.”
Further, Schreiner said bedtime is much more convenient when you have different rooms in the same house, rather than trying to squeeze everyone into one room.
When traveling with friends, you can take advantage of the amenities you find on HomeAway. You don’t have to worry about being broken up into different rooms, and those who want to turn in early can do so.
Kate Horrell, a financial expert who’s been using HomeAway since 2010, likes that you can spread out in a vacation rental.
“You usually have a living space other than just the bed,” she said. “And there are often things like books or board games that you wouldn’t find in a hotel.”
In a HomeAway rental, there’s also a smaller chance you’ll disturb other guests or be asked to quiet down.
Finally, there’s a chance to experience something different with HomeAway. “Hotels tend to have an impersonal cookie-cutter corporate feel that isn’t what I’m looking for when traveling,” said Schreiner. “I love to book homes that are unique, often showcasing local art or located in a vibrant neighborhood. For my family, the home is part of the experience.”
How does HomeAway compare to Airbnb?
Airbnb made a name for itself by being a major part of the sharing economy. Like HomeAway, it allows homeowners to rent out their places.
Using the same criteria for the Denver stay for eight guests, I checked listings on Airbnb. I was able to find several listings at a lower cost than HomeAway.
Some of the Airbnb rentals were in the range of a cheaper hotel.
However, I had to be careful about how I entered my dates in the search filters. In some cases, I had to re-enter my desired dates. I also found that some of the prices advertised in the search results were lower than the actual costs of the rentals.
For this listing, the $77 shown in the search results suddenly became $166 per night.
Like HomeAway, Airbnb operators can choose to charge cleaning fees, and renters have to pay service fees and taxes. Despite these factors, I was able to find some good deals on Airbnb compared to HomeAway.
If you’re traveling alone, Airbnb also allows you to book private rooms in homes where others might be living or staying.
With Airbnb, though, you might sacrifice some level of professionalism. “In my experience, HomeAway tends to attract more professional homeowners than Airbnb,” said Schreiner. “On average, the quality of the homes on HomeAway tends to be more consistent and reliable.”
Drawbacks to a HomeAway vacation rental
HomeAway isn’t always the perfect choice. Horrell said that even with the rental descriptions and details, you can’t really know exactly what you’re going to get.
Sometimes you show up and end up with an experience that’s less than advertised.
With a hotel chain, it’s pretty clear what you’re going to get. Hotels tend to be uniform across the country, so it’s easy to predict how things will go.
I know what to expect when I stay in a Residence Inn by Marriott. When I stayed at an Airbnb in Vancouver a couple years ago, I was surprised that the space didn’t live up to its listing. For example, the pictures on the listing were taken from angles that made the rental look bigger.
It was an uncomfortable couple of nights as my son and I tried to deal with the less-than-stellar sleeping arrangements, inadequate heating, and subpar shower.
Horrell added that sometimes you don’t get the same level of care and attention.
“You can’t just call the front desk and get switched to a new room if the hot water isn’t working,” she said. “Sometimes the hosts live nearby and can help easily, and sometimes your technical support is half a world away.”
Horrell also pointed out that you might miss out on some of the social amenities offered at hotel chains. “You probably won’t get a free breakfast,” she said. “Also, there are no evening dinners or happy hours.”
HomeAway reviews online
HomeAway reviews are mixed. If you look at Google results, the first thing you see is an ad and a rating of 4.3 stars out of five.
Many reviewers cited poor customer service and difficulty in getting the service fee refunded when an owner cancels a booking.
Other reviewers were happy with the service and how easy it was to book. Many of these customers didn’t encounter snags between booking and their trip.
Is HomeAway right for you?
Whether HomeAway works for you depends on your travel priorities and the size of your party.
My son and I are planning a spring break trip with my sister and her family, and we’re looking at HomeAway to find comfortable and affordable accomodations for our party of eight.
If you’re planning a multiday trip and have family or are traveling with a group of friends, it can make sense to book a vacation rental. The service is also a good idea for travelers who want that at-home feel when they’re out of town or want a cost-effective lodging solution in the heart of a popular destination.
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