The Captain Morse House

A Note about Service Fees

If you’ve searched for a vacation rental in the past year, you may have noticed it is much more difficult and expensive, at least on the major booking sites.

As property owners, we feel your pain. Prior to this year, we only advertised on VRBO and were always fully booked.  We paid a yearly subscription, and our guests paid none. We chose not to advertise on AirB&B, as they have always charged guests a service fee (but do not charge the owners.)

But things changed last year with the introduction of the HomeAway / VRBO service fee.  The service fee is charged by HomeAway/VRBO to the traveler and is calculated on a sliding scale of 4% to 9% of the rental amount. Keep in mind that they still charge the owners, too! 

To help explain this “double-dipping”, HomeAway introduced their “Book with Confidence Guarantee.” If you read through it and have rented from an owner before, you might just get a chuckle out of it:

  1. Premium customer service that is available 24/7 to help you if you have issues or questions regarding your stay.
    Sounds awesome! But . . . if you call VRBO customer service (in India), they have never actually seen our property and know nothing about the home.  They are going to call the homeowners.  As owners, we would much rather establish a friendly relationship with our guests prior to you arriving at our home.  If there are questions, we answer them. If there are any issues, we want our guests to call us immediately so we can take care of them.  

2. Rebooking assistance to help you find another vacation rental should your booking be canceled by an owner or manager at the last minute.
In most locations, moving a traveler to a comparable property is simply not possible.  Odd of that customer service rep across the ocean finding you another ocean-front, pet-friendly 6-bedroom house that you selected six months ago are slim to none. You’re going to end up in a Motel 6 by the highway. And personally, as an owner, the only time I have “canceled last minute” was due to an impending hurricane and a mandatory evacuation order.  And, of course, gave a full refund.  

3. Comprehensive payment protection that protects your full rental payment against listing fraud, phishing, property significantly misrepresented and more.
So, not really.  I just read the read the “fine print” of this protection and was appalled to see that a guest is not covered if they arrive and discover  that a) the property is excessively dirty, b) it’s located in a different place than you saw online, c) the interior is  “different than the description  in the listing” and/or  d) there is “a failure of the air conditioning, internet, phone service, grill, hot tub, or swimming pool.”  

Again, establishing a relationship with the owner is your best protection.  I would never want someone to think we falsely advertised our home’s location or interior.  And I would be horrified if they felt it was not clean enough; we would send the cleaner back out right away.  We had our washing machine break during someone’s month-long stay and had it replaced with a brand-new one the same day.

4. Security deposit protection to help you recover your deposit if it is wrongfully withheld.
After many years of acting as a vacation-rental host, I can guarantee you that the last thing responsible owners want to do is withhold even a portion of your security deposit.  In our five years of doing this, we have had to use a portion of the deposit only twice.  Once, when our guests broke the glass on our dining room table. And once, when we had really bad guests who let their dogs trash the house.  Most small accidents or issues are just the cost of doing business. 

We still advertise on all of the major booking sites.  If you feel more comfortable using them, regardless of the additional fees, then please do so. If you have started your reservation process through a third-party site, we will not suggest or allow you to cancel and book direct. That would be unethical, in our opinion.

Just do your homework before you book. The best price always comes from booking direct, whether it’s a hotel, airline or vacation rental. 

And most important, when renting a vacation property, the owner (and not the website you found the property on) is your best friend when it comes to ensuring the quality of your stay.