When I’m on a trip longer than a week, including those that include more than one place where I’ll be stopping over, I often look for a vacation rental property, such as a condo or house, to bunk for at least part of my time on the road.
Vacation rentals often trump hotels when it comes to space, amenities, and price. While a vacation rental can be ideal for families with kids, or groups of 4 or more people, they are also often a good choice for a pair of travelers, such as myself and my wife.
When I picked up the May, 2014 issue of Sunset magazine, I found an article devoted to vacation rentals. While I had heard of on-line vacation rental booking sites HomeAway and VRBO, “FlipKey” was new to me, so I decided to take it for a “search and booking test drive.”
Here’s what I learned.
Show Me What You’ve Got
FlipKey (which is owned by TripAdvisor) claims its listings include 240,000 homes in more than 11,000 cities world-wide. (That number might increase with TripAdvisor’s acquisition of VacationHomeRentals.com.)
My all-time favorite vacation rental is a beautiful small two-bedroom, two-bath home high above the ocean near the lush tropical town of Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui. I heard that since my last stay in 2007 it had been sold and that it possibility was no longer available for rent.
So my first FlipKey search aimed at finding out if I could return to “Hana’s Heaven.”
FlipKey had 28 listings for Hana, including “Hana Paradise Cottages,” but not my heavenly home-away-from-home.
On the other hand, HomeAway and VRBO (which are jointly owned) both offered to rent me “Hana’s Heaven” for $280/night.
Where Should I Go?
Haven’t a clue where to go on vacation? FlipKey can offer suggestions in several categories, including:
- “Best U.S. Vacations”
- “Cabin Getaways”
- “Girlfriend Getaways”
- “Best Islands to Visit”
- “City Travel”
At the time that I was writing this story, I was preparing to take off on a trip to California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. So I wanted to see if FlipKey had “Cabin Getaways” in those mountains.
If I would have been headed to the Lake Tahoe area, FlipKey could have helped me out. But it had no listings under “Cabin Getaways” for any other locations in the Sierra Nevada range.
So I entered the name of a town in that foothills of the Sierras where I figured there would be vacation rental properties. FlipKey came up with two listings, but one was near Telluride, Colorado, hundreds of miles east of California.
On the other hand, HomeAway and VRBO came up with 10 and 15 listings in that town, respectively.
HomeAway offers a list of “Vacation Ideas” that are mostly geographically, rather than topically, based. VRBO doesn’t appear to have a comparable “Ideas” list.
What’s The Cost?
One very handy feature of FlipKey is the ability to instantly change the currency in which the rental price is displayed. For example, a Paris apartment near the Eiffel Tower was listed at €55 Euros/night, but I could quickly “convert” that to $76 in U.S. Dollars, making it easier for me to estimate whether the rental rate was within my travel budget.
HomeAway and VRBO also have a “currency exchange” function.
What’s The Place Like?
FlipKey listings include a property overview, location on a map, list of amenities, a easy-to-read-calendar that displays availability, rate information, reviews (if available) and at least some photos.
But the same information appears to be more extensive for HomeAway and VRBO listings.
So, Use FlipKey or Not?
I’m not sure what advantage there would be to using FlipKey over HomeAway or VRBO. All three sites provide the same basic information, but FlipKey has far fewer listings.
In my research, I didn’t compare policies (such as cancellations, refunds, etc.) for each of these three sites. But as with any third-party booking arrangement, I’d suggest reading that information carefully, and also determine who you can contact during your stay for assistance with any problems that might occur with the rental property.