I received an email this week, pointing to a new charge that the Homeaway Group are bringing in during February, that of a “service fee” for guests. Homeaway are a US based, large holiday group of listing sites, now owned by Expedia. Some of you will use Homeaway or have come across one of its subsidiaries, Owners Direct, a favoured site by many UK guests in particular. They already abandoned their USP some time ago in that many of the properties are agency properties rather than owner run ones and enquiring will only get you through to a customer service team who will have no personal knowledge of the property you are enquiring about.
Service fees are gradually creeping across the board into all the big sites, usually “sold” to you the guest as a price worth paying for the security and convenience of booking through their site. Ultimately it simply means you will pay more for your holiday than if you book your holiday direct with the owner. The owners are not benefiting from this change. Increasingly, the larger companies are “meddling” in our businesses more and more, bringing in automatic quoting systems and trying to channel us all into online booking.
I currently advertise with Owners Direct amongst many others, but despite entering my rates correctly, it simply cannot cope with anything other than a simply nightly rate, (I don’t offer one night stays as I don’t run a hotel full of rooms, the model for which nightly rates applies) or a weekly rate. As soon as you the guest, request two night stays, or a five day break across a weekend, or a ten day stay, which depending on the time of year, may be possible from my owners perspective, it simply produces an incorrect quote. It raises the guest expectation of booking a property at a price that it simply isn’t available for and normally means the booking doesn’t go through, as expectations were raised from the outset of a “cheap” break.
The Homeaway group plan that all owners will offer online booking in the near future and yet if their system cannot produce a correct quote, the owner will be forced to reject or amend the booking. For owners such as myself, it would be far quicker to contact us direct and receive a correct quote from the outset.
Back to the service fees. Are they obvious from the outset? No in many case they are not, and don’t appear until the booking is about to be made. In some instances they remain hidden completely and so you, the guest, simply don’t know how much extra you are paying for your holiday. A recent booking made on Airbnb charged 15% guest fees; I had no information on my owner dashboard as to what the guest would be charged and the guest had no idea of the charge until the point of booking.
A recent round of up of guest fees on the big listing sites was made in an article written by a fellow holiday home owner, Steve of Bournemouth Holiday Lets. At the time of writing, they are as follows, with Homeaway about to be rolled out:
Holiday Lettings 10-17%
Homeaway inc Owners Direct 4-10%
Do you think this is a high price to pay, or a fee you are happy to pay for so called “peace of mind” by booking through a big site, with the assurances they may give? It will only be a matter of time before the Homeaway group fees creep up to match the others of 10% or more. Do you really want to pay 10% to 20% more for your holidays, for no real benefit?
If you’d rather pocket that money as perhaps your holiday spending money, then what can you do? Here a few steps I suggest to follow prior to booking your holiday.
Research your property; does it appear on more than on site? Does it have a name? Google the name to see if you can find the property in more than one place. Hopefully it will bring you to the owners own website where you can simply book direct and avoid these fees. Look for clues in the photos or perhaps do a reverse image search.
Many owners can now be found on social media; find properties on facebook, twitter, pinterest, Google plus and more. Facebook groups have become more and more influential at helping guests find a suitable property. For dog friendly properties go to Dog Friendly Holiday Accommodation, for UK and France properties try the Book Your Holiday Direct Group.
Search out the small, independent listing sites rather than using the big global companies. You’ll currently find me advertising on Glaven Valley, Independent Cottages, My Favourite Holiday Cottages, The Holiday Let, Pet Holiday Finder, The Good Dog Guide and Dog Friendly Britain
Use an independent review site such as Rated Places, or if you holiday with your dogs, one such as edogadvisor. Whilst many properties are listed on Trip Advisor, the current “go to” place for reviews, they will be there via another site such as Holiday Lettings or Flipkey, so booking via Trip Advisor will mean you pay guest fees again, on top of the owner holiday price.
In short, take control of your holiday and the costs involved. A little bit of time and research may save you a significant sum in the end!