Dreaded fees come to vacation rentals

Rhonda Moret’s vacation rental in Park City, Utah, came with a few surprises.

First, there was a $25 “check-in” fee when she arrived, which, though disclosed in the fine print of her contract, was unexpected. And then there was a mandatory $200 “cleaning” fee for her unit after she checked out. Neither was part of the original price.

To add insult to injury, a construction crew in a nearby unit woke her at 7 a.m., on her first morning at the mountain resort.

“So much for relaxing with the mountain breeze,” says Moret, a healthcare marketing consultant who lives in Del Mar, Calif.

Don’t look now, but vacation rental companies are piling on the fees, many of them pure junk. Among the most common: booking fees, change fees, cleaning fees, hot tub fees, parking fees, reservation fees and — everyone’s favorite — amorphous “convenience” fees.

Simply put, rental fees are exploding. And there’s a reason why.

“Rental managers only get a commission on the rental part of the transaction,” explains Andrew McConnell, the chief executive of VacationFutures, an online vacation rental marketplace. “But most negotiate that they get to keep 100 percent of fees. In this way they can make owners think they are getting a great deal with a lower commission, but actually take more of the all-in revenue by shifting more of the revenue to other fees.”

It’s a model that closely follows the one used by airlines, which quote a low base fare but then add fees for everything from carry-on luggage to seat assignments — items that had traditionally been included in the price of a ticket.

These fees seem to be getting worse, although no one formally keeps track of them. Reputable vacation rental companies are resisting the surcharges, but eventually, the lure of easy money may prove too difficult to turn down.

While it’s true that vacation rental owners and managers have to shoulder expenses that other lodging companies like hotels don’t, renters will invariably say there is only one right way to sell a rental: by quoting a price that includes all mandatory fees.

But the vacation rental site Vacasa.com recently tested customer pricing preferences on its site and determined that more guests booked a vacation rental when they saw a low base price with the added fees broken out.

“Customers actually preferred to have each tax and fee line item listed in the quote,” says Scott Breon, Vacasa’s chief revenue officer.

Of course they do. Time and again, travelers claim they hate surcharges, but then are lured by the product with the lowest price tag, even when the added fees may ultimately make it more expensive. Businesses say they’re simply meeting a demand.

“Fees are the perfect way to alienate your customers,” says Michael Straus, who co-manages a ranch and organic farm in northern California that can be rented. At the Straus Home Ranch, the fees are simple: a cleaning fee and a refundable security deposit.

That’s in line with the industry’s so-called best practices, which roughly translate into “the thing they ought to be doing.”

“Disclose all fees up front,” says Isaac Gabriel, the president of EZ Resort Vacations, an online timeshare rental marketplace, “regardless of the amount.”

But the revenue vacation rental companies and owners receive from these fees is hard to turn away. In many ways, fees are the ultimate win-win for rental owners. You can quote a low price, making your rental look cheaper than the competition with an all-inclusive amount. Then you can pile on the extras and make lots of extra money.

Bottom line: as always, buyer beware. “Review the booking policies on the management company’s website, and ask a representative questions about rental cleaning or additional occupancy fees to avoid unnecessary and surprising charges,” says Mark McSweeney, the executive director of the Vacation Rental Managers Association, a trade group.

Vacation rentals are fast becoming the most fee-happy segment of the travel industry. Don’t get taken.

Whose fees are worse?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

How to avoid a vacation rental ‘gotcha’

• Do your homework before booking. “Ask if there will be any additional fees or charges before placing your deposit,” says Jeanne Dailey, founder and CEO of Newman-Dailey Resort Properties, a property management company in Northwest Florida. Steer clear of a rental agency you’ve never heard of or that has bad online reviews. Reputable agencies don’t charge junk fees.

• Watch the big fees. Change fees are the worst, ranging from several hundred dollars to the cost of the entire rental. They’re often unavoidable, but a good insurance policy can protect you if you need to change your vacation plans, says Devon Puryear, revenue manager for Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C. “Travel insurance is often offered when renting a villa or home, usually through a third party,” he says.

• Make them explain. Some fees, like the “convenience” fee and the “hot tub” fee, are so absurd that a company may have some trouble justifying them. If you’re confronted by a surprise fee, even after doing your homework, challenge it. You may be able to negotiate your way out of paying it.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend