What’s the deal with HomeAway’s new “booking” fee?

fee, charge, extra, payment, cost, over, more

For the last several days, I’ve been on the receiving end of emails from readers like Paul McWilliams about a new fee being charged by HomeAway, which runs VRBO and VacationRentals.com.

The new “booking” fees, these emails suggest, are poorly disclosed, have no discernible consumer benefits and are being forced on unwilling renters.

I checked with HomeAway — I’ll get to its answer in a minute — but first, let’s hear from McWilliams.

My wife and I own a condo on Siesta Key off Sarasota, Fla., that we rent out most of the year.

We enjoy taking extra steps to help our guests plan their vacation, and are available to help our guests during their stay. Over the years, we’ve made friends with many of our guests, and many of them return year after year. It has been a wonderful experience for us and for our guests.

We have used VRBO since buying the condo, and have enjoyed its ability to connect us to guests looking for lodging in our area. As I’m sure you are aware, there has been considerable consolidation in the web based rental industry where VRBO was an early entrant. Most recently, the group of twelve companies that includes VRBO was purchased by Expedia.

During the consolidation process, VRBO’s parent, HomeAway, constantly took steps to expand its business model. These were mostly focused on expanding the information it gathered from guests, and handling credit card processing (where it gets what can be a 12-month float on guest payments). Essentially, it wants to “own” the guest, and leverage the guest’s’ personal information.

However, since being purchased by Expedia, we are now seeing a new guest charge implemented that equals between 4% and 10% of the rental amount. The most troublesome aspects of this new charge are that it is not presented with any explanation (just as a “service charge”) and it is mandatory.

I noticed the new charge yesterday when it was included in a quote VRBO provided to a potential guest. When I called VRBO, they first said that “guests will love it.” VRBO stated that it provides travelers with “insurance” that they will not get ripped off by rental frauds.

As it was explained, a guest who finds he has paid a fraudulent renter can call VRBO 24/7, and VRBO will work out the issues and in the meantime find and pay for a hotel for the guest.

I would have absolutely no problem if the service was presented as an option, but I have a huge problem with VRBO tacking it on unilaterally to every rental.

When I asked more about it, the young customer service agent, who denied my request to speak with a supervisor, said travelers are “used to fees” and will accept them without a second thought.

Really? I guess the rules governing the elasticity of demand have been repealed at VRBO.

I think what we’re seeing here is the result of so much industry consolidation that Expedia is now acting like a monopoly. As I see it, this new fee is not rip-off insurance — it is rip-off “assurance.”

You’re one of the few people I know with the credibility and audience to take Expedia to task — please help. Maybe you can “shame” them into remission.

When I contacted HomeAway about this issue, a representative replied within seconds. “I’ve been meaning to call you,” he said.


We had a brief conversation in which the HomeAway rep explained that this change had been announced months ago, and had nothing to do with the Expedia acquisition. HomeAway is describing the fee as an upgrade.

He sent me the following statement:

We are announcing changes that enable us to provide the best experience and most value to travelers and vacation rental owners and managers.

We are revising our traveler guarantees to provide even more coverage, reducing prices for owners and managers, and changing the way we monetize our business.

Now, travelers who book or pay directly through HomeAway’s sites will have the full amount of their booking protected against things like misrepresented or double-booked properties. Additionally, HomeAway’s 24/7 customer service team will book a new property for travelers should anything go wrong.

In order to invest in more marketing and product and services, and to cover operational costs, HomeAway is introducing a small service fee that travelers will pay when they book or pay through the HomeAway checkout. The fee will vary from 4 to 10 percent based on the total amount of the rental, but will not exceed $499.

Meanwhile, we are introducing discounts to pay-per-booking customers because they have and use online booking, which is aligned with our goal of all properties being online-bookable by the end of the year.

The cost for owners using pay-per-booking will go from 10% to 8% (5% commission + 3% payment processing) for bookings originating on HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com.

You can probably anticipate my next question: How is this fee being disclosed? As long as it’s something quoted up front, as part of the initial price, I think consumers will be fine with it.

We spent some time on the HomeAway site, and it turns out the fee is only disclosed later in the booking process. That’s disappointing. The disclosure, my contact noted, was “a work in progress.”

After our conversation, HomeAway followed up with me.

Regarding the visibility of the fee, if you enter the dates, then click ‘view details,’ it will display as a line-item. It’s also available in the checkout flow with a similar ‘view details’ button. Our team is still testing this since we just rolled it out this week, as I mentioned.

So what to make of all this? I don’t know. I haven’t made a HomeAway reservation under the new system yet, but I’m about to for a rental in Utah, and I will report back when I do. I personally believe all mandatory fees and taxes ought to be disclosed right away, as soon as a potential customer asks for a price quote.

Waiting until the end is problematic.

As they say, it’s a work in progress.

HomeAway's new booking fee is …

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

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 G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

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

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

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