Why I’m not writing another word about HomeAway’s new fees

I’ve already covered HomeAway’s controversial new booking fees, but apparently that’s not enough for some of my readers. They want more.

Last year, you’ll recall, the vacation rental megasite announced it would implement fees of between 4 percent and 10 percent in order to “provide the best experience and most value to travelers and vacation rental owners and managers.” Mostly, the money appears to be pure profit.

The latest demand for a HomeAway takedown came in an email from Michele Peterson, whose tagline is “An entrepreneur from scratch.” At least that’s what it says in the signature of her message.

“If you are paying attention and understand how much controlling the digital traffic matters, then you will understand what Michael is talking about in the video below,” she says. “If not, then you should come see me in Chattanooga.”

Here’s Michael’s video. It sums up a lot of the owners’ discontent with HomeAway, VRBO and the other sites now owned by Expedia:

“I won’t talk over the phone about this VRBO topic,” she adds. “It’s too complicated.”

Hers was one of the more forward invitations to “explain” the fees and why they were so terrible. The question that’s unanswered is: For whom?

I’ll be the first to say I have a real problem with these fees. The poll on my earlier post expressed my misgivings better than I could. Virtually all of the respondents said the fee was “poorly disclosed, has no discernable consumer benefit, and is being forced on unwilling renters.”

Problem is, I haven’t heard from any of those renters — at least not yet. So where are these angry emails coming from? Turns out they are all homeowners who rent their properties through HomeAway and its sites.

“More press is needed on the new HomeAway and VRBO fees — up to 10 percent,” said Ruth Princess in a recent email, pointing me to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune.

But what’s upsetting them? After all, aren’t they getting the same amount of money for their rental properties as before?

I circled back with Paul McWilliams, who had sent me the original email about the fee.

“It’s not the fee that I’m complaining about,” he says. Rather, he says the fees are being imposed in an effort to activate HomeAway’s “Book it Now” feature on its site, which allows customers to reserve and pay for rentals directly through the site.

I’ve explained to the HomeAway owners that business-to-business disputes are beyond my mandate as a consumer advocate. They counter that they, as business owners, are the consumer and that I should indeed be advocating for them.

That’s a creative interpretation of what I do, but no.

Also, while I think there’s some funny business going on with direct booking, I don’t think that’s the real issue. The problems is this: Owners are seeing HomeAway make more money from their bookings and they want a piece of the action. The fact that virtually no renters are complaining about the fee makes them even more upset, because it suggests they were undercharging for their properties.

Now, I understand that writing a story that says, “I’ll never write another word about HomeAway’s new fees” is kind of a contradiction, especially when it’s followed by a story about HomeAway’s new fees. But my point isn’t lost — this is not a case for me.

I share the disappointment, if not the anger, of the homeowners and rental managers who use HomeAway. It appears these fees are not good for consumers in any way. But we are not upset for the same reason. The owners are less concerned about people being overcharged and more worried about missing out on their cut of the fee.

And that’s fine. But that’s not a question for a consumer advocate to answer. Rather, it’s something the owners need to resolve by banding together and flexing their own muscle. After all, without them, there is no HomeAway.

I support them. We have a common cause, at least on this issue. But I can’t advocate for them.

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