Friday, July 03, 2009

Is VRBO Still A Useful Lodging Rental Site?

We’ve generally been big fans of alternative accommodations – timeshare trades, private apartments, home exchange, and VRBO (vacation rentals by owner). But we’re really getting annoyed with many of the homeowners advertising on

It seems that many properties have now taken the ebay approach – sell the product for $5 but charge $10 shipping. In the VRBO case, it’s pricing the night’s stay low, but then adding a mandatory cleaning fee (not deposit). Too many VRBO properties are also now showing a price range – say $250-$500/night – but when you get to the details all dates are priced at $500. Is the $250 rate only available for one night on March 22, so the homeowner can set their range that low?

Being the owners of (or being owned by, we’re not sure) two border collies, we frequently travel with the critters and look for “pet friendly” lodging. Again with VRBO, we used to see reasonable pet policies, but now it seems many listings are pretending to be pet friendly, but have ridiculous policies, such as:
Pets “with prior approval.” What? You want us to drive 300 miles for an interview with the dogs and then have you decide if we’re OK?
Saying “pet friendly” and then telling us you’ll help us find a kennel near your property.
And we can understand a small additional pet fee or higher cleaning deposit, but some properties are adding amounts so large they certainly aren’t “friendly” any more.
We saw one property where their cleaning fee (not deposit) and non-refundable pet fee totaled more than the nightly rate. (Sure, that would amortize if staying several nights, but still....)

VRBO’s policies specifically note that they do not control what properties charge, how they advertise their property, or how they define certain phrases. “All property listings on the Site are ... the responsibility of the member, and we specifically disclaim any and all liability arising from the alleged accuracy of the listings [our emphasis], property reviews....”

VRBO is a vast resource, and one might expect them to issue some standards or guidelines for listings on their site. For if they don’t, they may become victims of the Trip Advisor Syndrome, where reviews or listings are being frequently questioned for accuracy. Our recent experiences certainly make VRBO a less-useful tool for our travel planning.