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Tips & Tricks For Booking Rental Homes

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As a companion piece to Ryan Gargiulo‘s post on reasonably priced long-and-short term accommodation and her own on booking rental homes, TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino offers tips to help you determine if apartment and house rentals are right for you when you travel. 

In lieu of a typical hotel, why not tree a cool rental, like a treehouse in Watamu, Kenya. Photo courtesy of FlipKey.
In lieu of a typical hotel, why not try something more original, like a treehouse in Watamu, Kenya available on FlipKey.

If you’ve always booked hotel rooms in the past, perhaps the idea of renting apartments or houses seems intimidating. These rentals are typically people’s homes, and staying in them often means foregoing the luxuries of daily housekeeping and turn-down service, and instead immersing yourself in a more independent, residential experience.

Positive trade-offs include the opportunity to stay in housing unique to your destination—like an igloo in Alaska or a treehouse in Kenya—or simply have access to more space and money-saving perks than you’d find in the average hotel.

One of my favorite rentals came with a pool table and ocean views in Koh Samui,  Thailand.
One of my favorite Airbnb rentals came with a pool table and ocean views in Koh Samui, Thailand.

When renting accommodations, you’re likely to find some unexpected benefits. During a recent Airbnb stay in Thailand with my boyfriend, homeowner Dennis stocked his/our fridge with beer, milk, coffee and water, waited at the house until midnight when our flight was delayed, then joined us for a beer while sharing some great insider tips about the surrounding area. We loved that the house came equipped with a pool table, but in case that wasn’t entertaining enough, Dennis lent us a hard drive stocked with hundreds of movies—in the event of a rainy day—and rented us a scooter to get around. We felt just as well cared for as if we’d been staying at a hotel—and maybe even more so!

Rental accommodations can also be a great choice when you want to take a long trip but you’re on a tight budget, because many provide access to a washing machine and/or a full kitchen, saving money you’d otherwise spend on laundry service and restaurants.

You have various options when it comes to rental payments. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
You have various options when it comes to rental payments. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Payment Tips for Renters

Note that the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Barclaycard Arrival cards code Airbnb rentals as “travel agencies and tour operators,” which means that your bookings will earn double points. However, many other rental agencies, including VRBO and Homeaway, are coded as “real estate agents and managers,” so you won’t earn the double points. You could always call an agency directly and see if you can get this code changed, but be aware that this may not work.

Sometimes these rental accommodation websites don’t allow credit card payments at all, in which case you’ll have to pay via Paypal or check. However, if you use Paypal, you can still fund your transaction with a credit card; just be aware that this payment method incurs a 2.9% fee for the sellers, which they’ll often pass on to you. Therefore, I’d only suggest paying via Paypal if your rental is within a modest budget and you’re not overpaying for the points you would earn.

This is a photo we found while searching Airbnb rentals in Russia. Umm, what?
You COULD stay in this Airbnb rental room in Moscow for 50 euros a night, but blurry photos are a HUGE no for me!

Other Tips

As most of these rental accommodation sites verify their users, you’re likely to find your rental as it was pictured and described. Having rented more than 30 different accommodations around the world through various sites, I’ve yet to have a bad rental, but I always look at listings carefully and have come to recognize when one seems fishy.

These things are red flags for me:

  • Fake-looking or blurry photos (some websites, like Airbnb, offer to send a professional photographer to the host’s place, so there should be no excuse for terrible photos). On the flip-side, photos so good they look fake can also be scammers, so be aware. There shouldn’t be any reason why hosts are posting digitized images instead of real photos of their own rentals. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Feel free to ask hosts to provide more photos or show you the property via Skype.
  • Almost no information about the property
  • Info that just doesn’t add up or is confusing (e.g., the house has one bedroom, but the listing says it sleeps 10)
  • No reviews
  • Any reviews that suggest bedbugs, creepy owners, or unsafe/unhygienic conditions
Make sure to check "Entire Place" if you want a private apartment or home. Click on "More FIlters" to narrow your search even further.
Make sure to check “Entire Place” if you want a private apartment or home. Click on “More FIlters” to narrow your search even further.

Pay attention to the type/size of each rental. I remember the first time my parents looked for rentals, they found several that seemed great—aside from the fact that they were just single rooms in someone’s home rather than private apartments they’d have all to themselves. If you want to book a private home or apartment, make sure to check the box that says something akin to “entire place.”

Same goes for reading the fine print. Make sure to note cancellation fees, security deposit requirements, extra-guest surcharges, check in/check out times, if you can store luggage, and whether or not a rental comes with a washing machine, beach towels, hair dryer, WiFi, etc.

Amazing views from this Dubai apartment rental.
Amazing views from this Dubai Airbnb apartment rental.

If you’ll be staying a while, ask for a discount. If you plan on staying for more than a week in a rental—or even for a month or more—ask the owner of your rental if they’d be willing to offer you a discounted fee. The worst they can say is no, but if a long-term renter is an advantage for them, they might just say yes.

Enjoy a winter jacuzzi in a mountain-side Montana cabin found on VRBO.
Enjoy a winter jacuzzi in a mountain-side Montana cabin found on VRBO.

What kind of experiences have you had with rentals using any of the aforementioned websites or other ones (like these)?

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