An unexpected fee for a VRBO rental — reader mistake story

Sep 25, 2019

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Chase, who overlooked some important terms while booking a vacation rental:

I work in the event industry, and am traveling in a group of nine people to a beachfront town in Florida to work an event in September. We decided it would be more fun to rent a beautiful oceanfront house rather than several hotel rooms, so I jumped on Airbnb and VRBO to find a house that would work.

I found a house we liked for $349 a night, plus an additional $715 in fees (reservation fee, housekeeping charge, damage waiver and service fee) and $229 in tax for the four-night stay. The fees were high, but they were clearly displayed and included in the total price. I booked the stay using my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card — no perks for this booking, but it’s my business card. Like any booking, I had to accept the terms and conditions, and like 99% of the population, I didn’t read them.

A few hours later, I received an email from the property management company saying my credit card would be used for the VRBO service fees, but that I needed to submit payment for the house directly to their company. This is pretty normal with VRBO, but they added that unless I mailed them a check or money order, I would be charged an additional 4% service fee (plus tax) for paying with a credit card.

I explained I had to use a card (since it was a business expense), and that the fee should have been listed with the others, but the company replied that it was in the terms and conditions I blindly accepted. Even though the VRBO listing explicitly broke down four separate fees I was paying, they hid the additional 4% credit card fee separately.

Moral of the story: unless you’re booking through a major chain, always read the terms and conditions. Failing to do so in this case cost me an extra $95.84 on top of an already steep set of fees. Also, be mindful of whether you’re booking a home managed by an individual person/family or a property management company. In the latter case, you can almost always book directly through that company and save the VRBO/Airbnb service fee.

Both VRBO and Airbnb have tweaked their fee structures recently in the pursuit of more transparent pricing, but renting on either platform still comes with the potential for hidden charges. To see which fees are included in a VRBO booking, click the link that says “View details” under the total dollar amount shown, and further expand the owner fees to see each one listed individually. Don’t stop there, however, as you may find other charges listed in the property description (like a local tourist tax collected on site or a nightly rate for additional guests). Review Airbnb listings with similar diligence, including the breakdown of charges listed in the cost summary and additional terms noted in both the space description and the separate section for house rules.

Scouting rentals so thoroughly may sound tedious, but keep in mind those extensive terms and descriptions are there for your benefit and not just as an avenue to nickel and dime you after booking. Setting expectations in writing makes it easier for you to hold hosts accountable when their offerings fall short, like if the Wi-Fi doesn’t work or there aren’t as many beds as advertised. Unscrupulous hosts may try to levy additional charges upon arrival, but if those charges weren’t listed when your stay was confirmed, then you’re under no obligation to pay.

Chase preaches caution when booking through vacation rental sites like VRBO and Airbnb, but I recommend reading terms and conditions even when booking through a major chain, as individual properties may impose unfriendly policies that are atypical of the larger brand. In particular, you should always review cancellation policies; so long as the cancellation policy is benign, you have an out from other unfavorable terms and conditions.

Related: 12 tips for scoring the perfect Airbnb

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Chase a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by benedek/Getty Images

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