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Best Vacation Home Rental Companies

Last updated November 26, 2018
Editor's Choice

Airbnb is the best platform if you are booking last minute or seeking a unique property. In their extensive collection of homes there are over 2,200 treehouses and nearly 3,000 castles.

  • 5,000,000+ Properties
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Stay in 191 Countries

HomeAway is the best platform if you want a huge selection of properties with lower guest paid fees. Travelers can spend the night in Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s former London flat or enjoy the peace and quiet of a villa carved into the side of a mountain in Greece.

  • 2,000,000+ Properties
  • Bookings in 23 Languages
  • Stay in 190 Countries

Booking.com offers the best vacation rental homes integrated with complete trip planning resources. Your one stop for every travel detail.

  • 1,500,000 Properties
  • No Booking Fees
  • Stay in 230 Countries

FlipKey is the best platform if you want to combine the vast collection of travelers reviewing restaurants, attractions, and experiences near your vacation rental. Whether you want to stay in an old woman’s shoe or escape to a private island there is a home to suit your desires.

  • 830,000+ Properties
  • 465 million reviews of restaurants, events, attractions, and more
  • Stay in 200 Countries

Couchsurfing offers the best vacation home rentals for connecting with local communities. Connect with friends you haven’t met yet all over the globe. Your accommodations are free, but your memories are priceless.

  • 400,000 Couches Available
  • It’s 100% Free!
  • Stay in 193 Countries

Top 5 Vacation Home Rental Companies

The 5 Best Vacation Home Rental Websites in 2018

Renting a vacation home can be nerve-racking.

For generations, our travel plans included sleeping in a hotel. Hotels have rules and procedures you’ve come to understand and expect.

Millions of vacation homes also equals millions of unique situations and rules you’ve never heard before.

Picking the right vacation rental platform can be the difference between a dream vacation and a vacation from hell.

If you’re ready to break free of the 12 by 12 hotel room vacation, these are the best websites to consider for unique vacation home rentals.

Top 5 Vacation Home Rental Websites

Travelers have many options when considering a home rental vs hotel. With numerous competing websites offering short-term vacation home rentals it can be overwhelming. This guide will provide tips for finding a vacation home rental that fits all your needs. The vast majority of travelers will find that vacation home rentals are better than hotels.

The best vacation home rentals will depend on a lot of factors. No matter which platform you are searching on, read every word presented to you throughout the process. Not only does each social home sharing website have its own rules, but then individual properties get to make their own rules too. By booking any short-term rental you are agreeing to both the platforms rules and the individual host’s rules. Make sure to take a look at how to budget as well.

Best Vacation Rental Inventory

1. Airbnb

Airbnb is the number one source worldwide for connecting homeowners with vacation home renters. You’ll get the benefit of over 5 million individual vacation homes around the globe.

Unique properties on Airbnb include treehouses, castles, lighthouses, wagons, train cars, and more. In total Airbnb offers search filters for 49 different home types to fit every possible vacation possibility.

Being the biggest vacation rental platform means Airbnb has the most variety and availability. If you are looking for a vacation home during a large event, last minute bookings, or rentals in a particular area, Airbnb is most likely to be able to accommodate your needs.

2. HomeAway

HomeAway is better known as VRBO or Vacation Rental By Owner. As one of the original sources of connecting property owners with vacationers their inventory includes over 2 million properties worldwide.

Exclusively on HomeAway, you can sleep in the same room as Madonna and Guy Richie or rent a cave made into a home in Greece.

Some property owners have stayed loyal to HomeAway because of its top-notch customer service. Even though the number of available homes is less than Airbnb, there are thousands of properties that are not featured on any other website.

3. Booking.com

With a large international inventory, you could find the perfect property on Booking.com. Browse over 1.5 million properties and reserve with no booking fee.
Booking.com is much more than a vacation rental website, it’s a one-stop location for vacation planning.
If you aren’t picky about which brand you book with, Booking.com offers cost-saving package deals. You can combine accommodation, airfare, rental cars, and activities to unlock discounts.

Best Traveler Customer Service

1. HomeAway

Since it’s creation in 2005 the HomeAway team has grown to provide exceptional customer service. You can reach a customer service by phone 24/7. There is also online support translated into 23 languages! Hands down customers agree they get great service from HomeAway.

2. FlipKey

Because of the parent company TripAdvisor, renting on FlipKey has a mega company providing customer service. You’ll have access to 24/7 customer service by phone. Short-term vacation rentals are a small fraction of the overall TripAdvisor network, so getting the right representative can take a little extra time.

3. Airbnb

As the biggest exclusive vacation rental provider, you will have access to 24/7 phone support. Because of the massive growth of Airbnb, there are lots of reports of inconsistent customer service. If you experience a less than ideal service experience, simply hang up and try again with a new representative. New staff tends not to be as empowered to help clients when a difficult situation arises, but that doesn’t reflect the actual company policies, which are very traveler friendly.

Best Budget-Friendly Vacation Rental Website

1. Couchsurfing

It’s hard to beat the price, free. The philosophy of Couchsurfing runs of altruism. Kindness from strangers really does exist, but be cautious. Although safety concerns seem to be rare, it is the cornerstone of every page to use this matching service with vigilance. But if you have no money for a place to stay, this website could be your saving grace.

2. Booking.com

Fees add up. When you compare the traveler final cost on identical properties, Booking.com will have the lowest price. In the Booking.com system, the fees come from the vacation home host, not the traveler. If the home host lists their house for $399 on Airbnb and $399 on Booking.com, the same reservation costs the traveler less when using Booking.com

3. FlipKey

If you take into consideration the discounts you can obtain by grouping your reservations, FlipKey is incredibly cost effective. When you’re traveling it pays to be organized. Making a solid itinerary and booking it all together will save your wallet some stress. More funds mean more flexibility to purchase gifts or eat at nice restaurants.

Types of Vacation Rentals

Renting Out an Individual Bed

On the low end of the budget and space offerings by short-term rental companies is offering a shared room. A shared room includes an individual bunk bed spot or potentially a pullout couch for sleeping. Guests booking a shared room could be sharing the space with the property owner or even multiple other travelers. Booking a shared room doesn’t ensure you have any private space to securely store belongings.

When you are looking at renting an individual bed, you should think of it more like a youth hostel. You have to be prepared for the unknown and be extremely flexible in terms of what you’re expecting. In exchange for your willingness to be adaptable, you will get an incredibly inexpensive rate for your overnight accommodations. This kind of reservation is best suited to solo travelers.

Renting Out an Individual Bedroom

In an effort to keep costs down but also sleep in a room where nobody can stare at you, booking a private room might be right for you. A guest can book a private room in a home and most or all living spaces will be shared. As with the previous option, the common areas could be shared with the host or random travelers. Being willing to share living quarters with strangers allows you to keep your costs low. Let’s face it, travelers tend to spend very little time at the overnight accommodation site anyway.

Booking a private room allows you a space to store your belongings away from the access of other occupants. Not having to carry your possessions on your back throughout the day is an incredible benefit. Renting an individual bedroom often gives you access to sleep in prime locations within a city, without the premium price tag. This option is best suited for solo travelers or couples traveling together.

Renting Out an Entire Personal Home

Some hosts have chosen to give access to their entire home for various durations of time. A homeowner could offer their home when their family is away on holiday, while they are on a business trip or they could simply pick up and leave whenever a booking comes in. If you own a home, you could be sitting on a hidden goldmine of profit by renting out your house.

Rates for entire personal homes tend to be set a bit higher because of the costs associated with vacating the home. The home’s occupants essentially displace themselves in order to invite guests into their residence. One homeowner started offering a family home for rent year-round and generated a $41,000 income stream in just one year. Because these homes serve as personal residences for homeowners they often come fully stocked with items like condiments, children’s toys, and bathroom amenities. For travelers wanting a full-service vacation experience, these homes are the best vacation home rentals.

Renting an entire home that isn’t exclusively a vacation rental property will give you access to neighborhoods and communities that may have strict rules for offering short-term rentals. Maybe your granny lives in a posh neighborhood in Florida that has outlawed vacation rentals, but your family wants to go visit her during Spring Break. Often times owner-occupied homes are able to rent on a short-term basis because of loopholes. It’s a huge benefit to stay closer to granny, and the homeowner is happy because they can jet off for a fun vacation while you stay in their house.

Renting Out an Entire Dedicated Vacation Home

Many homes offered on social home-sharing websites are full-time vacation rental homes. With a dedicated short-term rental property, they want to be rented 365 days per year. Homes that fall into this category give you privacy and typically lower rates. Because an empty home is earning zero funds for the property owner, they will often reduce rates drastically as dates approach and the property is not rented. Dedicated vacation rental homes have a wide range of offerings in terms of how fully loaded the house comes.

Dedicated vacation homes tend to come with a stricter set of rules than a personal home rental. In dedicated vacation homes, you are often given a set of cleaning instructions. You might be expected to get the dishwasher started, strip the bed linens, take out the garbage, refill the soap dispensers, and all before your 11am check out time. Many guests do not enjoy their vacation home rental experience because of the high expectations an individual property has for guests duties.

As with most things in life, there are benefits and drawbacks to everything. While hotels offer the convenience of daily maid service and endless refills of toiletries, vacation homes offer privacy and access to a kitchen to save money eating out. In a hotel, you have nowhere to congregate as a mixed family group, but in a vacation home, you may be expected to do chores.

Determining Location

With over 5 million locations in 191 countries, it’s hard to imagine anywhere in the world you’d want to visit not having a vacation rental presence. Hosts of short-term vacation houses often list their homes on multiple websites to maximize exposure and revenue. Some of the big name vacation rental websites are more popular in certain geographic areas than others. In order to find the best vacation home rentals in a particular area, make sure to check multiple websites.

Why Does it Matter

Traditional hotels are typically concentrated in more touristy areas. Not all travelers enjoy being in the heart of a city. Hotels have an uncontrollable price structure based on supply and demand. Utilizing vacation rental homes allow travelers more freedom to chose a geographically interesting home base and pricing that tends to change less dramatically since homeowners don’t usually have data to capitalize on demand.

Important Rate Insight

Airbnb more prominently displays listings that utilize their smart pricing option. Smart pricing is an algorithm Airbnb uses that assumes homes want to be rented 100% of the time. Because of this assumption, there are dramatic swings in rates that travelers can take advantage of.

HomeAway encourages rentals to offer to price by season. Any individual homeowner can override their pricing at any time, but most won’t take the time to do that. Because of this structure, you are most likely to score a great deal for prime dates in prime locations on HomeAway. Just be sure to make your reservation far in advance before the more limited inventory on this website is already booked.

Booking.com and FlipKey offer manual processes for pricing vacation homes. Less active hosts will likely not be as efficient to raise rates during prime times, and travelers can benefit by booking before a host realizes a large event is happening on a particular weekend.

How to Get the Best Reviews

Hosts are motivated to always get five-star reviews. They are constantly implementing tricks to make their vacation home feel like a luxury hotel. Look for hosts who take their vacation home rental decorating seriously so you end up staying with only professional level hosts.

It has become a new trend in short-term rentals for hosts to mass rent long-term rentals and outfits them cheaply to make maximum revenue on the vacation home market. When you see properties that have all brand new furniture that looks cheap or generic, tread carefully. Hosts who actually own their vacation rental property have deeper pride of ownership and are more committed to ensuring you have a fabulous experience.

Spot a Professional Host

The best vacation home rentals will clearly feature the 3 F’s on their property homepage. The 3 F’s of the finest vacation rental properties are fun, functional and free. Professional hosts know how to balance fun and function on their property to create a customer-centered experience. Additional free touches such as bottled water, breakfast supplies or a welcome bottle of wine are clear ways a professional host stands out from the casual host.

Finding a host that balances amenities with affordable accommodations requires a little reading. Don’t be fooled into booking a vacation rental just based on the photographs. Read the description and the reviews carefully. Hosts write their own description and rules, you can tell a lot about what to expect based on how they write. Look for clues like demanding rules, overly specific directions, or guests hinting at overly involved hosts.

Be the 5 Star Guest

Renting a vacation home should be a mutually beneficial relationship. The host is providing an accommodation that meets your needs far better than a hotel. In turn, you are paying for the use, upkeep, and utilities to keep the property running. The number one quality of a great short-term rental guest is flexibility. It’s a residence, not a resort, so they can’t just transfer you to another room if you discover a bug in the room.

Guests that are able to give the benefit of the doubt are going to have a far better experience renting vacation homes. A guest that demands a host fix a leaky faucet and assumes the host is negligent is better suited to a hotel. However, a guest that keeps open communication and lets the host know about a leaky faucet will likely realize the host had no idea and is eager to fix the problem.

Vacation Home Rental Policies

How a vacation rental platform handles both hosts and travelers is important. Some smaller niche specific vacation rental platforms are not as inclusive. By booking on a reputable website you can ensure you are not only getting the best vacation rental homes but also comply with all laws. Major brands like those reviewed here will have a commitment to inclusion, safety, and legal compliance. Don’t be fooled by websites that try to help hosts avoid critical guidelines that protect travelers.

Specifics

You are able to find entire platforms like Bud and Breakfast, Travel tHC, and Weed Rentals dedicated to marijuana-friendly vacation homes. Similarly, you can find platforms like Pink Vacation Rentals, Purple Roofs, and Mister B&B providing LGBTQ welcoming vacation homes. These new niche platforms are advocating safe and welcoming vacations for all kinds of travelers. Most would agree that everyone deserves to find the perfect accommodation for their vacation.

While the goal of these platforms is honorable, these platforms don’t provide the inventory and infrastructure of larger websites. One of the great things about the Top 5 Vacation Home Rental Websites is their ability to solve problems should they arise. If you were to google “420 friendly Airbnb,” you would be presented with many blogs featuring marijuana accepting homes. You’d get the benefit of Airbnb’s service and policies, plus the flexibility of a host open to cannabis.

Laws

By offering a bed, room, or residence of any kind for rent, the landlord is required to follow specific laws. Anti-discrimination laws are at the forefront of laws a host must comply with. All the major platforms have extensive policies preventing hosts from denying accommodations based on any protected class. Any host suspected of discrimination for race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status can have their business shut down by the platform.

Airbnb is specific has the greatest quantity of government agreements in place. As legislation has been catching up with the industry, many local jurisdictions have begun requiring licenses, certifications, and permits. While the system isn’t perfect, Airbnb makes every attempt to check up on and require hosts to be in compliance with local laws. There are numerous instances of travelers showing up to homes only to find out that home is not authorized to be a vacation rental, and not being allowed to enter the property they paid to rent. You’ll see government tracking numbers listed on more Airbnb listings than any other website.

Pricing

As the traveler, you may see the same property featured on multiple vacation home rental websites. The best vacation home rentals are not necessarily the ones listed on all the websites. There are a variety of reasons why a host would choose one platform over another. Each home sharing platform has a different fee structure. The host of the home may think they are charging $199 per night across the board, but the price on the traveler end can vary wildly.

During your research, you should check the top five most popular home-sharing websites. Make sure you read up on the dos and don’t for finding a vacation rental before you submit your booking.

How Do Landlords Determine Pricing?

Countless blogs, news stores, and websites encourage travelers to try to negotiate price with vacation home hosts. You might be curious to know how a property begins to determine a nightly rental rate.

The first thing to consider is the cost of the mortgage overall. The median home price in Seattle as of April 2018 was $819,500. Taking into consideration the average taxes, home insurance, and interest rate a single family home would cost approximately $5,209.28 per month. Divide that by 30 days in a month at $173.64 per night. But of course, that’s based on 100% occupancy. Seattle’s occupancy rate based on Airbnb’s data is 40.8%. Based on paying the mortgage, taxes, and insurance alone the rate would need to be $400.71 per night and rented for 13 nights per month. This framework hasn’t take into consideration utilities, cleaning, maintenance, transient occupancy taxes, or any actual profit.

I don’t expect travelers to trouble themselves with the host’s financial concerns, but it is something to think about when websites are promoting offering half the listed rate as a starting point for negotiations. A licensed, bonded, and insured housekeeper in Seattle will cost you at least $30 per hour, and a home takes between 4-5 hours to clean depending on how many loads of linens need to be done. Be reasonable and don’t assume that the host is swimming in piles of money.

What Will it Cost Me?

As the traveler you have options. There are millions of listings and 5 Top Vacation Rental Websites to choose from. Your out of pocket costs can vary from website to website on the exact same property. Hosting websites have a variety of pricing methodologies that range between hosts fees and traveler fees.

Booking.com is particular promotes no traveler paid fees. That means a home could advertise itself on Airbnb, HomeAway, FlipKey, and Booking.com for the exact same price, but as the traveler, you’d pay less for that home on Booking.com. If you’re looking to stay at a particular property or in a specific geographic region, it’s always worth checking the major websites to compare prices.

List on Multiple Sites

When a vacation home host advertises on multiple websites there are manual ways to control their listings and there are paid services that manage their listings. Calendars among all the major platforms can be synced to prevent double bookings. A home could get reserved on HomeAway and within a few minutes, the calendars on Airbnb, FlipKey, and Booking.com will all reflect no availability on those dates.

Syncing pricing is a whole other issue. Currently, there are numerous companies such as Beyond Pricing, PriceLabs, and Tokeet that create consistent pricing for a home across multiple platforms. Those websites charge a 1% fee, so their use isn’t prevalent among individual home hosts. You as the traveler can use this discrepancy in fees to ensure your out of pocket cost is as low as possible.

Vacation Vibes

Planning a vacation can be overwhelming. We hope having a better understanding of vacation home rentals will allow you to open a whole new world to explore. Traveling fills so many voids inside of us. Every corner of the globe has experiences that can help you grow as a person, connect deeper with life, and live with more purpose.

No matter what your travel goals are, there is sure to be a vacation rental that fills your needs. Renting from a person instead of a mega-corporation is a major contribution to empowering the middle class. Be the change you want to see in the world. Social media has taken over our lives in so many ways, but connecting with an individual host and utilizing the sharing economy leads to a positive outcome for everyone involved.

Get out and see the world! Vacation vibes to you all.

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