Better Business Bytes: Tips for booking a short-term vacation rental

Trips have never been more popular. This is the first summer since social distancing kept most of us at home, and seemingly everyone is ready for a vacation. With travel demand surging, customers booking getaways are encountering limited options and rising prices.

“We’re seeing the biggest travel rebound in nearly a century. We’re already back to 2019 levels,” said Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, in a recent interview with CNBC. Chesky also noted major changes in consumer behavior based on the 2021 AirBnB Report on Travel & Living.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, business travel dominated the industry. However, as workstyles become increasingly remote, family travel is the new powerhouse. Families are interested in vacations that are more flexible, longer, and include destinations that aren’t major cities.

No matter the demographic, mostly everyone is planning to travel. In fact, over 70% of the U.S. population is booking a vacation this summer. While most major booking sites consistently update their platforms to protect consumers against fraud, there will always be a handful of misleading listings.

Whether it’s a last-minute getaway or a trip planned well in advance, Better Business Bureau recommends the following tips for booking short-term vacation rentals.

  • A reverse image search goes a long way. Fake listings are notorious for stealing images or even using stock photos to attract consumers. If you see the same image on multiple websites with conflicting information, it is very likely a misleading listing. Check and verify whether the owner/host, address, and bed/bath information are consistent across the board.
  • Message the host as soon as you book the listing and a week before you arrive. Staying in communication with your host before your trip will give you an idea of how responsive, professional, and transparent they are. It helps you build trust with your host and reassure yourself they will be easily reachable in case of any issues upon arrival.
  • Take control of your communication. It is not a good sign for a host to ask you to communicate or receive payment outside of the official platform. They may tempt you with a lower price to circumvent fees that come with the site. Unfortunately, communicating through private messaging leaves you unprotected in case they disappear with your money.
  • Be cautious of any last-minute changes. If your host suddenly can’t rent out the unit and starts sending alternatives, be a little skeptical. Perhaps they do have a legitimate reason for canceling. However, BBB has received reports of bait and switch. A host will apologize and promise an upgrade, but once the consumer shows up, the unit is in subpar condition. In addition, they may be sending you to alternative properties on less secure websites or even fake, lookalike websites.
  • Shop with a credit card. Most credit card companies offer fraud protection programs. Those are an additional layer of security in case you lose money.