Don’t Get Stung by Excessive Vacation Rental Fees

More and more vacationers these days enjoy staying at rental properties rather than hotels. In fact, reports show that between 50 and 60 percent of people in the United States plan to stay in a vacation rental in the next year.

Vacation rentals are popular because they deliver a more authentic, home-like vacation experience. According to a recent survey reported by, 47 percent of people book vacation properties for this reason.

However, the same survey reveals that even more people book vacation rentals because they offer greater value for the dollar. According to the survey, when compared to hotels, people turn to vacation rentals because they provide:

  • More living space (71%)
  • Lower rates (62%)
  • Better amenities (53%)

Rental properties have become a great alternative for vacationers seeking value and a quality travel experience.

Excessive booking fees

Unfortunately, many of the people who turn to vacation rentals for value would be surprised to find out that their travel dollars are being spent on tacked-on fees and costs charged by popular booking websites.

It’s true: the majority of large national vacation rental booking services tack on rental fees during the checkout process. These fees are typically not clearly disclosed while booking, and there’s no opportunity to accept or decline them. Instead, they’re included in the fine print that’s served up after a property has been selected by the consumer.

These fees are significant and range from approximately five to 15 percent of the total cost. They’re usually charged on a sliding scale based on the price of the booking. That means consumers who are seeking value are likely getting hit with the highest percentage in fees!

This table shows how much these fees could add up on some typical vacation rentals:

  5% Fee 10% Fee 15% Fee
$1,000 Rental $50 $100 $150
$1,500 Rental $75 $150 $225
$2,000 Rental $100 $200 $300

These extra fees can add a significant amount to the cost of a vacation, and most people are not aware that they’re paying them. At a minimum, they could equal the cost of a meal out with the family. On the high end, they’re the equivalent of a day at a theme park.

These fees are generally paid in full with the first payment or deposit for the rental. Some firms will not refund service fees if the vacation is cancelled, unless certain prescribed steps are carefully followed.

A few major sites that charge these fees include:

  • VRBO, VacationRentals, and HomeAway (all owned by travel industry giant Expedia)
  • Airbnb
  • FlipKey (an affiliate of TripAdvisor)

The service fees charged by these firms don’t go to the property owner to pay property-related expenses. Instead, they go to the booking agency, often generating significant profits for these firms.

Some of the fees could be justified, paying for staffing, guarantees, systems, and services. However, many industry experts point out that as vacation rentals become more popular, the larger, well-known websites that rent them out are charging these fees to increase their marketing budgets, expand their profits, and drive dollars to their bottom lines.

It’s no coincidence that HomeAway started charging high fees (approximately four to nine percent) after it was purchased by Expedia in 2015. According to reports, Expedia has told investors that the firm expects earnings from HomeAway to triple by 2018, and it’s likely that rental fees will go toward making that happen.

When you book with Southwest Airlines, you get their best price on their site. There aren’t any extra charges often associated with travel sites that book flights. With vacation rentals, it’s much the same. Booking directly with the company, either through their website or by phone, you can avoid those third-party charges that tend to get buried in your total.

What can you do?

Clearly, vacation rentals are an attractive, popular, and cost-effective vacation planning option for many people.

So how can you avoid paying unfair fees?

First, always stay on the lookout. It’s a good idea to read all the fine print when you book vacation rentals and other travel services. This is generally where fees are added on. In addition, before you make your final purchase, ensure that the numbers add up. Take the time to figure out what you’re paying for. Double check that you’re only paying for the cost of your rental property and required taxes and not extra fees.

If things don’t add up, the time to ask questions is before you book your property. Once you agree to the rental and submit your deposit payment, it could be too late.

Tip: Always review your credit card statements. Often, fees show up as a separate charge to the booking website. You’ll see one charge going to the rental property owner (who is likely paying a fee or commission to the booking site for listing the property) and another to the booking site.

Cut out the middleman and book local

The best thing you can do to avoid service fees is to rent through smaller, local firms. Similar to other travel-related costs, you can often find lower rates and avoid fees by skipping the middleman and going direct.

An additional plus: Local providers generally know the area where they rent and manage properties better than bigger, more impersonal national competitors.

They can recommend rentals that are right for your family’s needs, and will take the time to find properties with amenities that will make your vacation special. You won’t need to scan hundreds of listings to find the features that are important to you.

  • Do you enjoy cooking? A local resource can help you find a home or condo with a great chef’s kitchen and barbecue setup.
  • Do you like to relax by a pool? A smaller provider can help you compare and contrast properties offering private and public pools.
  • Are you spending your vacation at a theme park or other well-known attraction? A local agency can recommend rentals that are nearby. One example of a high-quality, localized vacation rental company and website is Cascara Vacation Rentals. It’s a case study of a local vacation rental resource done right.

Cascara is a family-owned company that exclusively serves Sunriver in Central Oregon. It offers a high-quality supply of vacation rental properties perfect for the families, skiers, golfers, and all those who visit the area. Cascara has a range of properties that different types of families will find attractive, including luxury rentals and pet-friendly ones.

Cascara also provides recommendations, packages, and discounts to:

  • Lost Tracks Golf Club
  • Local tours
  • Bike and other equipment rentals
  • Other local services and restaurants

Similar to larger vacation rental competitors, Cascara offers holiday, off-season, and other discounts on their properties but does not charge additional fees to rent them.


You owe it to yourself to check out local options before you book your next vacation rental. Don’t spend your hard-earned vacation dollars helping large companies pay for advertising or increase their profits.