Wait Until That Deal Come Round

by Nancy Bestor

Last month a friend looking for travel advice told me about Travelzoo, an online site that publishes offers from thousands of travel, entertainment and local companies. They had found a package deal for a five-day trip to Barcelona for four people that included round trip air out of SFO and hotel, for under $4000. While that did sound like a good deal, I decided to do a little research myself (because I vainly often think I can do better), and came up with a significantly better deal: roundtrip from SFO and 7 nights at a charming, highly rated airbnb, all for under $3000.

I don’t share this story to brag (okay, maybe just a tiny bit), but rather to report that if you’re willing to do the legwork, package deals are rarely—in my humble opinion—offered at a better rate than if you piece a trip together on your own. Granted, their Barcelona deal was at a “five star hotel,” and the suggestion I put together for my friend was for lodging at an airbnb. But frankly, I’d choose an airbnb any day over a hotel, especially if I’m traveling with more than one person. Even if I don’t plan on doing any cooking, it is so much better to have room to move around a whole apartment or house, as opposed to a hotel room. I also feel like I am “living like a local” when I stay in a residential area as opposed to a hotel zone. And our experience is that an airbnb is almost always cheaper than a hotel. You might have to provide your own soap and shampoo, although they are often included, and you won’t get clean sheets and towels from housekeeping every day, but it’s still worth it.

I’m not suggesting Travelzoo does not have great deals. In fact, I’ve signed up to get their emails for travel offers all over the world. I like to see what is out there, and if nothing else, it will get me looking on my own to see if I can put something together for cheaper. Perhaps there are some package deals out there that are great bargains, but I’m kind of particular—some (ahem, BOB) might even call me picky. But I want to choose the lodging that is best for me, which is why I can spend way too much time looking at hotel reviews online. Plus, I’m always just a little bit suspicious. If Travelzoo can find an outstanding bargain, what else is out there? Apparently, I’m willing to surf the internet for hours and hours to find out.

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Let the Buyer Beware

by Nancy Bestor

I’m a big fan of owner operated vacation rentals. Sites such as www.airbnb.com and www.vrbo.com offer accommodations at good prices in cities all over the world. It’s great to stay in an apartment or small home, particularly when traveling as a family. Usually there’s a kitchen for cooking meals, and room to “hang out,” as opposed to just sitting on a hotel room bed or in a chair. We’ve stayed in some absolutely stunning homes for very affordable rates. In the dozen or so times that we’ve booked a rental directly from an owner, it has worked out mostly perfectly. In two instances however, our rental was cancelled by the owner. In one of those cases it was just two weeks before our stay.

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Last month Bob and I were headed to Corvallis, Oregon, to visit our two college-aged daughters (go Beavs!) on Dad’s and Families Weekend. I booked a vacation rental through airbnb nine months in advance, knowing that Dad’s weekend gets booked up crazy quickly, and that Corvallis hotel rooms are both crappy and expensive (particularly on popular weekends). I received a confirmation just after I booked, and was charged a $50 deposit, and all was good. Or so I thought. Two weeks before Dad’s weekend, I received an email from the owner, saying she had to cancel my reservation. She did not explain why, but offered me $200 towards another hotel booking, in addition to refunding my money. While this gesture was nice, it was pointless, because there were no hotels in Corvallis available two weeks before Dad’s weekend. Not even any crappy ones. So Bob and I ended up sleeping on the floor of our daughter’s collegiate apartment.

On another trip, many years ago, we booked an apartment in Paris through vrbo.com, only to have the owner cancel on us a month after booking, saying she had mistakenly “double booked.” Fortunately, we were able to find another apartment without much trouble, but it was disconcerting.

I tell these vacation rental stories to warn you—and to remind myself as well—that rentals by owners don’t give you much leeway if they’re cancelled just before a trip. I’ve never had a hotel cancel a room on me in all my years of travel, and have only stayed in vacation rentals about a dozen times, with two cancellations. I can’t say that I like those odds. I’m not going to stop booking vacation rentals, but I will definitely think twice about using one when I know there won’t be much other lodging available.