Everyone wants to get the most for their money when they travel. You want a good deal, of course, but you also want a positive experience and a memorable vacation. When you book a place to stay, you want to make sure it’s somewhere that’s going to make your trip better, not just the cheapest place you can find.
For some people, the booming vacation rental industry has been a huge hit. Airbnb, Vrbo, HomeAway, and others have given homeowners a way to bring in more cash. Travelers also more options for where to stay for their next trip. Vacation rentals can be a good alternative if you are looking for something a little different for your trip, but booking a vacation rental through one of these sites can have some downsides, and we want travelers to be aware. We covered some specifics about Airbnb’s issues in a separate article, but here, we’d like to shed some light on Vrbo and HomeAway.
Who Owns Vrbo?
HomeAway owns Vrbo. Surprised? You won’t be when you look at how identical their sites are:
But who owns HomeAway? Expedia owns HomeAway and therefore Vrbo as well. This might be news to some folks, but the acquisition actually took place back in 2015. Prior to that, here is a bit of their history…
Vrbo (Vacation rentals by owner) is a home rental site that was acquired by HomeAway in 2006. The two vacation rental brands operated separately until May 2019 when HomeAway announced that they were rebranding and taking on the full identity of Vrbo.
Vrbo and HomeAway (who both predate Airbnb) allow homeowners to list their homes on the site, accept reservations from renters, and make a profit. Renters can browse homes available in a certain area, at a certain time, and make a reservation to stay there. Vrbo and HomeAway were humming along smoothly, providing a valuable service to homeowners and renters alike, until they were both acquired by Expedia Group in 2015. That’s when things started to change. Longtime hosts quickly noticed a drop in their inquiries and reservations. Rentals that were once thriving were suddenly sitting empty. There was something different, and not good different.
Vrbo and HomeAway Under Expedia Group
Once Expedia acquired Vrbo and HomeAway, the sites began using a lot of the familiar sell tactics that we recognize from the other sites that Expedia owns. We now see listings with tags such as “Viewed 161 times in the last 48 hours” and “Great find! This property is usually booked,” lines that trigger FOMO and urge searchers to book sooner, perhaps before they are ready.
HomeAway/Vrbo also implemented a new way to sort listings in search results. This change frustrated and confused homeowners who were previously happy with how their properties were listed. The new ranking algorithm takes into account how frequently a homeowner’s calendar is updated, how often they convert inquiries into bookings, the quality of photos, and how closely the listing matches the traveler’s preferences. Many homeowners saw their inquiries and booking requests plummet after this change went into effect.
Most controversially, HomeAway and Vrbo added a “traveler fee”. This onetime booking fee is charged for each trip at about 4–9% of the total stay price. More than anything else, this fee upset Vrbo users who created a Change.org petition to try to convince Expedia to remove the fee. Homeowners listing on Vrbo valued their relationship with their renters. They thought hospitality was important, and they didn’t like the idea of saddling renters with an additional fee that would go straight into the pockets of Expedia Group corporation.
In general, homeowners felt like Vrbo had shifted under Expedia’s ownership. It moved from a service that was mutually beneficial for homeowners and the site to a system where hosts are working for what’s in the best interest of the site. Hosts felt that they’d been overlooked and that the changes disproportionately benefited large property management companies instead of the individual homeowners the site was designed for. One homeowner even launched a lawsuit against HomeAway. He claimed that the site used a certain model to lure homeowners into multi-year contracts and then changed the model without allowing them to cancel. Many homeowners ultimately left the site for these and many other reasons.
What This Means for You
Even though you may not be a homeowner frustrated with the policy changes at Vrbo, these are symptoms of a larger problem that’s plaguing the travel industry. Just as Expedia Group put their own financial gain above their relationship with Vrbo homeowners and renters, their other sites also show signs of putting financial gain above providing travelers with an unbiased hotel booking experience. Skewing search results to bump up properties that make them more money is common practice among many travel sites. You may end up missing the hotel that’s right for you because of this and other tactics that are at the core of how online travel agencies (OTAs) to business.
Don’t let yourself be a casualty to the OTA machine. Instead, you could start your next hotel search on Roomkey.com. By browsing low loyalty rates and booking directly with your hotel, you’ll be ensured top customer service by the hotel and a fair and honest search process by us. With Roomkey, you get no tricks; just travel.
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