real estate

Home, condo rentals trim vacation costs

Smart Spending
Highlights
  • Renting a home or condominium during a vacation can trim costs.
  • Deals on price and services abound as the economy slows worldwide.
  • Rentals require more work upfront, but the payoff can be substantial.

Karen and Mike Conway, of Delmar, N.Y., love to travel with their two children, Ceili, 11, and Zephan, 7. But they don't love paying rack rates for closet-sized hotel rooms.

So they reserve rental homes when visiting Florida, Arizona, Virginia and cities such as London or Cape Cod, Mass.

"We get more space and usually more amenities for our money," Karen Conway says.

The Conways are among a select group of travelers who have found that for longer vacations, renting a house or condominium makes more economic sense than taking a hotel room.

For the price of a hotel stay, the Conways look for -- and get -- a full kitchen, two or more bedrooms, and one or two bathrooms. They also get amenities like decks, porches, board games, free Internet access and multiple TVs.

"If we're staying more than a few nights, we always look for a rental," Karen Conway says. "The economics work in our favor to rent rather than get a suite or two rooms at a hotel."

6 steps to sweet deals on suites
  1. Research options.
  2. Go as a group.
  3. Be contrarian.
  4. Negotiate smartly.
  5. Ask about extras.
  6. Look for last-minute deals.
For example, having a kitchen can slash restaurant costs, which the AAA estimates at $80 per day for a vacationing couple.

With rentals, you'll avoid the morning-after surcharges that plague many hotels bills -- resort fees, phone-use fees, plus city and state taxes -- that can add up to an additional 20 percent to your final tab.

Short-term rentals look even better in 2009 than in the past. While vacation rentals typically are not discounted, that has changed since last fall's global economic meltdown, according to Pauline Kenny, co-founder of vacation rental comparison Web site Slow Travel and current editor of the Slow Europe Web site.

This year, 66 percent of vacation rental property owners are offering special deals, from reduced rates to pre-arrival grocery shopping services, according to a recent survey from HomeAway, a Web-based vacation rental site with listings in more than 100 countries.

"If you're going to look for bargains, this is the year to do it," Kenny says.

How do you find the deals and steals on vacation rentals? Here are some pointers:

1. Research options. Pick a general area and search for properties at that destination on owner-rental Web sites like Vacation Rental by Owner, Craigslist and local rental agencies like Italy Perfect.

Through a range of sources, get a better understanding of quality and pricing, so you can spy a bargain more easily.

"There is a vacation home for every budget, from $200 per week to $300,000 per week," says Victor Wang, spokesman for Homeaway.com.

For example, vacation renters in Orlando, Fla., could stay in anything from a three-bedroom condo (which sleeps eight) for as little as $53 per night to a seven-bedroom estate (which sleeps 22) for $25,000 per night.

2. Go as a group. The cost of a rental becomes outrageously economical when divided with other travelers.

"Rentals are great if you have another family because you get a larger space for less," says Michelle Duffy, co-author of "Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids" and a frequent vacation-home renter.

Seattle-based mom Cory Peterson, her husband and 17-month-old son slept in a condo with friends in Hawaii.

"We stayed in an amazing two-bedroom house with its own tidal pool, steps to the waterfront, boogie boards and sand toys for $125 per night," she says.

The bill was split between two families -- around $65 per night.

3. Be contrarian. Sometimes, it helps to move in the opposite direction of the crowd. For example, during summer, head to still-pleasant ski resorts and to tropical destinations.

"You'll find a better property if you're flexible," Duffy says.

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Duffy took her family to Lake Chapala, located in Mexico's interior, in the dead of summer. She found a fully furnished, two-bedroom property in a gated community with a pool for a mere $200 per week.

"It was really hot, but much cheaper," Duffy says. "The kids were very happy in the pool every day."

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