The time for summer vacation is coming and you may be considering a house rental instead of a hotel. As you choose which service to use, take everything from booking guarantees to guest fees into consideration.

Airbnb recently announced what it’s calling the biggest change to its service in a decade. Four million hosts on the service offer everything from private rooms to full properties for rent. The company’s 2022 Summer Release adds the ability to search property rentals by categories like Treehouses, Caves, Castles and Farms. Airbnb Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in an announcement video that one of his favorite categories is called OMG!

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“You have properties where you’re just like, I can’t believe that even exists,” he said, showcasing a yellow submarine available for rent in the middle of the woods in New Zealand.

The company also now offers Split Stays which will create a little itinerary of two homes whenever you search for a stay longer than a week. Chesky showed the example of searching for National Parks and the app suggested a few days at a property in Joshua Tree followed by a few days at a rental near Zion.

The final announcement included protections for customers called Aircover. It includes Booking Protection if a host cancels on you within a month of arrival, Check-In Guarantee in case there’s some reason you can’t gain access to a rental and a Get-What-You-Booked Guarantee if the renters have concerns over cleanliness or amenities that aren’t as advertised. In all three cases, guests will reach out to their Host first to see if they can resolve the problem. If not, renters contact Airbnb within 72 hours of discovering the problem. If the company finds the issue is protected by AirCover, it will give a full or partial refund or find the guests a better or similar place to stay.

Airbnb claims it is the only vacation rental company with these perks. It’s true I haven’t seen the Split Stay option on other vacation rental websites, but does have the ability to browse by property type such as Farm Stays, Boats and Luxury Tents.

Also, while no other company I researched offered the possibility of refunds for a last-minute cancellation by a host, check-in problems or problems with the property, Vrbo does say it will find you somewhere else to stay in any of those cases. Guests do need to let them know within the first 12 hours and are encouraged to contact the property manager first.

Airbnb, Vrbo, and Vacasa all have a 24/7 help line for guests to call for support.

Vrbo has fraud protection. If a payment somehow ends up in the hands of someone other than the host, the company will pay the guest back. And in an email, the company wrote that the majority of properties have the option to pay when you stay “unlike other online travel companies where guests are almost always charged at the time of booking.”

Now let’s talk fees. It can sometimes be a shocker to see the difference from the first price seen on a property’s page to the final cost once taxes and fees are added on.

Airbnb says its service fees help cover the cost of services like round-the-clock customer support. The website notes that “most guest service fees are under 14.2% of the booking subtotal” and renters will be able to see the fee during checkout before booking. 

Vrbo’s website says its service fee covers the cost of secure transactions, product development and customer service and the amount varies. But vacation rental marketing company Logify shows Vrbo’s fee is usually between 6-12% of the booking total.

View Comments wrote in an email that it has “no booking fees whatsoever and no hidden, unexpected charges.”

But a comparison of a weekend condo rental in Park City, Utah shows the website adds a service fee (which all other companies had as well), and a destination fee and tourism fee that didn’t pop up on any other website.

Vrbo added a damage waiver and all the websites I compared had cleaning fees. The total fees and taxes for this condo ranged from $383.17 (Airbnb) to $442.52 (Vrbo). Both Vrbo and Airbnb showed that Vacasa was actually the property manager for the condo and knowing that, I headed to its website to check the price. Vacasa had no service fee and the total fees and taxes equalled $350.40; a $33 savings from even the least expensive option of the big three websites.

Cut the middle man if possible and check those fees and taxes if price is important for your booking. But also keep in mind those booking guarantees that could make a big difference on whether your vacation goes smoothly. And don’t forget to scout the websites to find those extraordinary properties that you may have thought only existed in your dreams.

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