You don't mind paying a few extra hundred dollars on your next vacation rental, do you? According to HomeAway & VRBO you don't. They have actually said that "travelers don't mind paying a service fee". I'm not sure what reality they are living in, but it is not even close to a real world reality.
In February 2016 HomeAway & VRBO rolled out a new Service Fee that they are charging to travelers who book through their websites. While they say the fee will range between 4% and 9%, they calculate the fee based on the rent and any other fees charged (cleaning fees, etc.). Most recently they've raised the service rates to 5% to 15%, so it may end up costing you as much as 20% of the rental rate. It is not assessed on taxes or security deposits. So, if the rental rate is $3,000 and there is another $400 in fees for cleaning, linens, pet fees, etc., the Service Fee will be based on $3,400.
The Service Fee they are charging the travelers is for booking through their site and they keep all the money. The homeowner gets none of it. However, they label it simply as “Service Fee” in their site. Understandably, renters are often confused, as they think the homeowner is charging this Service Fee, and are unaware that it is charged by HomeAway and the homeowner has no control over it.
In some instances, travelers don't even know they are paying a Service Fee because HomeAway & VRBO have gone to great lengths to hide it from plain view or identify that it is their fee. So, if "travelers don't mind paying a service fee", why hide it or why not own up to it?
While some vacation rental owners have sought to offer clarification in their listings or communications with travelers, HomeAway has penalized them and even gone so far as removing their rental listings if a listing contains mention of the fee or communications through their system to travelers even mention the Service Fee.
Limiting What you See
HomeAway is attempting to hamper any effort for travelers to avoid paying the Service Fee. They have begun blocking owners telephone numbers from rental listings (we imagine it will soon be all listings), so the only way travelers will be able to contact owners is through their system. It is only a matter of time before they begin hiding travelers contact information (name, email address, telephone number) from the homeowners until the traveler books, leaving the only communication possible being through their system.
Many owners have begun listing their vacation rentals in regional vacation rental websites, creating their own sites, and creating Facebook pages for their properties, in order to be able to book travelers without the traveler having to pay the Service Fee.
What Can the Traveler Do?
If you find a vacation rental you like listed in HomeAway or VRBO, don't immediately book it. Instead, search this website for a regional vacation rental website where you can book vacation rentals without paying the Service Fee. If the property your found on VRBO or HomeAway is not listed on the regional site, contact the owner and tell them to list their rental there so you can book it without paying the Service Fee.