The HomeAway Verdict – Are Short Term Vacation Rentals Worth the Hype?

Homeaway rental

Earlier this year I innocently won a door prize at a conference, a gift card to HomeAway.com. HomeAway is the world’s leading online marketplace of vacation rentals, with sites representing more than 625,000 paid vacation rental home listings throughout more than 145 countries. They offer short term home rentals as an alternative to hotels when traveling, an option which has seen rapid popularity growth in recent years. I’d long been intrigued by the concept but I admit, I was a little scared to try them out for myself. If anything went wrong, it would doom the trip. Thank goodness for the door prize, otherwise I would have missed out on a wonderful travel experience.

NOTE: I won this prize, it was not part of a media trip and HomeAway said that I was under no condition to write about my experience, but I decided to anyway. I want to share with everyone what it’s really like to book and use a short term holiday rental to help people as they consider this option. As always, everything here is honest and real without any filters.

Homeaway review

The Process

The first challenge was figuring out how to use the free HomeAway cash. We decided to build a trip around the lodging and quickly decided to spend a week in Brussels exploring nearby winter markets and festivals the week before Christmas.

Ok, the city was decided and our lodging budget set for us. With our scope sufficiently narrowed, I used the HomeAway app on my iPad to find the perfect apartment. I was really pleased with how easy it was to winnow down the listings based on location and price. Each listing also had basic information (size of space, amenities, etc.), tons of photos and reviews when available. I’m always wary of trusting online photos of lodgings, but we finally found a space and decided to move forward with the booking.

It’s challenging finding a well-located condo in a city which is completely unfamiliar, but we used the HomeAway maps and trusted when the owner wrote that the city center was only a ten minute walk away. According to the description, the apartment was 60 square meters, next door to the comic strip museum and boasted a very clean, modern decor. The best part though, it was only $800 for 7 nights. Yes, in the heart of Brussels, located in the heart of Europe, we could stay in a well located, well designed, clean, safe condo for about $128 per night. As a comparison, the Radisson Blu was just a block away and its rates start at almost $200 per night for the most basic room. Keep in mind we didn’t just have a room, we had an apartment with kitchen, dining area, living room, huge bath, etc.

We booked online by contacting the owner, after a few emails everything was set, a deposit sent and we were confirmed.

Homeaway review

The Experience

Finally the weeks and months ticked by and the time had come for our European Christmas market trip. Our flight was scheduled to arrive at 8:00 AM local time, which meant the earliest we would be in downtown Brussels was 10:00 AM, immigration and customs permitting. I contacted the owner beforehand and he said that he’d wait at the apartment for us starting at 8:00 AM, in case we were early. I tried to dissuade him, but he was adamant and I had the first taste of the warm hospitality that we’d enjoy during our condo experience.

True to his word, Albert was waiting for us when we rung the buzzer at the apartment complex. It was as well located as advertised and the apartments were modern, terraced condos rather than a depressing brick leviathan. All signs pointed to a great stay.

Homeaway review

We entered the smallish apartment and were blown away; it was stunning. Expertly decorated with new furnishings and every attention to detail that I could imagine. The kitchen was fully supplied with dishes and utensils, even a coffee maker, and featured a full size fridge, dishwasher and washing machine. The dining and living areas maximized their space efficiently and were extremely comfortable. Even the bathroom surprised us with its super sized (by Europe standards) shower. The cherry on top though was the free (and strong) internet available to us for the duration of our stay.

We were busy and truthfully didn’t spend that much time in the apartment, but whenever we returned it felt like we were coming home and not just returning to a small hotel room. It was pleasant to stretch out and do our own thing in the evenings, rather than fall over one another as we sometimes do in hotels. My one complaint, and that’s because I’m tall, was the double bed. We’re used to a King size bed at home and the bed in the apartment was just too small for us. But truthfully, that is my only complaint. City center was indeed a short walk away, as was the central train station. I felt like we hit the travel lottery with our choice in digs.

Homeaway review

Analysis – Would I do it again?

Ok, so at this point you’re thinking “Wow, he loved it! Of course he’d do it again.” That’s mostly true, but as with anything there are some cons to this method of travel.

Pros
Cheaper than a hotel
More space than a hotel
More amenities than a hotel
Ability to feel like you’re living in a real apartment/house rather than a hotel

Cons
No cleaning service. No one to clean the bathroom, make the beds, change the linens, etc.
No hotel amenities such as concierge service, room service or gym. (I imagine some rentals have gyms as an amenity, but ours didn’t)

Homeaway review

The concierge mention may seem silly, but I don’t think most of us realize just how much we rely upon them. There was no one to give us directions, train advice, dinner recommendations or any of the ‘small’ questions many of us ask routinely when staying at a hotel. We made several mistakes that a good concierge would have helped us avoid.

Ultimately, the rental experience gave us more space and freedom all at a reduced cost. Yes, I missed having a cleaning service, but everything else more than made up for it. So the answer to the all important question, would I do it again? Yes, I would, although not in every circumstance or in every location. I also recognize that not every listing will be as great as ours was and that mistakes do happen. Due to the nature of the service, there are bound to be some bad actors. For our trip in Western Europe though it was perfect and I can’t wait for my next short term vacation rental experience.

Have you used HomeAway or other short term vacation rental service before? What did you think?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

21 Responses

  1. Gillian @OneGiantStep

    Some of our favorite stays during our RTW were when we found apartments to rent. I prefer to be in regular neighbourhoods (rather than down town tourist hubs) and love the extra space that apartments afford. I agree about the concierge – it once took us almost 10 days to discover a great grocery store just around the corner because we had never walked that way!

    Reply
  2. Laurel @travelvisions

    Good information. I’d definitely like to here what others have experienced. I think your right to infer that it would depend on the location. As for the concierge comments I’d have to disagree. Although convenient, there are so many other ways to get info. these days, such as, smart phone Ap.s or the old fashion way – ask the locals.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I think technology is important, but can’t replace a person. For instance, while we were there a train strike happened, disrupting our plans. It was very difficult to get the full story though. TV was useless (different language) and the websites were slow to update and when they did they didn’t answer our questions. Someone at the front desk of a hotel could have helped us in 2 minutes. But, ultimately, is that enough to argue against a vacation rental? No, I would say not.

      Reply
      • Matt Long

        That being said, the owner also provided a very handy booklet with tons of information on local restaurants and stores that DID help us a lot. I think it’s the more practical “If I go this way, will I end up in the completely wrong place?” kind of Q/A I missed

  3. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista

    Great recap on using Home Away. I have been wondering about them too and am looking forward to using them next time we are in Europe!

    Reply
  4. Andy

    Good points here. First I couldn’t really see any problems without the concierge but as you say in some circumstances the service could make a real difference. For longer stays than a few days another big advantage with apartments (especially when travelling with children) is the ability to wash clothes…I just posted a review of what I feel is the perfect “best of both worlds” solution. Adina Apartment Hotels have a few properties in Europe offering all the service of a four star hotel with a fully equipped apartment. There was even a pool and fitness room in the Copenhagen and Berlin branches. Highly recommended and can even be cheaper than a mid-range hotel. See the Copenhagen review here: http://grownuptravelguide.com/hotel-review-adina-apartment-hotel-copenhagen-denmark

    Reply
  5. Elise @ Positive World Travel

    I love using short term rentals…we have used them so much while we have been away, and truthfully, the extra space you get for pretty much the same price as a hotel room makes me not bother about not having our sheets changed or a cleaning service etc.

    Reply
  6. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    I have been staying in rentals for many years and I love love love them, because I totally feel like a local. I would only recommend staying in 1 if staying in a city for a week or more though. Depending on which site you use, some do come with cleaning services!

    Reply
  7. Cam @ Traveling Canucks

    This is helpful Matt. We are planning a trip to Europe for the summer and will be in the market for short-term rentals (because we have Baby B with us now!).

    Reply
  8. Leslyn Kantner

    I haven’t used HomeAway yet, only Airbnb and my experience was similar to what you described – Awesome. I thought it was terrific to return to something that felt like home. I traveled with my parents who owned timeshare and the feeling was similar but I prefer the ‘local’ feeling of renting someone’s living quarters. HomeAway has definitely been on my radar for the next trip.

    Reply
  9. Priscilla

    That is a great review of homeaway. So far we have had two experiences with the site. One with an apartment in Brooklyn, NY, which went without a hitch. We are now in Portugal in our second apartment. I always worry about getting our deposit back. So far we have had no issues. I agree with missing a concierge, it took us 4 days to find a supermarket! 🙂

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Ha! I can relate on the supermarket. We ‘meant’ to cook, really we did, but had no clue where the store was. LOL

      Reply
  10. Fadoflats Portugal

    Always interesting for us property owners/managers to read stuff from travelers.
    Pros and cons could be expanded. Privacy and possibility of cooking (and saving money!) are interesting pros too.
    Travelers should also bear in mind that many property owners/managers are able to supply other services (daily cleaning, transfer from and to the airport, etc) for an extra fee.
    Just ask and you shall receive!

    Reply
  11. Sonja

    I’ve used Vacation-in-Paris apartment rentals which I highly recommend. They even send you the apartment keys before you leave home so you don’t have to meet anyone when you arrive. For this summer’s trip to Spain and Portugal I have booked three apartments through HomeAway, so I’m happy to read about your great experience.

    Reply
  12. Mike Critchley

    Another GREAT post…and by great, I mean “useful,” which is always my favorite. lol

    I have never used this service, but based on this blog I downloaded their app and I’ll check it out. I used Airbnb –similar, but a bit cheaper on average — for finding the condo I stayed at in Manila over Feb-April. As you mentioned, not having the cleaning service is something you notice — although I tend to prefer just having my place be my own. The problem with hotels is that on those days when you just want to be a slug at home, you know that at some point they’ll be knocking at your door. Anyway, a great article.

    Hey, if you are into those kinds of rentals, you should check out (or maybe you already have) an “agriturismo” in Italy. You basically rent a villa for a week or two in the countryside. It will involve renting a car probably, but it’s something that somebody ought to write about (I am too poor and too addicted to Asia at the moment to get back to Italy. lol).

    Reply
  13. Jo karnaghan

    Ive written about the exact same topic recently and have come to same conclusions as you – if you want a concierge service and clean towels every day you need a hotel, but otherwise for longer stays they are brilliant. In Europe a tiny apartment still beats a tiny hotel room for size!

    I’ve used homeaway previously too and also had good experiences. The other company I can recommend for Paris rentals is Vacation in Paris – American based and charge in USD. They have a local manager in Paris.

    Reply
  14. Paris Short Term Rental

    Its Great information from you..,Yes, its true accommodation is very important when people visit to Paris. I can say that Choose Paris apartment rentals to enjoy a cheerful and budget-friendly vacation. Thank you for your valuable information to me

    Reply
  15. Bruce Murray

    In some locations such as Paris short term rentals drive locals out on the area due to a lack of regular rentals. It has gotten so bad Paris officials are cracking down on unlicensed rentals. Which is most of them.

    Reply
  16. Kerrie

    I used HomeAway to book most of my accommodation on my 7 week US trip last year. I booked 9 places in total with no hassle and only one which was a bit fisappointing (location wise).

    Some were in the middle of things (LA, Chicago, NewOrleans), but some were just a bit out of town- which was a slightly frustrating as I don’t drive. But when I saw the view over Puget Sound from my personal balcony- totally worth it!

    I cooked for myself most of the time, which saved a lot of money. The owners provided lots of information , either in person, or in a folder with maps etc.

    I was by myself, so it was more expensive than a hotel, but it was nice to come back to a lived in apartment.

    I highly recommend trying it out. Ask the owner lots of questions via email and phone.

    Reply
  17. Ellie

    Thanks for the article Matt! I think it’s worth it. In one of my last trips to Vienna I stayed in an apartment rented for a week and I really loved the feeling of coming home after a long busy day. You can always cook something and relax much better than in a hotel or hostel. However sometimes hostels are cheaper. Anyway my favorite platform for booking apartments is 110apartments.com. I will book my next vacation though it. This time it’s Italy!

    Reply
  18. Igor C.

    On the 19th of July I found a villa on Mallorca on homeaway.com. For the next four days I was in touch with the “owner” of this villa through the website and mail server of homeaway.com. I’ve been asked for all kind of information about myself and my guests including copy of my passport and list of guests. Finally, after signing a contract with supposed owner of the villa, I’ve given the bank account in Barclays bank where I should transfer 10 000 Euro within 48 hours. On the 22nd of July I’ve transferred the money and on the 24th around 16:00 hours European time I’ve received a letter from homeaway.com saying that if I booked the villa under that booking number, most probably, it’s a fraud. I called the Barclays bank and described them situation and they told me that they were “very sorry and they will launch investigation but…! the amount of 10 000 euro was taken from the account two hours ago and there is nothing they can do to help me”.
    Notice – they were silent for 6 days that I have exchanged letters with “swindler-owner” through THE SERVER OF HOMEAWAY.COM! And they send me the letter about possible fraud ONE HOUR AFTER THE CRIMINALS CASHED THE MONEY. It’s called: “inside informer”.
    When I, finally, got in touch with homeawa.com (after 25 minutes on hold) they connected me to their security department where some guy told me: “sorry to hear that” and “you have to call the bank because there is nothing we can do”. Then they sent me bullshit letter about reimbursement for 1000 dollars on my next booking.
    What a nice company homeaway.com!

    Reply

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