How to Find a Great Vacation Rental through VRBO or Airbnb

My wife and I often travel internationally. We almost always book our accommodations for these trips through VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) or Airbnb. We’ve had mostly great experiences using these platforms and we’ve learned a few lessons from the less-than-great ones. Here are some ideas to help you find a great VRBO or Airbnb when you travel.

Before Booking Vacation Rentals on VRBO or Airbnb, Do These Things

Decide Where You Want to Travel

How to find a great vacation rental through VRBO or Airbnb

The first step in finding a vacation rental is to decide where you’d like to go. My wife and I have three areas that we especially love to visit – Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Since we’ve visited them often, we have a pretty good idea about the areas where we prefer to stay and the best times of year to visit. For example, we love to visit the Puerto Vallarta area around March when the whales are active. And we prefer to visit Spain or Italy during the late spring when the weather is pleasant and before the summer crowds arrive. 

When we want to plan a trip but we’re not yet sure where we’d like to go we pull up the American Airlines Flight Destination Map for ideas. We generally book our flights using frequent flyer miles on American Airlines so for us, it’s a great place to start our search. What we’re looking for are destinations that look interesting and where AA flies. Once we identify a destination, we check flight availability and pricing. Flight availability and price help us narrow down travel dates before we start looking for a place to stay.

Decide When You Want to Travel

The dates when you travel plus the length of your stay will determine pricing for your vacation rental. Sometimes, you can add an extra day or even longer to your trip by taking advantage of discounts offered by different properties. It is common for property owners to offer weekly discounts as well as monthly discounts. If you plan to stay for a full month, the discounts can be as much as 50+%. Airbnb even has a page specifically set up for long-term stays and it’s a great place to begin your search! You can find it here.

Search VRBO and/or Airbnb for properties

It’s easy to search for properties on these platforms. You’ll start by telling them where you want to go and you’ll provide your travel dates. They’ll ask how many guests will be coming and how many bedrooms and bathrooms you’ll need. From there, you’ll be presented with some options including the type of property you’re interested in. Do you want to rent a free-standing house, or are you interested in a condominium? You can also choose to rent a whole house/condo, or you can choose to rent a room in a home. We always choose “Entire Home” so we have some privacy. 

You’ll likely be presented with A LOT of options at this point and you’re going to want to narrow them down. You can do this using the filters they provide in the search tools. 

Read All of The Reviews Carefully And Take Them Seriously

Reviews are an important feature on VRBO and Airbnb because although property descriptions are helpful and necessary, previous guests are the ones who are going to tell you about their actual experience and they tend to be very honest. 

We start by looking at the most recent reviews and work backward from there. We also look at reviews that were posted at the same time of year that we plan to travel. We specifically look for any comments that reference the same issues over and over again. Property descriptions rarely discuss things like construction noise in the neighborhood but guests definitely will!

We tend to ignore the reviews that are really bad. There could be some legitimate reasons for a bad review but generally, you can feel the anger in these reviews and that anger could be about something more than the actual issue (more on that later.) And sometimes people take the opportunity to use comments to “get even” with an owner. However, if there are more than a couple of recent bad reviews, we take those seriously. Owners usually take care of issues that are serious so anything older than a couple of months we assume issues have been dealt with.

And we look at the property owner’s response to comments as well. We like to see owners engaging with previous guests and replying to comments whether they are positive or negative. Owners who take the opportunity to acknowledge problems, explain how they plan to remedy issues, or simply thank a guest for their feedback get our respect.  

A Note Regarding Bad Reviews…

As I mentioned above, a bad review is often the result of bad communication between a property owner and a guest and it’s practically impossible to know the full story. If you find several reviews from unhappy renters, they should be viewed as a red flag. However, if there are lots of reviews and only a small percentage are negative, you’re probably safe. If you still have concerns about negative reviews, send a note to the owner and ask them about the specific areas where you need some reassurance.

Compare Fees And Taxes as They Will Vary by Location and Property

On a recent trip to Mexico, we had narrowed our condo choices to 3 very similar properties on VRBO. Two of them were in the same building. They were all the same sized units and the daily rates were the same. Taxes were the same for each one as were the VRBO service fees. But one of the condos charged an additional “Administrative Fee” of $85 and a “Cleaning Fee” of $75 which added to the cost of that unit. We chose to stay in the unit without the extra fees and we saved $160 on the trip.

Communicate With The Owner Before You Book The Property

Booking a vacation rental that is owned by an individual, as opposed to booking a hotel that is run by a corporation, can be a little stressful. Contacting an owner and establishing a little relationship before booking is a great way to relieve that stress. Most property owners are more than happy to answer any questions you have about their property and the area where it is located. When an owner is responsive and provides thorough answers to your questions, it makes the decision to rent from them so much easier. 

Consider renting a property that’s managed by a “Premier Host” or “Superhost”

VRBO has a “Premier Host” designation for owners who have a proven history of “consistently providing great experiences for their guests.” Airbnb has a similar designation of “Superhost” which “celebrates and rewards Airbnb’s top-rated and most experienced hosts.” Both programs offer renters some assurance that the owners have been around for a while and that their guests consistently have great experiences renting their properties. 

Book the property!

This is the easy part if you’ve done your homework and feel good about your decision. Both VRBO and Airbnb have simple reservation systems. Once you’ve completed the process, you’ll receive confirmation and usually, some kind of information packet from the owner.

Carefully review the information supplied by the owner

The best experiences we’ve had have one thing in common – the owner supplies detailed information about what to expect upon arrival. For example, rather than leaving it up to you to find a way to get to the property a good owner will offer some transportation options. Some even offer to pick you up at the airport and take you to the property. Others, who don’t live in the area often use a local property manager who can arrange transportation. 

A common issue we’ve experienced upon arrival is confusion over how to operate TVs and satellite receivers. Understanding how to use my own home entertainment system is complicated enough but making someone else’s system work can be a nightmare. Detailed, step by step instructions for using the TV or connecting to the WiFi are very helpful!

When you check in…

You’re probably a little tired from the trip but take 10 minutes to familiarize yourself with the property, connect to the WiFi and test out the TV and entertainment equipment. If you have any questions or concerns, immediately contact the owner or property manager. It’s better to get any issues out of the way immediately so you can begin to relax and enjoy your vacation.

VRBO and Airbnb offer some incredible options for travelers who are even a little bit adventurous. There is a little risk involved but if you follow the guidelines we’ve provided in this article, you will almost certainly find an incredible vacation home to rent. Hopefully, you’ll find one or two that you love so much that you continue to visit them regularly.

David Goldstein
David launched Boomer Buyer Guides with his wife Alice to provide Baby Boomers with trustworthy, well-researched information about products and services that Baby Boomers buy. Learn more about David Goldstein