For my little family of three getting a hotel room on trips is almost always sufficient in terms of space, and sometimes we are even lucky enough to find our way into a suite so we can spread out even further. However, more and more we have been looking at trips that involve multiple families because once kids get a certain age, it it just more fun (and in some ways easier) to stay together and let them play. Let’s be honest, the adults can have more fun that way, too!
On these multi-family trips the advantages of a house over a hotel room are numerous, but include:
- Full kitchen to cook healthy meals and save on eating out expenses (and hassles that come with restaurants and young kids)
- Living room to hang out and play in early in the day and let in the evening – when you are in hotel rooms you only usually see each other on formal outings
- Lots of square feet for a reasonable cost when split by several families
- Slower vacation pace due to not needing to be on the go constantly
- Yard for the kids to play in while the adults relax with a cup of coffee or a cold beer
- More room for more people
The biggest disadvantage to rent a house or apartment is the cost. This is an area where being used to staying on hotel points can backfire as the price isn’t actually that bad for a house rental in many situations, but when you are used to your cash portion being for lodging being zero thanks to hotel points, then being on the hook for hundreds of dollars (or more) for lodging can sting. The other tough thing about renting a house is simply finding the right one as there are just so many options out there and the information online isn’t always 100% accurate. This is another area where being used to hotel points can actually backfire in a way since having points you want to use in a couple programs narrows down the number of properties you are deciding between in a given city significantly. All the sudden your options are seemingly endless when looking at house rentals!
Those are some general pros and cons of house rentals, but here are some specific tips to being able to find and afford the right one for your group.
1. Set a budget up front and stick to it.
If you are traveling with a group and all splitting the cost then be sure to establish a budget everyone is comfortable with at the very beginning of the discussion. I would ask the question in an open-ended way rather than say is $1,000/week okay for you? Instead, I would ask what range is your family comfortable spending for the week on the house? This allows them to give you a number they are truly comfortable with. The next step is sticking with that budget unless everyone agrees to up the budget for some reason or another.
2. Establish how many rooms are needed total, and by each family
Another thing to establish up front is how many bedrooms each family needs and how that cost will be divided. It is reasonable for a family that needs two or three bedrooms due to multiple children to pay more than a small family that all plans to stay together in one room. Another approach is to just identify a “kid’s room” and then just divide evenly among everyone if the kids don’t all require extra rooms. Many larger rental houses seem to have rooms designed just for this purpose with bunk beds, pull out couches, etc.
3. Pick a specific area and other “non negotiables” to start with and then expand the search as need
There are so many choices out there, that just saying you want a house in “The Outer Banks”, for example, is pretty broad. The search can be narrowed significantly if you pick a more specific part of town, or even a specific neighborhood to start in then expand outward if you don’t find exactly what you are looking for. Also identify if there are any non-negotiables for the group such as a private pool, walking distance to some attraction, etc. up front rather than deciding after extensive searches that you all wanted X. There will likely be one or two people in charge of doing the searching, so do them a favor by having defined search criteria to work with.
4. Use VRBO, Airbnb, and good old fashioned Google searches to find your house
Airbnb has the advantage of connecting hosts and renters via social media presences, ratings, and the payments go through Airbnb. This leads to a transaction that I’m sure feels more secure and does leave less up to chance. However they don’t have as many properties as VRBO or Homeaway, and I have seen prices for the same property higher on Airbnb than on VRBO. On the other hand, the prices and info on VRBO can be outdated and no longer accurate. There doesn’t seem to be a standard requiring the info on VRBO to be 100% current. If you find a price for a house you like on VRBO don’t get too excited until you actually verify with the owner that the unit is available at that price on the dates you want. This is especially true if you are trying to book a holiday week, as I have frequently found those prices to be higher than what is disclosed on the pricing engine on VRBO.
An advantage of Airbnb is that you can pay with a credit card through their payment system (hello points!). I have even read from multiple sources that Airbnb codes as a travel charge and is thus reimbursable via the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. That means that the 40,000 points you can earn via the sign-up bonus will get you $400 worth of travel expenses covered plus you get 10% of those redeemed miles back when you use redeem for a travel charge. That can help ease the pain of not using hotel points to pay for the charges! The down side of Airbnb is that there is a service fee charged to the renter for using their service, so some of these extra conveniences do come at a cost.
One way we have found rental houses in the past is just via a plain old google search, looking on Craigslist, and similar. Not all rental houses are advertized on the home rental sites, and in fact I think one of our best deals we found was not on a rental site at all. The house instead had its own website that we found and the rates were very good for our needs. There are also local house rental companies in many tourist cities that have listings of lots of houses in that area that you can work with to find what you are looking for. Of course the more out on a limb you go to find a property the less protections you may have if something goes wrong, but you may also find a gem you can afford.
5. Last minute discounts are possible
Just like I have found prices to sometimes be higher than advertized on some rental sites like VRBO, prices can sometimes be lower as well. This is especially true if you are planning a last minute getaway, and the owner has found themselves with some un-rented time available. They may be willing to offer a discount in order to get the house rented for the open days that otherwise might go totally unused, so don’t be shy about asking if there is a last minute discount available. The answer may be no, but you won’t know unless you ask. We have also had some success in negotiating on the cleaning fee if we were willing to do the bulk of the cleaning ourselves. Negotiating price and additional fees can be successful, just be sure you are being reasonable with your requests.
Hawaii Rental Example:
In case you aren’t already familiar with the world of house rentals, here is an example of how this can play out. My in-laws and our family have loosely talked about wanting to do a summer trip to Hawaii as a family one day. That would mean six adults and three kids heading to paradise, which would require three hotel rooms if we went that route. They don’t all have hotel points the way that we do, so that would mean a ton of cash to stay at a hotel. It would likely cost at least $400 per family per night to stay somewhere like the Grand Hyatt Kauai during the summer time. Of course you could find somewhere a bit less if you were willing to skip a full service resort, but your costs are still likely to be at least $200+ a night in peak season to stay at a hotel we would be happy with.
However, minimal searching turned up this house that rents for $3,150 for the week in Kauai. I’m sure there are nice places that cost even less, but let’s just go with this example. That is a big number, but when you divide by three families you come up with an all-in price of about $161/night per family, including the cleaning fee. At that price you not only get a room and a bed the way you would at a hotel, but you get a full kitchen, living room, a private pool, hot tub, and five bedrooms instead of the three the families would have at a hotel. Note I have never stayed at this property so can’t vouch for it, but it sure does look nice online!
It is a good example of how you can save money, have a place that looks awesome, and have more space for a big group to enjoy hanging out rather than being on top of one another.
Staying at hotels on points is the best way to travel right now for my family, but when we join forces with other families the scales tip dramatically in favor of renting a house in order to save money and increase available space.
What have your experiences been with finding and renting a vacation house for your big family vacations?