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jan 21 2009

Short-term vacation rentals made easier

Bob Barnes, CEO of Zonder (Courtesy Zonder)

I've long assumed that renting a vacation home meant rounding up eight people for a week-long getaway. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it’s common to book a rental for merely a long weekend.

A case-in-point: The average booking for a home, cabin, or condo is just four nights on Zonder.com, a site that lists private, professionally managed rentals in the U.S., Caribbean, and Central America. The average group size is only four to five people, which is also smaller than I expected.

Bob Barnes, the CEO of the rental site Zonder, recently chatted with me about how to find the best deals. Here’s a key part of the interview.

Q: How is the economic downturn changing the way vacation rentals are being handled?

A: Because of the recession, many management companies are loosening their booking restrictions, and we are taking advantage of that. Negotiate by asking these questions.

• Is there any flexibility with the minimum stay? Though one-night stays aren’t common, sometimes you can get a three-day rental for a long weekend.

• A Saturday-to Saturday stay is especially popular in ski destinations. See if that requirement can be waived.

• Can the lead time be shortened? Some management companies require you to book at least seven days in advance but that causes them to miss last-minute reservations.

Q: Other than thinking you need to rent for a week, what are other common misconceptions that people have about vacation rentals?

A: Don’t assume popular destinations have limited inventory. Just outside of Orlando, for example, you could recently book a five-bedroom home with a pool for less than $200 per night, versus a 12-by-12-square-foot hotel room for the same price. Even in Hawaii, we have condos for under $200 per night, such as this recent deal.

Q: Any other tips?

A: Go in off-season. Stay away from bank and school holidays, like spring break. Even going one week before or after the peak season can save you money. Consider visiting mountain destinations in the summer. For example, a two-bedroom Park City townhouse recently went for $479 per night during peak season. An off-peak rental would cost just $234 per night, or about 50 percent less. If you aren't finding what you need online, call 866/613-3166. Our booking agents are available 24/7 and are good at finding properties.

MORE RENTAL WEBSITES

Budget Travel's Vacation Rental Handbook

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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