Have you ever been tempted to take advantage of the vacation-rental clearance—booking a beach home or mountain condo mere weeks before check-in?
Luckily, a Web site launching today will help make it easier for you to book an affordable vacation rental at the last minute: PackLate.com. The site has a simple motto: "The closer to check-in, the bigger the discount." A condo in Utah that ordinarily rents for $150 a night on a vacation rental booking site like HomeAway will be offered on PackLate for about $100 a night two weeks in advance, and then, say, $75 a night a week in advance. The site is free to use, but you have to provide your e-mail address or Facebook account access in order to sign up to see deals.
This news is part of a larger trend than the mere launch of a small website. PackLate's arrival means that—at last!—the vacation rental industry is becoming more technologically savvy and its yield-management systems will be hard at work. A sale can now be launched and then ended within hours. For example, many PackLate deals are available for only a three-day, 24-hour, or even 10-minute periods. That means discounts will be lower than ever before, but only sophisticated travelers will benefit the most.
Rates drop by at least 10 percent for bookings made within two or three weeks of arrival. Brokers become desperate to put some heads in their beds, rather than leaving their places empty. PackLate allows owners to offer even discounts of 45 percent off when I looked today, even for Presidents' Week rentals that are normally sold out at peak prices by now.
I've got two criticisms with PackLate as it "gets out of the gate." First, it doesn't have a broad inventory of properties yet. As of today, it's focused on Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, especially Aspen, Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone, Park City, and Telluride, though some other areas, such as South Tahoe, Calif., are also covered. Resorts in other states will be added over time, the site says.
Another complaint: PackLate is primarily courting vacation rental management companies to get its listings. Our readers have found that those companies often add middleman's fees of up to 50 percent of the rent to a travelers' bill. We hope that more property owners will become hands-on landlords themselves and use sites like PackLate let them rent their rooms directly to you—with deep discounts. One bit of good news: The site plans to soon let travelers contact the vacation rental companies direclty to make an offer below the current price.
One final word of caution: Don't let the time pressure force you into making a decision before you read the fine print, ask the key questions, and ask about fees. During this lingering recession, renters have enormous bargaining power. Don't settle for what's on offer at any website. You may still find that negotiating with an owner directly gives you the best rate.
MORE TIPS ON VACATION RENTALS
Check out our Vacation Rental Handbook.
Prefer to rent through a mainstream travel agency that specializes in advance bookings? Here are the best vacation rental sites to use.