Managing Your Vacation Rental Miscellaneous

Why homeowners are outraged about vacationer booking fees

Written by Elizabeth Weedon
4.9/5 - (16 votes)

bookingfeebuttonRarely in our 23-year history have we witnessed such a hue and a cry from vacation rental homeowners as we did a few years ago when HomeAway/VRBO decided to require vacationers to pay a service fee.

Why are homeowners so upset about a vacationer fee?

  • Reducing revenue: Having to pay fees of 4%-15% (!) on top of the rental rate of a home, vacationers may be forced to opt for a lesser priced home. It may also prevent homeowners from increasing their rates as they normally would – or even force them to reduce their rates – to remain competitive.
  • Restricting communication: The only way vacation rental websites can monitor and collect vacationer fees is by restricting the ability for vacationers and homeowners to communicate directly with each other prior to booking. Otherwise, if able to connect directly prior to booking, homeowners and vacationers could cut out the “middle man” and save both parties the fees. But restricting communication between parties is the antithesis of what we believe is best.
  • Controlling/limiting payment options: In order to charge vacationers their service fee, these vacation rental websites must also control the payment methods used, which would have to be through their booking site, preventing homeowners from allowing other payment options such as personal checks. (Naturally, booking through the website also incurs fees to the homeowner.)
  • Greater risks for all: HomeAway/VRBO’s justification for charging vacationer fees is to provide travelers with a greater level of confidence when booking a home online. But restricting vacationers’ ability to communicate with the homeowner/manager prior to booking only increases their risk that the property may not be a good fit. And, of course, homeowner risk is also increased when accepting an automatic booking to whoever requests one.

Why is the better alternative

In response, co-owner Joan Talmadge states, “We do not agree with the path that the major rental websites have taken. We firmly believe that it is in the best interests of both the vacationer and homeowner to communicate with each other freely – prior to booking – to determine if the home and the vacationing party are a good fit.  Making that personal connection between the homeowner and their guests is vital to the success of renting.”

Being a locally owned and operated niche site devoted exclusively to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, we are able to provide vacationers with the trust that the big-box sites are charging their vacationers for.  Our listers and listings are all vetted prior to activation to avoid scams, and we have a extraordinary amount of direct communication with our homeowners prior to and after activation of their listings.

Feedback from homeowners

We are closely following the buzz on social media, other vacation rental blogs, and the press, and here are a few examples of what we’re hearing:

 “Just seconds ago I lost a renter that used my home last year because of this fee. $1500 bucks gone because of a $120 service fee.”  Kyle D.

“I have not had a rent increase in 4 years and need to have one in order to stay in business. Now that home away is increasing fees in under “booking fees” of 5%, my rent increase can’t be realized and I still have to pay yearly subscription plus 3% credit processing.” Jim C.

“I was threatened by the [HomeAway] customer service agent that if I collected the rentals fees directly from my guests instead of going through HomeAway payments my listing would be put at the bottom of the list.” Dynie S.

“For me, the issue is a loss of control by the owner due to Homeaway/VRBO’s inserting itself into communication between owner and guest (moving toward blocking email and telephone info),  finances (requiring online payment), and instant booking (24 hours).    The traveler fee being implemented may also interfere with the ability of owners to set their rates and, in my opinion, gives HomeAway undue influence over the local marketplace.  For example, I raised some of my weekly rates for 2016, before the announcement of the Homeaway/VRBO traveler fee.  If I used their auto/online features, my guests would be facing a steep increase in rent.” hjl/Katama Delight of Martha’s Vineyard

How do you feel about HomeAway’s recent decisions? Were you aware of them?


About the author

Elizabeth Weedon

Elizabeth Weedon - Although I’ve worked for since 2008, I’ve been a loyal homeowner on the site since early 1998, just a few months after the website was launched by the Talmadges. I grew up summering on the Vineyard and managed my family's rental home there since the mid-1980’s. I’m passionately devoted to the Vineyard – and to WeNeedaVacation, which I credit with enabling me to hold onto the special property that has been in our family for nearly a century. An enthusiastic member of the WNAV Homeowner Support Team, I endeavor to keep my finger on the pulse of the Cape and Islands vacation rental industry so that I can provide homeowners advice about how to ensure their booking success with us. With owner Joan Talmadge, I am also responsible for editing and writing much of the text on our website, our monthly newsletters, and Homeowner Blog posts.


  • […] We do not charge vacationers booking/service fees like most other sites now do. Doing so not only interferes with the booking process but impacts a homeowner’s ability to charge as much for their home. Naturally, it also drives vacationers to other sites (like ours) to avoid paying the fee.  Read more about why homeowners are outraged about booking fees. […]

  • I have used VRBO since 2009 to rent our condo in CO and I just found out about this “service fee” from my son, I was NEVER contacted by HomeAway or VRBO. I am furious. Who will ultimately pay for this? The owner of the properties because we will have to discount our fees to stay competitive. I set my fees based on what the rental agency in our building charges and if renters have a choice of booking with the rental agency who will not charge this “service fee” or with me via VRBO, they will choose the rental agency.

    I am furious. I will either look for an alternate site or stop renting our unit as it is no longer cost effective for me to do so. Between the last two renters I have had cutlery go missing, someone took the battery out of the smoke detector, and someone flushed a tampon down the toilet which required the services of a plumber after the toilet overflowed.

    Those of us who own the units, pay the taxes, HOA fees, furnish them, maintain them, supply the linens, soaps, toilet paper, kleenex, and are ultimately responsible for everything, we are being screwed!!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, H. Holmberg. I wish we knew of an independent, niche site like ours that lists homes in your area. I’m particularly moved to hear that you are considering no longer renting your property due to these recent changes! But I can see why you feel you may need to. Very few of us are renting out our homes and making a killing doing so! Most of us operate within a very small margin – and often just enough to enable us to hold onto our homes.

    • I just found out about the VRBO new policy also. Renting my home helps with the mortgage but is not profitable. I am particular about what guests I will rent too and I like to make sure that their stay is enjoyable. Taking my interaction with them away is unacceptable for me and then charging them for this reduction in service is a travesty. There has to be another site that we can use and if we all switch then we can make this work together. I have no problem paying a fee for subscription or even a percentage but not both. In addition to this I pay the fee to use VRBO credit card service. What were they thinking, its going to backfire on them, I am sure of it.

  • Thank you for making me aware of what’s going on with the HomeAway/VRBO. web site and their booking fees. I feel victimized as a homeowner since this is not what I signed up and paid for more than a year ago. OBMV

    • Thanks for responding, OBMV. I don’t blame you for feeling somewhat victimized by these latest developments, and we’ll continue to keep you posted as best we can. Feel free to go to the Say No to Booking Fees website mentioned above. It’s a platform that allows you and fellow homeowners, as well as property managers and others involved in the industry, to share information about these recent disturbing events in the industry.

  • I booked with VRBO 3 weeks ago before booking fees. They were never mentioned, a week later I cancelled, because they installed booking fees

  • Thank you Joan, You hit all the nails right on the head. After a $300 increase in the listing fee, they now want a credit card fee and they want to charge my prospects. I am, to say the lease, furious! Further–I have LESS business to date when in the past I was turning people away.

    They have become BULLIES –we need more Anti-trust rules, they bought the competition.

    Paul McGrath

    • Hi, Paul, thankfully they haven’t bought ALL the competition, haha! At least homeowners and vacationers on the Cape and Islands have a great alternative – and we plan to be independently and locally owned and operated for another 20 years!

  • The other day I was sitting next to a woman on a flight home. We got to talking and she said she owns a house in Falmouth that she rents out. She was not happy finding out that the site she uses is now charging a booking fee and without giving her prior notice. I told her how happy I am with the amount of possible renters looking at wnav and the amount of weeks already rented. She said she will be checking into it this week!

    • Thanks, Laurel. We truly appreciate your referring folks to us – even to strangers on a plane! And don’t forget, if she signs up, you’ll receive free time through our Refer-a-Friend program!

  • Thank you so much for staying true to your mission. As both a renter & now owner using your service I appreciate being able to form a relationship between homeowner & renter.

    • It’s our pleasure, Cathy. And, yes, we feel passionate about how vitally important it is that homeowners and tenants be able to communicate directly with one another right from the start. These are not just “rental properties” on the Cape and Islands – they are our beloved homes!

  • I have a solution for avoiding booking fees: Don’t list with HomeAway. We have rented our home now for 5 years. Each year, we have been fully booked by mid February. We have always enjoyed direct communication with our guests, and many return year after year. And here’s our secret for success: We list exclusively with!