How we saved 75% off our vacation this year

by Bob on May 16, 2012

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This February I took off for what we called a bit of a sabbatical rather than a vacation. But either way it was great.

We rented a condo on the beach and it was SO much cheaper than our hotel-hopping vacation that we took last year. So if you have a few minutes I will explain what we did and probably what we will be doing from now on when we go out of town.

How to rent a house for vacation

In December we were discussing whether or not we would be able to get away this year as we didn’t have too much saved up for a trip. I decided to hop on my favorite vacation home rental site and see what was out there.  Since we needed to do it in February we wanted to be in Florida since it would be fairly warm there.

After searching for about 30 minutes I had found a handful of places that had good reviews, were on the beach, were open in February, and had pictures that looked pretty promising.

They now had to pass the wife-test. 😉  As a naive guy, I am finally starting to learn how important it is for a woman to be comfortable in her dwelling (even temporary dwellings).  Thankfully, we were able to land on a few that we felt good about going with.

Why rent a house or condo instead of hotels?

I had a few reasons that I wanted a vacation home (or condo) rather than using a hotel

  1. Feel more “at home” with a condo. Living out of a suitcase for 3-4 weeks in a hotel was not what we wanted.
  2. Better food. I like to cook and having a kitchen to eat meals in not only saved us a ton of money, but it was much healthier and more enjoyable than eating out 2-3x a day.
  3. Hotels are so much more expensive. As you will read in a moment, we paid about (in my estimation) 75% less for our condo what we would have paid on a comparable hotel in the same location.

Next steps

Now that we had found a few condos that we were interested in renting, I gave them a call. Sometimes you end up talking with property managers, but a lot of times you will be talking directly to the owners themselves. That was the case for us with the condo we ended up with.

I asked the owner a few additional questions that I had about the place and then we negotiated price a bit – which worked out awesome for us.

He normally rented his place out for $1500/month and about $600/week.  But because I was flexible on my arrival and departure dates he gave us 22 days for a total of $700!

I am well aware that we got an awesome deal and things just worked out well in our favor, but honestly we would have been happy to pay $1500/month.

After we agreed on a price (he offered the $700 and I had no need to give a counteroffer) he emailed me the contract which I signed and sent back to him along with a deposit.

The day before we left he emailed me with all access codes and all the other pertinent information we would need for our stay.

Arriving at the condo

We read reviews, asked questions, and thoroughly examined pictures of the condo, but even with all that we didn’t know exactly what we were in for.  To our pleasant surprise the place was not only bigger than than pictures made it look but also nicer!

Within a day or two I felt like we had made the condo “ours” and we began to really feel at home with the place. For me, this was exactly what I wanted. I wanted a place to just relax – I didn’t want a non-stop typical toursisty vacation, but I just wanted to chill out.  This was just what the doctor ordered.

homeaway -how to rent a vacation homeQuestions about the Homeaway process

Since we had never used Homeaway, we had a few questions about the process. These were two big questions I had on my mind.  Any other questions you may have can probably be answered on the Homeaway website.

What if the owner runs off with my money?

Homeaway recommends using their payment service called ReservationManager that guarantees 100% of your payment up to $10,000. This was what we did.

What if the place is not as described in the listing?

They offer a basic guarantee that provides up to $1000 in protection if it isn’t as listed. They offer a package that you can pay for that guarantees it up to $10,000 and covers double-bookings, foreclosure, wrongfully withheld security deposits, and more.

A few lessons learned:

  • Off-season rates are a lot better. In our case, renting in the northern half of Florida seems to be off-season in February and is considerably cheaper than the southern half.
  • For a lot of rentals you can use Google Maps to get a streetview of the property and see the surrounding area as well.
  • The earlier you begin your search the better. The best places get booked up quickly, so you will find better options if you book early.

Homeaway video showing how it works


Have you ever rented a Vacation home with Homeaway? How was your experience?


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Beagle May 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm

We rented a house on the lake last year which saved us a lot. It was great. Same with us, we didn’t know what it was going to look like but took a chance based on some reviews and some very positive exchanges with the owners. I unlocked the front door, peered in, and I knew we had a winner, turning around to flash the thumbs up sign to my wife, who was getting the kids out of the car.


Lance@MoneyLife&More May 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I live in the Florida Panhandle and generally the season starts with college spring break at the end of february beginning of march. The season normally dies down when the kids go back to school in the fall and drop off even more in Novemberish I believe.


Joe Plemon May 17, 2012 at 7:01 am

We have never used Homeaway (we need to check them out), but we LOVE renting vacation homes, and have done so many times. We cook nearly all of our meals and figure that vacation food expenses are about a wash because we would be eating at home anyway.


Bob May 18, 2012 at 9:24 am

You know Jenna, I am not sure. It may be a case-by-case basis for each owner – it seems that the owners have a lot of liberty to set their own rules…


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