Ready to book a vacation? Follow these steps and get what you pay for
Posted February 13
Updated February 14
Raleigh, N.C. — Instead of staying in hotels, more people are renting homes and apartments for their getaways from websites like HomeAway, VRBO and AirBnB.
With all the work, planning and potential savings on the line when it comes to booking vacations, it's important to take a couple of extra steps to make sure you get what you pay for.
Jason Stone and his family used a vacation home rental site to book an apartment for a holiday trip to New York. When they arrived, they could not find the apartment.
"[When we arrived] I looked around, it was dark and I was sort of helpless," said Stone. "I wasn't sure what to do." The Stones booked the apartment in October, two months before their trip, and everything was fine until the day before they were supposed to leave.
"We couldn't reach the property manager," said Stone. "We were concerned about things, but I figured it was the holidays and people are busy, so maybe he couldn't get back to me."
When the family arrived in New York but couldn't find their rental home, Stone tried again to call the rental company.
"We weren't getting any information," he said. "I looked down at my phone and saw my battery was running low. I looked at my family, and our bags were on the street, so I just started calling hotels."
Stone is one of many travelers who have complaints about vacation rental sites.
Other people are victims of outright fraud, where scammers hijack listings, impersonate owners and get unsuspecting renters to send money they'll never see again. You can take steps to protect your money and your vacation before you book a rental.
Experts say you should start by having an actual phone conversation with the owner or property manager. Don't just rely on email or texting, which is a mistake the Stones made.
You can also ask questions about the photos you see of the rental – for example, how recent are they? Has anything changed since they were taken? For added protection, verify the photos through a Google image search to make sure the information aligns. Go to Google.com, enter a vacation rental location and click the "images" tab.
You can also ask for the contact information of recent renters to check as references.
Finally, booking with a credit card always offers added protection.
5 On Your Side tracked down the property manager involved in Stone's vacation rental fiasco, and Karim Benz said there was a mix-up with the booking.
Benz said the reservation was not on his calendar, and he was traveling when the Stones arrived in New York. Benz said he's "sorry this happened."
Stone's credit card company reversed the charges and his family ended up enjoying their trip to New York. But Stone said he would follow his initial hunch if he could have a do-over.
"If your gut tells you maybe something's wrong here, given the risk that's involved, I would think about calling it off [and making other arrangements]," he said.
Many booking companies, including the one Stone used, promise to help with alternate accommodations there is a problem.
That didn't immediately work out for the Stones – it appears there was some confusion involving that on both sides.