HOW & WHY BOOK DIRECT?
Booking direct and saving yourself potentially hundreds of dollars is accomplished simply by contacting a property owner or property manager directly instead of through an OTA (Online Travel Agency) such as Homeaway, Airbnb, TripAdvisor or VRBO. An OTA will charge a booking or "service" fee. Generally this is in addition to listing and transaction fees paid by the host. Fees are usually between 12-15% but can be much higher. In order to collect the fee, the OTA must prevent contact between the guest and the host outside of their platforms. Conversations are conducted through the OTA's servers and identifying and contact information is redacted as the communication goes back and forth. It's why you only see your host's first name and when you typed your phone number into your message, it appeared as xxx-xxxx. OTAs will also warn you that contacting the host directly invites fraud and transactions cannot be safe. Even hosts sometimes buy into this.
Here are some tips on finding a host directly, even while using an OTA:
Do not attempt to make initial contact with the owner via the closed email system provided by the OTA. Once initial contact is made, owner can not then move outside the platform. They could risk getting banned from the OTA.
Read the entire listing and look for clues. Sometimes an owner will hide alternative contact methods within his listing. Listing are regularly scoured for such information so it may be difficult to find.
Write down the title of the listing and look for the owner's name, even if it is just a first name. Owners often give their properties a unique name and using a search engine will bring up other listings or maybe even a owner-operated website such as this one. Alternatively, you can copy a small block of text within the listing's description and search for that elsewhere.
Do an image search. Find unique pictures of the property you have an interest in and right click the image to copy the URL.
Go to Google images https://images.google.com/ and click on the small black camera icon in the text box. Paste your image URL and see what you can find.
There are also some no-fee sites available but often these sites do not provide much traffic for the hosts and as such, your choices may be limited. The sites include HomeEscape and Houfy.
Use StaySavr. This browser tool is free and works only with Expedia-owned sites such as VRBO and HomeAway. The tool will display the host's contact information directly over the "Request to Book" button. Since the majority of StaySavr's data was harvested prior to implementation of guest fees it will generally work with the older listings on each site.
Use Google Maps. Many owners and property managers now place themselves on Google Maps and are searchable, often with links to their websites and contact information. On Google Maps, when you zoom in on a region, businesses and their markers will appear. Not getting anything? Zoom in a little more and linger in the search area for a few seconds. You can also type "vacation rental", "cabin", "bed and breakfast", etc., and see even more results. Below is an example of a Google Maps search in the area of our cabin and you can find several cabins very easily (there are actually hundreds within the borders of the image, but owners are learning). You'll find individual rentals such as ours as well as management companies.