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Taryn

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Taryn Collins is a FlipKey owner services specialist and vacation rental marketing expert. Her bi-weekly blog, Ask FlipKey, aims to answer the difficult questions that vacation rental owners and managers ask every day. Submit your questions in the comments!

In my family, we are always trying to get creative in the kitchen when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. Often we’ll incorporate less traditional side-dishes into our meal to keep things interesting, but regardless of the accompaniments, there’s always a turkey on the table.

Coincidentally, though we’ve always cooked a turkey, every year it seems we forget exactly how to best cook a turkey – the tips to keep it moist and juicy, how to prepare it for roasting, how to give it the best flavor, and how long it needs to cook for. There are so many pieces to consider when cooking the perfect turkey, it’s almost impossible to remember them all! This year in an attempt to have the best turkey ever, I’ve compiled a list of essential tips and tricks, plus a few fun ideas for proving your turkey finesse, and wowing the entire family.

 Getting Started

Let’s start with the basics. Every turkey is different, and every family’s tastes differ, so you need to know first how to handle and prepare the turkey that’s going to grace your table. If you’re using a frozen turkey, be sure to defrost it completely before starting work with it.

To begin, there are a few options. You can brine your turkey ahead of time, helping it to keep its moisture as it cooks – it’s a simple trick that makes worlds of difference, but can be time consuming. If you’re going to brine, just be sure to plan it out ahead of time – some recipes (like the one above) have you brine overnight!

You can also fill the bird with stuffing, and I usually find that a combination of coarsely chopped veggies (carrots, onions, and celery) works best. You can even tuck chopped fresh herbs and garlic (and maybe a few slabs of butter?!) under the skin of the bird if you’re feeling fancy, which lends great flavor with minimal effort. Just keep in mind – your turkey will cook more evenly if it’s not too densely stuffed, so if you’re stuffing, do so sparingly!

Another fun idea to try when preparing your turkey is to make an edible rack to rest it on. This means you won’t have to worry about the hassle of using (and cleaning) a traditional roasting rack, plus your leftover pan drippings will be enhanced with wonderful veggie flavors, and will be the perfect base for homemade gravy! To make an edible rack, simply stack whole carrots and celery stalks crisscrossed on the bottom of a roasting pan, and lay your turkey on top of that.

Thanksgiving is such a happy time of year – family and food abounds, and there is a warm sense of relaxation and togetherness that settles over those around you. But sometimes as wonderful as it is, it can also be stressful if you’re trying to feed a whole family with differing tastes. Whether the argument be over stuffing or cranberry sauce or pies, it’s hard to suit every individual preference.

And while you can’t always please everyone, you can certainly try! I’m starting today by looking at pies, taking traditional ideas and giving them a new and inspired spin, and also introducing a few more unconventional confections for those less traditional folks who don’t mind something out of the ordinary for a Thanksgiving feast.

We all know the basic Thanksgiving pies – we’ve got apple, pecan and pumpkin. On their own, they can get boring and stale, but there is so much you can do with a simple pie to make it a smashing success (with everyone). The key to a killer pie is to start with a really fantastic pie dough, and build layers of flavor from there. This crust here uses an unconventional ingredient to achieve the perfect flaky pie crust texture – vodka! But trust me, it’s perfect, and can be swapped into any pie recipe for the given crust.

Myth #1: Vacation rentals are expensive

The truth: vacation rentals are actually pretty darn affordable. The per person cost per night is often much lower than you would pay for a cramped hotel room, with the added bonus of privacy, extra space, and often times many extra ammenities. Vacation rentals are actually an extremely affordable way of vacationing and offer many things a hotel can’t, like all the comforts of home.


Myth #2: Vacation rentals are hard to find and hard to book

The truth: A few years ago, this might have been true, but with the introduction and rapid expansion of sites like FlipKey.com, finding a vacation rental property has never been easier. Not only are homes easy to find and compare, but owners are accessible too. With just one simple call or email, you can be in touch with the individual who owns the home you’d like to rent, and together you can work out the terms of your agreement. Couldn’t be any easier than that!

Myth # 3: Vacation rentals don’t have all the amenities and activites available at hotels and resorts

The Truth: On the contrary, vacation rentals often offer more ammenities than hotels, at no added cost. Vacation rentals are typically priced as a package, so if you pick a place with an in-ground swimming pool, full-size pool table, game room, cinema space, chefs kitchen and acres of landscaped gardens and yard – you’re paying the same price as if you’d booked a single hotel room with a private bath and just enough space to stow your suitcase. Imagine all the fun you’ll have!

Myth #4: Vacation rentals aren’t well maintained

The Truth: Typically vacation rentals are second homes for families to enjoy when they’re not being rented, so they are often kept up better than hotels. Owners are invested in maintaining their property and keeping it clean and pristine, so that they can enjoy it as much as their guests. Additionally, many vacation rental owners or managers will offer cleaning services before, during and after your stay, to keep the accommodation in tip-top shape.

Myth #5: Vacation rentals don’t have on-site assistance should I need it

The Truth: Whether a vacation rental property is professionally managed or owner-operated, chances are you’ll always have access to assistance, whether it be an on-site management company, or the 24/7 cell phone number for the owner.

Whenever you’re planning a vacation and booking an accommodation, you want to make sure it’s set-up to be as perfect as it can be. There are naturally many questions associated with the process, but are also many pre-conceived notions, so make sure you do your own research and find out the best option for you. You just might find you’re destined for vacation rental living! And trust me, that’s a good thing.


Vacation Rentals are a great alternative to hotels and resorts when you’re looking for a place to stay on your next vacation. They’re typically less expensive, more personal, more private, more spacious, and boast all the comforts of home. But even though the benefits are many, there are several things to take into consideration before booking a vacation rental.

Today I’ll go over the Top 8 Things to Consider When Booking a Vacation Rental. We’ll cover everything from safety precautions to payment methods to tips on when and where to book. As usual – if you have questions, just ask.

1.) Book Early. In January and February, summer rental bookings begin – especially for waterfront properties. Many regular vacationers book a year in advance, so take that into consideration when making your summer vacation plans. It’s never too early to start looking.

2.) Explore Your Options. First you pick a vacation destination, and then you find a place to stay. When searching for a vacation rental home – comparison shop! Be sure to keep your options open – considering many different rental properties gives you a variety of places to choose from, as well as a variety of prices and available amenities. Looking at comparable properties will give you a good idea of what you can expect from a particular area.

3.) Consider Off-Peak Vacations. The most popular vacation months are typically July and August, so naturally booking a vacation rental during these months will be most expensive. If you plan a trip for late May or early June, you can avoid most of the peak-season fees. And if you can wait until after Labor Day, you’ve got the chance to save up to HALF off your rental price!

4.) Be Your Own Planner. Using a booking agent can tack on a fee of up to 10% on top of the cost of a rental, so use websites like FlipKey to do it yourself, quickly and easily.

5.) Read Guest Reviews. This one is a no-brainer to us here at FlipKey, because reviews are paramount to our property listing experience. But there’s a good reason for that – only past guests can tell you what a rental property is REALLY like – the good, the bad and the ugly! In addition to looking at photos and chatting with the owners, it’s the most surefire way to guarantee that you’re picking a good place to stay.

6.) Ask Questions. Whether booking a property that you’ll stay in for two days or two weeks, you want to make sure that you’ll have all the amenities you want and need available to you. And the only way you’ll know is if you ask. More is better in this case, and owners will be happy to provide information and photos to anyone seriously considering their rental home.

7.) Secure a Contract. Be sure not to send any form of payment to the property owner until you’ve signed a rental contract and agreed to all the specified terms. Also be sure to read through the entire rental agreement before signing to make sure you are as informed about your stay as possible.

8.) Consider Payment Options. Paying by credit card vs. cash or check is the best way to go, because credit card payments (or using a service like PayPal) means it’s a lot easier to retrieve your payment should a rental agreement go south. Avoid paying any type of cash deposit, and consider purchasing travel insurance (something FlipKey now offers).

I hope these tips will get you off to a great start with your rental property shopping, and help you feel equipped to navigate the rental property world. Given all of the necessary facts, tips, and “insider info,” you should be able to snag your dream property come next January!

So far on Ask FlipKey, I’ve covered lots of topics pertinent to the maintenance and success of your FlipKey property listing – everything from Collecting Guest Reviews, to accurately Mapping your property, to entering Rates and Availability information to keep guests up-to-date and informed. These are the big players in determining how successful your listing will be with FlipKey, but often times people ask what else they can do to make their listing “pop.” Below, I’ll outline five quick and easy changes you can make today, so that your property performs to it’s absolute best tomorrow, the day after, and for years into the future.

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1. Listing title
When creating your listing, the first thing you need to think about is the title on your property listing page. With so many property listings on FlipKey, it is important to get creative when showcasing your property, so in a sea of listings a traveler has a reason to choose your property over all the others.  Something simple like “Boston Vacation Home” is boring and not informative, but something like “Chic Boston waterfront, accessible 2-bedroom near attractions” is a catchy title that highlights your property features in only 7 words! Pick and choose you words wisely, and if you’re stuck, look at other listings for inspiration.

2. Essential photos
When adding photos – be sure to have a sufficient number (we recommend at least 8), including the “essential” views. The essentials include exterior photos of the home and any outdoor space (yards, picturesque views, etc.), as well as interior photos of the main living spaces (bedrooms, bathrooms, living/dining rooms, kitchen). These photographs combined with a shining property description will really help tell a story of your property to potential guests, and will help them determine whether they’d like to stay in your home or not.

3. Property description
Another one of the most important components to include is a passionate property description. Before a traveler ever arrives at your home, all they have to go on is what you give them, so you have to make the words you use count! Don’t overwhelm guests with every single detail about your property – give them the highlights, pointing out anything unique or different, and offer to fill them in further should they inquire about a booking.

4. Amenities
Make sure that you are comprehensive when checking the “Amenities” check boxes in your listing description – here you can tell guests everything from what types of scenery they can expect, to the types of “extra’s” your property offers (like a pool table or in-ground swimming pool). After they’ve gotten a feel for your property through your description and pictures, these additions are just the icing on the cake.

5. Other channels
There are also a few things you can do that aren’t FlipKey-related that can increase the exposure that your property gets to potential renters. Things like advertising through your local visitors and tourism bureau, and creating your own website can drive a lot of interest to your property, and that’s interest that you couldn’t necessarily attract online.

With a combination of a few simple online and offline marketing tactics, there is the potential to see a large growth in interest for your property, and increased interest can only mean one thing: increased bookings.

Since our website re-vamp, we have placed a greater emphasis on rental rates, so that travelers can see accurate rates for the specific dates that they are looking to stay in an accommodation. It is now more important than ever for owners to input accurate rate information into their listing because travelers only pursue those opportunities that they know they can afford. Luckily for owners, inputting accurate rate information is a simple process with a powerful outcome: the more interested travelers you have, the more  inquiries you get, and the more bookings they generate.

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On the Rates page, there are several customizable items intended to make the rates displayed as accurate and personalized as possible. The first option you have is to decide on a currency in which the rates will display. There are 14 different currency options, including everything from the US dollar to the Brazilian real to the Indian rupee to the Russian rouble – and everything in between. Once you’ve picked your currency, it’s onto inputting the rates themselves.

On FlipKey, you have the option of adding as many rates as necessary to fully inform guests of how pricing varies throughout the year. There are typically two ways to differentiate rates – by designating the season, or by designating the duration of stay. Some owners choose to have a minimum length of stay, others don’t. How you personalize these options is up to you! Amongst the options when adding a new rate are:

  • Rate name
  • Start date
  • End date
  • Week night rate
  • Weekend night rate
  • Weekly rate
  • Monthly rate
  • Minimum stay

For each new rate you add, you have the option to set any or all of the above limitations, depending on how you operate your property. After you have submitted your desired rates, you also have the option of adding taxes, fees and adjustments that travelers should expect to incur when they stay with you. These fields include:

  • The type of fees (taxes, fees, security deposits)
  • The fee name
  • The description of that fee
  • The basis of the fee (whether it’s a percentage of the rental, fixed rate, etc.)
  • The actual cost
  • Whether this fee is required

This area allows you to lay out exactly the expenses a traveler should expect to incur. And if that’s still not enough, then there is a section for “Additional Rate Info,” where you can highlight additional fee information, discounts, and other details about rates and fees for your property.

After rates are submitted and properties have gone live on the website, one question we often get is – ‘why are my rates showing up in US dollars when I entered them in a different currency?’ The answer is simple: All rates in the search results display in US dollars in order to make the search process easier for travelers. If we had results coming up in 14 different currencies, then it would be nearly impossible to compare prices  from one property to the next. This way, travelers scanning the search results can compare all of the rates in one currency. However, when the traveler clicks through to an individual listing, the rates will show up in the currency of your choice. Neat, right?!

Taryn Collins is a FlipKey owner services specialist and vacation rental marketing expert. Her bi-weekly blog, Ask FlipKey, aims to answer the difficult questions that vacation rental owners and managers ask every day. Submit your questions in the comments!

With so many property owners on FlipKey, you can imagine that we get all sorts of questions on a daily basis – regarding the website, publishing tools, individual property listings, and even whether the weather is nice in Boston (it’s gorgeous today, thanks for asking!).

Recently we updated our mapping function on listings to make it more dynamic, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use. With the changes came many new questions about mapping! People often write in to us mere moments after their property has been put up onto the website asking how to tweak the map, so I wanted to give you all a brief tutorial on how to map your property so that travelers get the right idea about where your rental is located.

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Updating your map is as simple as logging into your account and clicking on the Edit Listing button. Once there, the map is displayed along with a check box with the option to “Show Exact Address.” In order to update the map properly, this box must be checked! Also check the box that says “This Map is Incorrect.”

Once those two boxes are checked, you should see an orange needle (and not an orange circle) indicating the property location. You can move the orange needle to the exact location of your property.  The map will automatically save and re-center your map image online. Now, here’s the trick: do not click the ‘Update Map’ button! Clicking this button reverts the map to automatically plotting your address, and erases all of your manual adjustments. Instead, once you have moved the orange needle to the proper location, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the Save and Continue button.

And that’s that – pretty simple! For best map-editing results, you should edit your map in Firefox or Internet Explorer (Version 6 or higher). If you’re a visual learner, we’ve also got great step by step instructions on how to update your map here.

Taryn Collins is a FlipKey owner services specialist and vacation rental marketing expert. Her bi-weekly blog, Ask FlipKey, aims to answer the difficult questions that vacation rental owners and managers ask every day. Submit your questions in the comments!

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In honor of the birthday of the USA, we asked some of the FlipKey bloggers to share their favorite ways to do July 4th right. If you’re still undecided about your Independence day plans, check out these tips to find a way to celebrate that’s not too far from home.

Suzanne Johnson – Bend, Oregon

Space Needle FireworksI propose freedom from drizzle! Emancipation from precipitation! Independence from the overcoat!

July and August are the two months that the Pacific Northwest, especially along the coast, experience more blue skies than gray skies. It’s absolutely the time to visit Seattle – a gorgeous, lively, high-energy city year-round, even in the rain. But when the skies are dry, it can’t be beat for a long weekend destination over the Fourth.

I’d start on Saturday with a toast to our great country at the Seattle International Beerfest, a magnet event for beer aficionados everywhere. Sunday, July 3rd: What could be more American than a home game for the Mariners? They play the San Diego Padres. Independence day will be spent browsing Pikes Place (the outdoor market) free from cumbersome umbrellas! I’d wrap it up by watching 360 degrees of fireworks from the observation deck of the Space Needle.

Hmm. I might have to really make some reservations, not just talk about this!

Karen Ellery Jones – Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Sanwich Bridge JumpingFunny, I was just thinking it was time to start planning the menu for our annual 4th of July beach dinner!

We celebrate the 4th of July here in Sandwich with a bang: starting with an early morning parade, followed by a brunch. Then we head over to the beach for a sunset dinner, bonfire and fireworks. There’s no better place to watch firework displays from Plymouth to Provincetown and all the beaches in between. It’s simply spectacular!

I remember one year when the kids were young and had just finished learning patriotic songs before school let out. My son sang This Land is Your Land, Battle Hymn of the Republic, America the Beautiful. It was before he became self-conscious, and he belted out those tunes in such a sweet voice – just wish I had videotaped it.

Jay Ferris – Seattle, Washington

Waterfront Blues FestIn the Pacific Northwest, no place does Fourth of July quite as well as Portland, Oregon. Every year, downtown Portland comes alive with an annual Blues Festival of epic proportions: four days packed with over 120 performances on five different stages. You’ll also find impromptu jam sessions erupting across the festival grounds, as well as arts, crafts, games, and food galore.

The festival is located on the McCall Waterfront, a 37-acre park that runs alongside the Willamette River. On July 4th at 10:05pm precisely, a massive fireworks display is set off from a barge in the middle of the river, offering spectators 360 possible degrees of “oohs and ahhs”. Those in the know begin staking out a spot for their blanket on the Waterfront lawn at around 6pm, while those with some serious connections get an unmatched view from atop the roof of a downtown Portland skyscraper.

Taryn Collins – Boston, Massachusetts

tanglewoodThere is no better place to celebrate the fourth of July than in the Northeast – the weather is fine, the beaches are hopping, the farmers markets are in full swing, and everyone seems to be sporting a smile. Backyard barbeques are in abundance, and it seems to be a time when happy people come together to enjoy great food and great company.

Whether it’s indulging in a lobster dinner along the coast, sunning on one of the many gleaming beaches, or taking in the pristine beauty of the Berkshires, there is certainly no shortage of things to do to celebrate Independence Day. This year I’m fortunate enough to be headed to Tanglewood, a part of the Boston Symphonic Orchestra, for a James Taylor concert! If that doesn’t scream New Englander on Independence Day weekend, I sure don’t know what does.

Maps are better than ever!In the past couple of months, our Development Team here at FlipKey has launched a number of new site features, and we are so excited to share them with you! These updates and new features have impacted nearly every aspect of the website, and provide a much improved user experience for the entire vacation rental community – owners, property managers, and travelers.

The most noticeable changes involve site-wide aesthetics and structure. The look and feel of the site has been completely overhauled to make the properties shine. We reorganized property listing pages, removing the tabs that used to hide pertinent information and making it easier to navigate the important information in each listing. The new page layout makes it easier for travelers to evaluate the important property details at first glance.

Less visibly, the team has been working hard to improve search speed and accuracy, and anyone who has searched for a property recently will have noticed that results come back faster than ever.

Another big improvement is the new photo browsing experience, complete with a lightning-quick photo viewer; larger, high-quality images; and support for video. The photo viewer displays thumbnails of all of the available photos, and allows users to click on any photo and see it enlarged up to twice its former size in high quality. The upgrades to the photo section really help to make each listing “pop,” and significantly enhance the look and feel of the listings. If you uploaded smaller images to your listing before, then now is the time to add your most recent, high-res shots to your listing!

 

New Review Summary on FlipKey

We also added a new review summary. Due to the substantial number of reviews collected on individual properties, we saw a need to aggregate review data in a way that would be really helpful to travelers. The new review summary provides visitors with high level breakdowns of feedback left by verified guests to help paint the big picture of guest sentiment. We also added the ability for travelers to mark reviews as “helpful” so that future travelers will be able to see what feedback was most helpful to travelers in the past.

Two of the most recent upgrades to the site included the new and improved mapping function as well as the option to add a video of your property. The new maps show much more detail than before and feature nearby attractions and restaurants local to each property. The map thumbnails can be clicked to show an enlarged map, offering travelers a better feel of the area they might be visiting. The option to add video is just another way for owners to showcase their properties, and really offers travelers the closest experience with the property that they can get without actually coming to visit!

We are always looking to make improvements and additions to our website, so expect that as the months go by, we’ll have more exciting updates to share with you! In the meantime, if you have suggestions, we’d love to hear those as well.

Taryn Collins is a FlipKey owner services specialist and vacation rental marketing expert. Her bi-weekly blog, Ask FlipKey, aims to answer the difficult questions that vacation rental owners and managers ask every day. Submit your questions in the comments!

One of the most important components of creating a successful property listing on FlipKey is collecting guest reviews from past guests. Not only do reviews help describe your property to new guests, but they also influence FlipKey and TripAdvisor property rankings, so when you sign up with FlipKey we strongly encourage you to actively seek out reviews. Even just one review can move your vacation rental towards the top of the list of properties located in your area. Most importantly, travelers really like to hear what other guests have to say about the places they are interested in staying.

A five star review on flipkey

We place so much importance on reviews, in fact, that if you collect just ONE review in the month following the activation of your account, you will receive an additional 30 days of the free trial. Sounds easy, right? We make it easy for both you and your guests to leave a review on your listing, and the extra bit of effort can make all the difference in how much success you experience with FlipKey.com.

Since we do place so much emphasis on reviews, we take extra precautions to be sure that the content published by guests on our site is truthful and accurate. Before a review can be published, both the property owner or manager and FlipKey must confirm that the guest submitting a review actually stayed in that rental. Our review process results in a highly reputable, honest, guest-submitted review base – one of the best in the industry – that is exceedingly helpful for travelers.

One of the most important points regarding our review system is the fact that owners cannot submit their own reviews to their new listings.We find ourselves explaining over and over why a property owner can’t copy the 10 years worth of positive reviews sitting in their personal guestbook, and why we can’t just transfer preexisting reviews from one property listing site to another. Trust us, we see where you’re coming from. We can understand the frustration associated with “starting from scratch” when you build a FlipKey property listing, but we still stand behind our process 100%. We believe that if guests are free to say the best and the worst of every property they’ve visited personally, that honesty will be evident to fellow travelers, and will help rental properties get booked. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that trustworthy reviews lead to more bookings.

To break it down to the bare bones, here are the most important things to remember:

  • Content is 100% guest-submitted – only those who have stayed at a particular property themselves are able to review it
  • Guest reviews can be left by anyone who’s stayed at your property in the past – not just those who’ve found you through FlipKey or TripAdvisor
  • Collecting ONE review in the first 30 days guarantees an extra 30 days free – it’s a win-win for you: one review improves your ranking, and buys you more free time – how can you say no?!

Now get out there and collect some reviews! As always, I’m happy to answer any questions about guest reviews or any other aspect of FlipKey service.

Taryn Collins is a FlipKey owner services specialist and vacation rental marketing expert. Her bi-weekly blog, Ask FlipKey, aims to answer the difficult questions that vacation rental owners and managers ask every day. Submit your questions in the comments!