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Vacation rentals are a great housing option when planning a vacation, but have you ever considered renting a vacation home the next time you’re planning a birthday or wedding? Vacation rentals can be an ideal alternative to hotel reception venues and banquet halls. Whether you’re looking to plan your event near or far, there are vacation rentals available all over the world for rent, many of which can add a unique charm and special character to your evening.

For instance, in New York City, many residents look to vacation rentals outside of the city when planning their events. Not only does this approach save some green on high city rental rates, but it allows for an exciting event at a private location. In fact, a vacation rental or mansion can make for an incredibly luxurious and exclusive celebration experience. With this in mind, we’re taking a page from some of Hollywood’s finest and noting the trend that celebrities are shaking things up, looking for unique vacation rentals to hold their festivities.

To illustrate, Hollywood starlet and long time party girl, Kate Hudson, recently planned an A-list soiree for her New York Yankee boyfriend, A-Rod’s, birthday on July 25th at a vacation rental home she rented in Westchester County, NY. This exclusive destination was able to provide the right sized venue, privacy and luxurious atmosphere Hudson’s party planners were looking for. The home was the perfect size for the 100 guest roster, which saw the likes of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Decorated with white flowers and candles flickering under the twilight, it was a perfect setting for a truly spectacular birthday bash.

So, for your next big soirée, party like a rockstar, celebrity, or major league ball player, and don’t forget to consider a vacation rental for your venue.

Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe, CA is home to some of the most beautiful skiing trails in the Sierra Nevada’s. The area boasts the largest concentration of ski resorts in North America, with 7 Lake Tahoe resorts to choose from- offering a total of 535 groomed trails and 125 lifts. Many resorts operate complimentary or low cost shuttles around the lake, making the mountains easily accessible.

Though Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas offer a number of hotels and ski lodges, often the best accommodations can be found in personal vacation rentals throughout the area.

Currently on FlipKey there are nearly 600 vacation homes located in the Lake Tahoe area – many featuring helpful guest reviews and tips. Here is what a few recent guests had to say about their Lake Tahoe vacation home experience.

Review of CYHO681 – Lake Tahoe Accommodations

Review of Gold Dust Family Retreat by Accommodation Stations, Inc. 

 

Pristine white powder slopes, breathtaking views, and extreme mountain terrain are just a few of the things that come to mind while visiting one of America’s most vibrant ski havens: Aspen and Snowmass Village, CO. Explore four distinct mountains, each with their own unique steeps, glades, and runs that are all within a close proximity and made easily accessible thanks to free ski shuttles that travel continuously throughout the day.

Though Aspen has been long known as a pricey ski destination for the rich and the famous, there are affordable ways to take advantage of one of the top ski areas in the world. The best lodging accommodations can often be found in personal vacation homes, which offer luxuries that hotels simply can’t; extra space for skis and boards, a personal fireplace and hot tub, a full kitchen, at a price that significantly rivals surrounding hotels. A family of six looking for a two-bedroom hotel suite in Aspen for five days should plan to fork over roughly $4,200 during the month of December, while a mountainside vacation rental with three bedrooms can cost approximately $2,500 for the same length of time.

If your needs might call for a hotel or lodge don’t despair, there are some affordable hotel options as well.
For instance, Aspen Mountain Lodge, in the heart of Aspen, CO, offers an affordable alternative to the majority of surrounding hotels. A three-bedroom suite during peak season, (February through March) will cost guests roughly $1,650 for five days, and is located just minutes from local Aspen shops and restaurants.

Exploring previous guests’ reviews and experiences is a powerful tool in identifying whether travelers are getting a deal or not. One guest titled their review of Aspen Mountain Lodge on TripAdvisorGreat Value in an Expensive Town,” stating that their garden room was comfortable, homey, well furnished- and affordable. The convenient downtown location, as well as the area’s free shuttle made transportation easy they wrote, and the complimentary breakfast was great. In the world of vacation rentals, similar testimonials can be found through FlipKey’s guest reviews. One guest titled their review of Evergreen Condos in Vail, “Great Location and Plenty of Room,” writing that they enjoyed the “large space in Vail Village,” as well as the indoor hot tub, outdoor pool, and the condo’s reasonable price.

Few places can rival Breckenridge, CO and the neighboring towns of Silverthorne, Keystone, and Frisco, CO for its flawless white powder slopes and great dining and shopping venues. Explore Breckenridge Mountain, one of the most popular ski destinations in North America with a summit elevation of 13,000 ft., thirty running lifts, and 155 trails. The fun continues in downtown Breckenridge, where you’ll find chic ski boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and local pubs. Enjoy the city’s Ullr Festival, a weeklong celebration of he mythical Norse god of snow, Ullr, which includes the Main Street Parade and winter sporting events.

Although Breckenridge and outlying areas feature a number of lodges and hotels, the best lodging accommodations can be found in personal vacation homes located throughout the area.

Currently on FlipKey there are nearly 600 vacation rentals located in Breckenridge many featuring verified guest reviews. Here is what a few recent guests had to say about their Breckenridge vacation rental experience.

Review of Park Avenue lofts 306 by Great Western Lodging 

park_ave_lofts_breckenridge

Review of Breckenridge Mountain Village by Peak Management

peak_property_breckenridge


41 Million Trips Planned Avoided This Year

Waiting out an hour delay to take the red-eye from San Francisco to Boston on Sunday, there was no excitement or enthusiasm in the terminal – no one was looking forward to getting on their plane. Yes, all signs indicated that air travel was no longer a luxury affair, but rather a necessary annoyance, like a long bus ride, to get where you’re going.

OK, so it’s the red-eye – no one is ever excited for the red-eye. Well, it appears consumer dissatisfaction and apathy for the airline industry is deeper than that. A recent report from the Travel Industry Association (TIA) estimates that 41 million trips were avoided over the past twelve months at a cost of $26 billion to the U.S. economy. Adding a bit more perspective to this figure:

Roger Dow, President and CEO of TIA said “ . . .more than 100,000 travelers each day are voting with their wallets by choosing to avoid trips.”

We’ve written about airline travel on this blog before, because dissatisfaction with air travel has implications for the vacation rental industry. Less trips means less guests booking accommodations. Although the study did not highlight figures for the vacation rental industry, hotels lost an estimated $6 billion due to these avoided trips in the last twelve months.

Consumer Satisfaction – It’s Personal
Has the core offering of air travel changed that much? Sure, the seats are smaller and security is painful but the main transportation product is the same: fly where you need to go in relative safety. Instead, consumer dissatisfaction grows from the erosion of all the little service touches that made air travel unique. Personally, I miss the small bags of roasted peanuts (food always wins me over).

The personal nature of vacation rentals is the industry’s advantage. With a unique inventory of homes and a highly personal product offering (guests staying in someone’s home) that differentiates itself from other accommodations, vacation rentals capitalize on high consumer satisfaction (generally above 90%) to drive return guests and referrals. As vacation rentals continue to grow as a larger segment of the domestic travel industry, please don’t forget to sweat the small stuff and embrace the personal service touches that make vacation rentals a wonderful experience.

There is a recent trend in the travel industry to make itemization a standard component of the purchasing process. The airline industry is leading the charge, requiring passengers to cough up extra dough for everything from checked baggage to a soda on board.

American, United and US Airways recently announced that they are preparing to begin collecting a service fee of $15 each way for the travelers’ first checked bag and $25 each way for their second.

An email I recently received from United:

United Checked Baggage Fees

In the Vacation Rental industry itemized fees are already common practice, but can often lead to disgruntled guests if not properly communicated. For instance, some property managers in Florida do not offer pool heat as a standard amenity and apply an additional fee if the guests request the pool to be heated. The rationale is quite simple, heating a pool is costly – therefore the managers offer it as an option to save renters money that didn’t feel it necessary to heat the pool. However, consumers often have pre-established expectations of what is “included” in their lodging experience, so despite the logic of itemizing certain services, itemization can lead to confusion and complaints. (Click here to see a recent review of a guest upset with an itemized charge)

Personally I find itemized fees annoying; however, I will admit that I’m getting used to them. As I and the general consumer becomes less sensitive to itemization it provides a cost effective way for vacation rental managers to more efficiently cover certain variable costs/services. To avoid complaints and confusion (see example above) upfront communication of variable fees is necessary… Consumers will never like itemized fees, but as long as they know about them in advance you will avoid upsetting an otherwise happy vacationer.

In January we wrote about Travel Insurance and the details to be aware of before purchasing it. All in all, we determined Travel Insurance to be a useful mechanism to avoid ‘economic’ surprises while on vacation, but we were discouraged by the difficult claim process. In a different, but loosely related story, you may also remember our story on vetting the legitimacy of boat charter operator prior to a trip to Croatia. Having returned from Croatia I would like to revisit both of these stories to shed new light and a new found sense of appreciation for travel insurance.

Lazy WinchBackground

My family chartered a sail boat in Croatia to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. We found an amazing boat through a company called Navicula (www.navicula.hr). Navicula required a bank transfer to reserve the boat and crew. We were hesitant to send so much money over a wire, but followed up on various references and determined it was a legitimate operation.

Despite feeling confident in the company, we choose to take out a travel insurance policy through AIG Travel Guard just in case something went wrong.
Something Went Wrong

As we boarded our flight from Boston to Croatia we received an email from law@navicula.hr explaining that the boat had been damaged in transit and that they were canceling the charter. (Note: This is a true story). Navicula did not help us find an alternative charter, but through some heroic efforts by my sister in-law we were able to find www.lazywinch.com and its brilliant captain Paul Scowen.

The trip was amazing and we will forever be indebted to Paul and his hostess Tea for accommodating us on such short notice. (Read my review on TripAdvisor Forums here).

Paul and Tea
Paul Scowen of Lazywinch.com and hostess ‘Tea’ (Tee-a)

However, the story doesn’t end there. After returning back to the states we discovered Navicula had never refunded our money.

Final Outcome
After several emails and phone calls we finally gave up and called AIG to file our claim. Had we not purchased travel insurance the cost of our trip would have doubled. Thanks to Lazywinch, Captain Paul Scowen and AIG Travel Guard for saving our trip.

Most major airlines and online travel agents (e.g. Orbitz, Expedia) are now offering travel insurance before you complete your vacation plans. For years I have seen these offers, but never found myself compelled to purchase a policy.

A few weeks ago I purchased a “too good to be true” flight from Spirit Airlines and suddenly I found myself in need of added security. Spirit was offering round trip airfares for $0.99. (Note: That’s 99 cents – not dollars). I was skeptical of the offer and wanted to avoid being stranded should my flight be canceled, so I purchased a travel insurance policy from AIG Travel Guard.

AIG Travel Insurance

As luck would have it, I was forced to cancel my travel plans with Spirit Airlines. Although my ticket only cost me a $1, I wanted to test out the range of my insurance policy. “Would my $15 insurance policy cover my $1 flight“?

Summary of my call with AIG:

Nay on the refund. AIG would have refunded the ticket if my change in travel plans were due to a death or some type of disaster. Covered claims usually involve canceled flights or extreme delays (due to weather or maintenance).

In the event you do qualify for a claim you must provide evidence of your flight and the conditions that caused your inconvenience

  • If a flight is canceled you must get the airline to write a note confirming the conditions that lead to the cancellation.
  • If you have a sudden emergency (typically health related) and need to cut your trip short, the insurance company will require medical documents

The general theme is that you need third party documents to successfully submit a travel insurance claim. Obviously AIG can’t just hand out claims, but I have to imagine the last thing the airline wants to do – with 200 screaming passengers looking for a new flight – is to write you a note confirming they have stranded you. This is the catch of any type of travel insurance – everyone needs proof of your inconvenience. We recently wrote about new vacation rental policies that offer protection from falsely advertised homes, but these policies also come with fine print that require proactive leg work on the consumer’s side.

Insurance helps us feel secure with our travel plans, but should you ever purchase a travel insurance policy remember to be proactive. If any thing goes wrong ask for documentation, take pictures and collect contact numbers in case additional follow-up is necessary.

Typically we pick topics for the FlipKey blog based on things we think are important and relevant to the vacation rental industry. This isn’t necessarily one of those times.

Earlier in the week a friend sent me a photo of the top pictures on National Geographic in ’07. The following pic caught my eye (and luckily not my hand).

alligator-smiles

The bad news: This is a real photo.
The good news: They were able to recover the hand and successfully re-attach it to the original owner (not joking).

Ultimately the photo reminded me of the misconceptions between alligators and crocodiles. Florida represents one of the largest vacation rental markets in the world and is also one of the only geographies were both alligators and crocodiles exist.

Typically, when I return from my Florida travels friends and family often ask me if I had any crocodile run-ins. Before I answer “no”, I take the time to explain that Florida’s population of alligators far out numbers the population of crocs. In addition, Florida is only home to saltwater crocodiles which are significantly less aggressive than freshwater crocs found in Africa and Australia. The above picture is of a “Nile Crocodile” in Africa – you will not find this type of croc in Florida.

Alligators are not particularly aggressive creatures. Between 1948 to 2005 there were only 17 recorded “deaths by alligator”. That’s about 0.3 deaths per year. Comparatively, crocodiles have been responsible for 51 recorded deaths between 1990-1994. That’s nearly 13 deaths per year – nearly all of them occurring outside of the U.S. In fact, I could not find a recorded ‘death by crocodile’ in the United States.

Taken from Yahoo Answers, here is a breakdown of additional differences between alligators and crocs:

  • You can’t see an alligator’s teeth when it’s mouth is closed; its lower teeth fit snugly into pits in the upper jaw. In contrast, a crocodile’s lower teeth are always visible.
  • Alligators have a broad snout, while crocodiles have a thinner snout
  • Alligators tend to be grayish black in color, whereas crocodiles have a light tan appearance.
  • Alligators can only be found in the southeastern United States and in some parts of China. Crocodiles can be found all over the world.
  • In the wild, alligators tend to run away. While not exactly wallflowers, they certainly prefer their own company. Some species of crocodiles, on the other hand, have legendary tempers.