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Ask Flipkey

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!

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!

Let's not squabble over timesharesThere’s more to vacation rentals than single family rent-by-owner houses, cabins and cottages. Over the past couple years, FlipKey has been growing rapidly and we have adapted our listing specifications to accept a larger variety of properties, simply because there are so many great vacation rental experiences to choose from. Given the range of listing applications we receive, from intimate B&Bs to properties with many cottages for rent, we sometimes have to step back and ask, “what actually counts as a vacation rental?” In recent months we have begun accepting some more diverse properties. Not only has our inventory grown, but we have also opened up the opportunities for these properties to get high quality bookings from FlipKey and TripAdvisor travelers. Overall, expanding the range of options on FlipKey has been a great success.

But opening the door to new property types has also brought us many questions from homeowners regarding whether their rentals are suitable for listing on FlipKey. If someone comes to us with a 20-room hotel, or a one-week timeshare unit, we still have to turn them away because those types of properties cannot fairly be described as vacation rentals.

Since we get these types of questions so often, I wanted to address the specific guidelines we have in place, and explain the reasoning behind these limitations. This information will help future owners when considering FlipKey as an advertising medium for their property.

Timeshares

Timeshares must be available for at least 6 weeks in one calendar year to qualify as a vacation rental, though consecutive weeks are not mandatory. This policy is a regulation put in place to make it worthwhile for you, the homeowner, to take advantage of FlipKey. If you only advertise a property for one week out of the entire year, then listing on FlipKey would probably not be beneficial for you. If you are listing instead for 6 weeks of the year, then that’s 6 opportunities we have to secure a booking for you and 6 times the amount of money that you can earn from placing your listing. While this policy is sometimes a frustration for timeshare owners who can’t get to their unit at the appointed time, we promise, we do it for you.

Hotels and Resorts

We do not list hotels or resorts on our website because there are plenty of hotel-focused websites out there already. TripAdvisor excels at hotel listings, so we leave hotels to the experts there and list only properties that we at FlipKey know best – vacation rentals. Listing hotels requires attention to an entirely different set of details than vacation rentals because the experiences are worlds apart. Vacation rentals offer all the comforts of home, and as such a much more intimate experience for the traveler. We like to focus on that experience, and provide travelers with access to the best vacation rental accommodations possible.

Bed and Breakfasts

 

Bed and Breakfasts are a new feature on our website, and one we’re really excited about. We now accept B&B’s that have 8 rooms or less because these establishments maintain the intimate experience that our travelers value. In an 8-room B&B, your stay feels more like home and less like a hotel with hundreds of guests. The B&B experience features the comfort of home, along with other amenities like home-cooked breakfast or afternoon tea, which you can’t get with all vacation rentals. Adding B&B’s gives travelers more options when choosing a place to stay.

Still have a question about suitable accommodations? Please don’t hesitate to let us know.

So you’ve decided to take advantage of our free trial. You’ve set-up a new account, but now what?! Here’s a little tutorial for owners who are new to FlipKey, or perhaps for owners who are not yet members of the site, but would be interested in joining. Take a peek below for all of the areas available for customization of your individual property listing, and start rolling in those inquiries!

PhotobucketOnce your account has been activated and listed up on FlipKey and TripAdvisor, owners have a multitude of resources available 24/7 to help maximize your listings:

  • Edit your listing
  • Add new photos
  • Update your calendar
  • Invite guests to leave reviews

All of this functionality is available to you anytime during your free trial and beyond.

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Hello all, and welcome to Ask FlipKey! This is a new bi-monthly column designed to answer commonly asked questions and offer helpful tips and tricks to maximize your FlipKey property listing. My name is Taryn, and here at FlipKey I am an Owner Services Specialist, so who better to advise you on the ins and outs of successfully navigating the world of online vacation rentals?!

On a daily basis we field a lot of the same questions from owners, asking about everything from Marketing statistics, and Why FlipKey?, to more technical questions like What are some ways to make my listing really pop? With that in mind, this column was born to help answer all of those questions in one central place, and hopefully help you find some useful information about your own listing.

Most importantly, if you don’t see your own questions answered, please ask! I’d love to get feedback and input about the column and your experience with the website in general, as we’re always looking for ways to improve the user experience. This column is all for property owners, and what we here at FlipKey can do to make your experience most fruitful and pleasant.

So what can you expect to see in the upcoming posts? Take a peek at the list below – it’s just a sampling of the information we’ve got to share with you! Feel free to add your suggestions in a comment at the bottom of this page.

  • FlipKey Free Trial – Why Not?
  • What’s up with Timeshares? Acceptable Properties on FlipKey and How We Make the Distinction
  • How to Navigate Your FlipKey Property Listing
  • Basic Marketing tips to increase property exposure
  • The Importance of Saying ‘Thank You’ to Your Guests
  • FlipKey vs. the Competition

There you have it – my preliminary game plan for Ask FlipKey. I am so excited to get this column going, and I’m eager to hear your feedback! If you have a question that seems like it would be of common interest for owners, let me know and I’ll add it to the list. If you have any more specific questions, feel free to send those along as well. This will be a bi-weekly column published on Thursdays, so mark your calendars and be sure not to miss it!

Until next time, happy renting, and happy travels! All the best from the FlipKey crew.

While rentals are often cozier and have the added benefit of private amenities, it’s natural to wonder if those comforts come at a higher price. To address all of these questions, our partners at TripAdvisor have created a calculator that helps you compare the costs of renting a vacation home to staying in a hotel. It works by comparing their own database of hundreds of thousands of hotels to FlipKey’s database of over 90,000 vacation homes based on location and number of travelers. Putting your mind (and wallet) at ease.

Is renting a home more economical than a hotel?
Weigh the prices of staying in a home vs. a hotel wherever you decide to travel. We found that a family of 5 could spend 4 nights in Orlando, Florida for $860 less than a hotel. It would cost about $230 per person to stay in a hotel while renting a home would only be around $106 per person for the entire stay. Unlike hotels, in most cases, the more people you bring along the more economical it is to rent a home, which is great for a family vacation.

What are my savings if I cook and dine out?
The calculator will take your dining plans into account when figuring out the cost of your stay. The same family of 5 vacationing for 4 nights in Orlando can save an additional $240 by cooking a few meals at home while still managing to treat themselves to a dinner out. Or cook all of your meals in your private kitchen and stretch your dollars even further.

Wondering where to relax?
Use this tool to compare prices of regions to see what works for you. For example, if you can’t decide between Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, the calculator will give you an estimate of prices at a glance, so choosing is easier. A quick comparison proved that a family of 5 can spend 5 nights on Martha’s Vineyard for $1,900 less than a hotel, while renting a home on the Cape would save $900 over a hotel. You can rest assure that you are getting the best prices, wherever you end up.

The TripAdvisor Calculator is a great resource for anyone looking to plan or budget a vacation. But don’t take our word for it, spend a couple minutes with it and see how much you can save.

Marketing vacation rental properties is more complicated than listing a property on a listing service and waiting for inquiries to come in. In many areas, property managers are competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of properties – not to mention hotels and B&Bs.

Compete released an interesting research report (see below) highlighting a $10 flight promotion by Skybus. Although Airbus has limited reach, you can’t beat a $10 flight. FlipKey sees an opportunity for property managers to reach out to past clients when promotions like this are released. There are several inexpensive email marketing services (ConstantContact, VerticalResponse, etc.) that can help you organize past guests by area of residence. When you see an Airbus deal to your area, email your past guests, let them know of the promotion, point them to an available unit, and watch the bookings come in.

Content about Skybus below is courtesy of Compete


Skybus Airlines, a new low-cost-carrier in the US market, began flying on May 22nd. As part of their business model, Skybus has committed to having at least ten $10 seats available on each of its flights. The airline is launching with routes from its home of Columbus, Ohio to Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, Seattle and others. To keep down costs, add-ons such as checking baggage, priority boarding, and food/beverages are subject to additional fees. Skybus attracted over 800,000 U.S. unique visitors in May 2007, a 120% increase from April. Awareness of Skybus has flourished in the markets the carrier serves. A Skybus.com visitor cross-section by state indicates activity in locations where Skybus flies: Ohio accounts for nearly 40% of skybus.com’s traffic, followed by California (9%), Virginia (5%) and Florida (5%). The distribution shows an effective initial marketing push by the carrier.

Skybus’ $10 fares have succeeded in attracting budget travel seekers. Over a quarter of visitors to the site are clicking to learn about $10 fares and other promotions. In addition to promotional activity, engagement into the site’s booking funnel is strong, with 64% of visitors performing a search and 24% actually selecting a flight from the results. These figures rival many established airline websites.
Breaking into the U.S. airline industry is no small feat, and Skybus has demonstrated a strong first few steps, helped by the interest surrounding its $10 ticket offer. Ohio residents in particular are flocking to the Skybus website in the hopes of finding one of the cheap fares. While the routes serviced by Skybus remain limited, and only a few seats are available at the highly discounted rates, other carriers will need to pay close attention to how consumers respond to this new entrant.

A few weeks ago, I posed a few quick questions to a group of friends.The responses were telling (feel free to play along at home):

Q: Where do you go when you want to book a flight?
A: Responses were plentiful and immediate – travelocity.com, kayak.com, orbitz.com, etc.

Q: Where do you go when you want to rent a car?
A: Responses were plentiful and immediate – budget.com, avis.com, travelocity.com, etc.

Q: Where do you go when you want to rent a vacation home?
A: A few seconds of silence. “Can you do that on expedia?”, “umm, craigslist I guess?”, “google?”

A Tale of Two Studies

Case Study #1: Finding a Flight

I need to go from Bostonto DC for a business trip on Wednesday July 18th. I want to fly out the evening of the 17th, and return first thing in the morning on the 19th.

I search on Orbitz and find this perfect flight:

Example Flight on Orbitz.com

I then search on Travelocity and find the exact same flight (for a $1 difference in price):

Example Flight on Travelocity.com

I could show you all the other travel sites, but I think you get the point. I’m going to find the same thing everywhere, so there isn’t much value in hopping around from site to site. Once I’ve picked my flight, I just click a few buttons, enter a bit of info, and my flight is confirmed. That was easy.

Travel sites aren’t fighting over inventory.They are fighting over features and usability.When that happens, the consumer wins.

Case Study #2: Finding a Vacation Home

Last year I set about to book a lakeside vacation home in Maine for a week in August.

I started at Google with a search for “Maine vacation home”, yielding results that were all over the place.

Now, I’m a picky shopper – I like to see and compare my options, read reviews on the product I’m about to purchase (rent), and generally feel like I got a good deal on something.

Take 1

I finally picked the “perfect” house and e-mailed the owner. The owner responded a few hours later saying “I’m sorry we are booked for that week. “Booked?” But the calendar showed the property as open, both before I sent the e-mail and after I received the owner’s response.

Take 2

I found another nice property, and sent my second inquiry. Two days go by and no response. Who knows if my inquiry even made it to the recipient via the form I filled out. I resubmitted. Still nothing. I guess that’s a no.

Take 3

I find a third place that I didn’t like nearly as much as the first two, but I was tiring of the process. It’s available, the owner responds, great. I fill out the agreement and send them a check. Fast forward to my stay there – I’ll share the details another time, but suffice to say, I would not stay there again.

To recap, all I wanted to do was book a vacation home for some much needed R&R.Instead, I spent the better part of a week dealing with three different people amidst calendar and responsiveness issues, only to end up at a falsely advertised property.

Vacation Homes Need a GDS

Compare the two experiences. The airline industry is a well-oiled machine. The vacation home industry isn’t.

Most sectors of the travel booking industry have been commoditized. The reason for this is the airline industry, as well as most of the travel industry, is all interwoven via Global Distribution Systems (GDS). GDS’s (such as Sabre, Amadeus, et al) maintain large data stores of information about airline flight information, schedules, prices, reservations, etc. So when you search for a flight on Orbitz or Travelocity, what is happening is the site is tapping into one of the Big GDS systems, and you basically end up with the same search results at every site. I know in real-time what my best options are, how much they will cost, and whether the option is truly available or not.

The existing GDS system will not work for vacation homes due to the fragmentation of the marketplace, but the industry needs to begin pursuing a workable global integration system/solution. Currently, listing sites and industry software solutions all work in a bubble creating firewalls of inefficiency. The internet has liberated several verticals from self imposed growth limitation and it’s time we begin discussing the next generation of the vacation rental experience.

We have said this before and we will keep saying it “the vacation market is not a zero sum game”. There are tremendous opportunities for growth but we need to begin opening up solutions and working together to realize the marketplace’s potential.