Your Guide to Booking the Perfect Holiday Cottage
Making happy memories is the most important element of any holiday. Relaxation, sightseeing, time spent with family, great food and intrepid adventure are some of the things we treasure about time spent away from the humdrum. But making sure we experience our holiday to the fullest starts long before we get in the car or board a plane.
Just because you found what appears to be the perfect holiday rental, it doesn’t mean your holiday will be trouble free. When holidays go wrong, it’s usually down to poor research and planning. So how do you avoid being disappointed?
Follow our guide on how to find the perfect holiday home.
Get in early
The annual booking frenzy begins as early as September the previous year, and it’s common to find the best quality rentals getting booked up even earlier by repeat guests. Start looking as early as possible to secure your slot, especially if you are limited as to when you can take your holidays.
Create a wish list
When looking for the ideal location, you need to be sure about exactly what you want, and where you are willing to compromise. It pays to think about the things which are essential first (e.g. wifi, heated pool or ground floor bedroom for Grandad) and make sure you are searching with these in mind. Treating everything as essential though may limit your search and mean you miss out on seeing several near‐perfect properties which may give you the holiday you’re looking for.
Don’t believe everything you read on a listing
Holiday property managers naturally want to make their advertising as appealing as possible to maximise bookings. This doesn’t mean they will be making anything up, but what it does mean is that it’s down to you to check things through before making a booking. Is the property only 1km from the sea, and is the supermarket really just a 5-minute walk? Inconsistent photographs or photos that clearly have been altered could spell trouble. A quick spot of research using Google maps can confirm the accuracy of the listing and highlight potential issues. The bustling pub next door might be bearable for a few days, but the daily noise can become annoying!
Read the reviews
Reviews from previous guests generally give you a decent indication of what you can expect from your stay. There are likely going to be one or two reviews that aren’t 5* but don’t be put off as this is a sign of honest feedback. However, if there’s more than one very negative review, then that is not a good sign.
Also, check out any social media accounts for the rental. This enables you to get a feel for the owner and see comments from previous guests.
Inspect the booking terms and conditions
After scrutinising a listing and deciding it is the place for you, make sure you read the terms and conditions before booking the property. Any holiday rental owner worth their salt should clearly display them or be able to send you the fine print, so you can ensure there won’t be any hidden surprises. The terms and conditions can help you identify extra charges (such as pool heating, security deposit, cleaning fees) or other things you didn’t see in the property description, such as your cleaning obligations or check-in/out times.
Booking terms and conditions can also aid you in the event of a dispute.
Check the cancellation policy
You could be left forfeiting your deposit or even the full amount if you cancel your holiday. Reading the cancellation policy before booking means you know what to expect in the unfortunate event you are unable to travel for your holiday.
Should your book via an agency or with the owner direct?
There are pros and cons to booking through an agency vs a private rental. Booking through a reputable holiday cottage letting agency can offer security as properties have been thoroughly scrutinised to meet a high standard of quality and safety. An agency typically ensures a representative will be on call to sort out any problems, plus there is likely to be a complaints procedure in which you can voice your opinion should you have a problem with the property.
However, private rentals shouldn’t be disregarded as they can also offer everything listed above and are often the cheaper option. Despite this, you should still research and compare prices and the whole package. Not all holiday home owners are equal, some are inexperienced ‘accidental holiday let landlords’.
Look for any additional fees
Holiday rental booking sites often add booking fees when it comes to calculating the final price. These fees can add hundreds to the overall price of your holiday, so check! Fees vary between booking sites, for example:
- Airbnb guest service fee ranges between 0% and 20% of the booking
- HomeAway service fees are between 6-12% for most bookings
- TripAdvisor fees range from 8% to 16%.
Can you book direct for a better deal?
If you find the perfect holiday villa on a booking site, the chances are it’s also available to rent direct from the owner too – usually at a reduced cost as you’ll avoid booking fees. Search for key sentences used in the description, and of course the property name and location. Many properties are also listed with multiple websites/agents who have different prices, so it’s worth shopping around and comparing rates.
Also, keep an eye out for special offers or late deals promoted via social media.
So many people book their holiday without having all of the information they would ideally want. In most instances, this works out for them, but many problems that guests encounter could be prevented with effective communication.
There is no substitute for the peace of mind gained by asking questions or making a simple phone call to the property owner or manager. You can ask questions and get a much more personal and/or reassuring answer, as well as ensuring the owner is genuine and letting them know you are too.
A good agent or owner will be more than happy to share their knowledge and answer any questions you may have, and if they aren’t, then do you really want to stay in their property?
Clarify what’s included
It’s important to clarify what’s included in your rental before you arrive as some holiday homes will endeavour to include all the essentials you’ll need, such as a welcome pack, toiletries etc. However, others will expect you to bring items like your own beach/pool towels.
Don’t get caught out by failing to check the amenities list for essential items like a washing machine. All holiday rentals are not created equal.
Remember that holiday cottage owners are often not large, faceless companies, but individuals who are letting their most valuable material possession to strangers. Owners of popular properties have the luxury of choosing from multiple booking enquiries, with many selecting guests that are likely to be less demanding.
Be polite in your communications. First impressions count and owners are looking for the least amount of hassle possible. By conveying yourself as an easy guest, you are improving your chances of securing the booking.
Also, it’s a good idea to acknowledge email replies so that the owner knows that their replies have reached you.
Is it a bogus rental!
If you have concerns about whether a holiday rental is genuine or a scam, follow this advice.
How NOT to Book a Holiday Cottage
Owners and agents are becoming more adept at filtering out potential problematic guests, and rightly so. Remember, you (a complete stranger) are asking to stay in what is likely to be one of the owner’s most valuable material possessions – their home.
To make sure you have the best chance of getting the dream cottage you desire for the dates you need, here are here are our tips for how NOT to book a holiday cottage:
Automatically expect a discount
Some holidaymakers think they can haggle on price and get a discount when booking a holiday cottage.
Many properties offer a 5-star service, and quite rightly, they will charge a premium for it too. You can’t expect the highest quality for the lowest price. If you are just looking for a cheap holiday rental, then book a cheaper property.
Discounts are at the discretion of property owners/agents. The basic laws of supply and demand apply to holiday lets – there are 52 weeks available in the year, and owners need to maximise booking efficiency and income throughout both high and low season.
The property being empty could be more financially advantageous rather than offering a heavy discount just to get a booking and – making a loss
Many established owners also have the opinion that discounting attracts ‘high maintenance’ guests who don’t respect the property.
If the listing advertises a 5-bedroom property for 10 people, then it sleeps 10 people. Don’t ask the owner if you can bring 14 (as the extra guests will sleep on the settee). Nor can you just turn up with 11 and think “it´s ok, we can just squeeze one more in. The owner may point-blank refuse entry to the property if you try to sneak extra guests in.
In certain areas too, owners must declare each booking and exactly how many people are occupying the property. Over-occupancy can have implications for safety, insurance, licensing, bills, plus wear and tear.
Try to book a family rental for your single-sex group
Similarly, when a listing states the property is for families only, then don’t be tempted to book your single-sex group in and hope for the best. Property owners have every right to refuse to rent their property out for things like hen and stag dos, as the chances that wear and tear will be higher for this kind of stay. Always be honest with the property owner. Many won’t begrudge you asking whether the booking would be okay, but always accept their answer. Just turning up without disclosing the purpose of the trip could result in you being refused entry – not the ideal situation for a best man or maid of honour to be in.
Ask questions that are already answered
Holiday let managers are constantly fielding questions from prospective guests, and the overwhelming majority of them are more than happy to do so. However, make sure you read the entire listing or website before you make contact, as asking questions that are answered already is a huge annoyance. This can save both you and the property manager time, allowing you to make your booking while the property is still available!
Delay with payment
The best rentals get booked up quickly, and until your money is physically in the owner’s bank then there is no contract in place, and the booking is not secured.
If the owner has given you a time frame to pay the deposit, say 48 hours, then we strongly recommend you stick to it if you don’t want to lose your villa to someone who is able to pay quicker – it does happen, business is business.
How to Save Money When Booking Holiday Rentals
If you’re like most holidaymakers today, you probably look for a discount and/or last minute deals when booking your holiday. There are certain ways to approach holiday cottage owners that will increase your chance of getting a discount.
To have the best chance of getting the lowest price:
- Be polite in your communications ‐ ensure the owner knows you’re genuine and respectful. Don’t ever send an enquiry with: ‘what’s your best price’, ‘will you accept £x’, ‘we only have a budget of £x’ or ‘we are pensioners, can we have a discount’. Nothing will irritate an owner more.
- Stay longer ‐ a longer stay may attract a discount as longer stays generally make owners’ lives easier as there is less work involved.
- Fill a gap or book last minute ‐ booking ‘awkward’ dates which the owner is struggling to fill or at the last minute improves your chances of getting a special offer.
- Look for properties that are new to the market ‐ inexperienced owners will be looking to build their bookings and may offer a discount in order to give their property an initial boost.
- Don’t expect a deal in the low season ‐ margins are often low for holiday rentals in the low season (extra heating, wear and tear etc.) so it often doesn’t pay for to discount – unless 1 or more of the above applies.
So there you have it, some sensible advice to increase your chances of landing your ultimate holiday rental rental!
Once your trip is over, don’t forget to leave a detailed review. Both holiday property managers and future guests will certainly thank you for it!
Owners/agencies/guests – Do you have any tips you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below.