A survival guide to DIY holidays
This summer, become your own travel agent and you could save yourself a small fortune on the cost of a holiday.
The big package tour operators - the likes of Thomson and First Choice – and hotel booking sites charge through the nose, especially during the school holidays. So steer clear of them and instead have a look at some of the DIY options such as Owners Direct and Airbnb.
Here, you’ll find privately owned and run accommodation that can usually be snapped up for far less than the hotel rooms, self-catering apartments and villas available through the tour operators.
For example, the results of a quick search at Thomson.co.uk for a one-week stay in a villa with a pool in Cyprus this August included Lena Villas, a three-bedroom property in Paphos region for £4,704. The price was based on four adults and two kids and included return flights from Gatwick (departing Sunday 9 August) and ‘free’ car hire.
However, a virtually identical holiday could be had for more than £1,200 less by booking a villa through OwnersDirect.co.uk and Ryanair flights separately through Opodo. A three-bedroom villa with its own pool in Coral Bay, Paphos, was available for £1,150 a week. With the flights from London Stansted to Paphos at £383.49 per person (including taxes) for our group of six, that all comes to a total of £3,450.94.
This is a whopping £1,253.06 cheaper than the Thomson deal (more than enough to cover the cover the cost of car hire!).
As for Airbnb.co.uk, it comfortably beat Booking.com’s price for a three-night weekend stay in Bath by a respectable £43 – almost enough to pay for two people to enjoy a two-hour session exploring the delights of the Thermae Bath Spa.
Through Airbnb, a private double room in “a designer’s house” in the middle of town could be found for £60 a night. For three nights from Friday 7 August, the total price was £202 – including a £22 service fee. Photos of the room suggested it was of far superior quality than the double room available at the budget Redcar Hotel 10 minutes’ walk from town, available through Booking.com for £245.
The DIY websites, which also include Homestay.com and OwnersDirect’s sister site HomeAway.co.uk, have properties available all over the world (though Homestay operates in the UK only) and appeal as much to holidaymakers as property owners themselves. While tourists can save thousands, as our Cyprus example shows, the owners can make themselves some serious cash – whether they’re renting a room or an entire property.
The booking process for both parties is generally pretty straightforward – usually involving a couple of phone calls to get a feel for each other – and away you go.
However, becoming your own travel agent, or using such a site to advertise your property, is not without risk. So here’s some advice for getting the most out of DIY travel sites.
Make sure you know who you're dealing with
The downside of not booking or letting a property through a big holiday company is that there’s not always someone to hold your hand through the process. This means holidaymakers and property owners often have to interact directly to secure bookings and arrange payment. Some of the DIY websites are better than others in keeping hassle to a minimum.
For example, with Owners Direct, the holidaymaker has to submit an enquiry to the owner via the online form to check availability for exact dates and arrival times. Normally, two numbers will be displayed on the owner’s profile (one should be a landline), and travellers are encouraged to call to speak directly with the owner as a means of verifying their identity.
Once a booking is agreed, it is then typical that a deposit or the full balance (depending on time to booking) is paid via bank transfer. This is very different to the payment options offered by big holiday companies and it’s worth noting there is always a risk of fraud when paying people directly and/or via bank transfer.
With this in mind, Airbnb operates its own payment system, where payment information is collected from guests when they submit a reservation request and available payment methods include credit card and PayPal. If the host accepts the reservation request, the guest is charged at that time.
Hosts are able to set their own cancellation policies, which are declared in their property’s profile, so always check these before you book. Airbnb holds payment until 24 hours after check-in before giving it to the host, which gives both parties time to make sure that everything is as expected.
A spokesperson for Airbnb says: “When communicating with hosts, use our messaging platform. And when paying for a trip, book it directly through Airbnb. That way, your account and your money will be protected.”
There have been instances of Airbnb guests who opt to save money by paying outside of the Airbnb system, being defrauded.
What to do if things go wrong
If you arrive at your accommodation only to be disappointed by the standard of your surroundings, what action you can and should take depends on the nature of the complaint and the site you booked through.
If you believe you have been deliberately misled or things are broken, best practice dictates taking photos or videos to document the problem and to contact the property owner immediately to give them the opportunity to put things right during your stay. If this fails, the website may be able to intervene or offer compensation of its own.
As already mentioned, Airbnb waits 24 hours after check-in before handing over money to hosts so guests have the chance to raise any concerns. While Owners Direct doesn’t offer any form of mediation, guests are encouraged to leave reviews and it does offer compensation of up to £700 per booking in the case of financial loss resulting from fraud.
It also sells an insurance policy at a cost of 2.3% of the total booking charge that covers financial loss resulting from the property being “significantly not as advertised”, the deposit being wrongfully withheld and fraud.
Fraud is an issue when it comes to booking villa holidays in particular and all the DIY sites advise users to make sure they speak to the owner on the landline supplied and never to use money transfer services such as Western Union to send money. Of course, these aren’t failsafe methods to avoid being ripped off so always do as much research on the property and owner as you can before booking.
And if you’re going to be renting out your home, or just a room, don’t forget to inform your insurer otherwise you may not be covered if you need to make a claim. As a general rule, while most insurers will allow you to let out your home on a short-term basis, they usually won’t cover any damage caused, or theft, by your guests.
And bear in mind, how often you let your home can also affect your policy. Some insurers don’t like it when their policyholders let strangers stay “frequently”. However, with few clear definitions of how often constitutes “frequently”, it’s best to check with your insurer before welcoming paying guests.
How to book accommodation
Booking process: Put in your destination and travel dates and search for accommodation.
Use the messaging feature to contact hosts.You can either ‘instant book’; respond to the host’s pre-approval message by clicking the ‘Book It’ button; or click the ‘Request to Book’ button and add your payment details. Once the host has accepted your booking, Airbnb collects the full payment.
Booking fee: 6% to 12% service fee depending on the subtotal of your reservation. As the price of your booking increases, the service fee percentage decreases.
Protection: Payment is only released to the host 24 hours after you’ve arrived at the property. If you have a complaint, you need to contact airbnb within 24 hours of the start of your reservation, supplying photographs and other evidence.
At its discretion, Airbnb may provide a refund or find alternative accommodation.
Booking process: Search the website for a rental and send a message through the site to the host to confirm availability. Phone the owner before submitting payment to check the listing is genuine and to confirm your booking and payment details.
Booking fee: No booking fee
Protection: To protect against internet fraud, Owners
Direct guarantees rental payments for free for up to a maximum of £700.
Support: help.ownersdirect.co.uk (can take at least three days)
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.