Dreaded fees come to vacation rentals

- Christophe­r Elliott Special for USA TODAY Elliott is a consumer advocate and editor at large for National Geographic Traveler. Contact him at or visit

Rhonda Moret’s vacation rental in Park City, Utah, came with a few surprises.

First, there was a $25 “check-in” fee when she arrived, which, though disclosed in the fine print of her contract, was unexpected. And then there was a mandatory $200 “cleaning ” fee for her unit after she checked out. Neither was part of the original price.

To add insult to injury, a constructi­on crew in a nearby unit woke her at 7 a.m. on her first morning at the mountain resort.

“So much for relaxing with the mountain breeze,” says Moret, a health care marketing consultant who lives in Del Mar, Calif.

Don’t look now, but vacation rental companies are piling on the fees, many of them pure junk. Among the most common: booking fees, change fees, cleaning fees, hot tub fees, parking fees, reservatio­n fees and — everyone’s favorite — “convenienc­e” fees.

Simply put, rental fees are exploding. And there’s a reason why.

“Rental managers only get a commission on the rental part of the transactio­n,” explains An- drew McConnell, the chief executive of VacationFu­tures, an online vacation rental marketplac­e. “But most negotiate that they get to keep 100% of fees. In this way they can make owners think they are getting a great deal with a lower commission, but actually take more of the all-in revenue by shifting more of the revenue to other fees.”

It’s a model that follows the one used by airlines, which quote a low base fare but then add fees for everything from carry-on luggage to seat assignment­s — items that had traditiona­lly been included in the price of a ticket.

These fees seem to be getting worse, although no one formally keeps track of them. Reputable vacation rental companies are resisting the surcharges, but eventually, the lure of easy money may prove too difficult to turn down.

While it’s true that vacation rental owners and managers have to shoulder expenses that other lodging companies like hotels don’t, renters will invariably say there is only one right way to sell a rental: by quoting a price that includes all mandatory fees.

But the vacation rental site recently tested customer pricing preference­s and determined that more guests booked a rental when they saw a low base price with the fees broken out. “Customers actually preferred to have each tax and fee line item listed in the quote,” says Scott Breon, Vacasa’s chief revenue officer.

Of course they do. Time and again, travelers claim they hate surcharges, but then are lured by the product with the lowest price tag, even when the added fees may ultimately make it more expensive. Businesses say they’re simply meeting a demand.

“Fees are the perfect way to alienate your customers,” says Michael Straus, who co-manages a ranch and organic farm in Northern California that can be rented. At the Straus Home Ranch, the fees are simple: a cleaning fee and a refundable security deposit.

That’s in line with the industry’s so-called best practices, which roughly translate into “the thing they ought to be doing.”

“Disclose all fees up front,” says Isaac Gabriel, the president of EZ Resort Vacations, an online timeshare rental marketplac­e, “regardless of the amount.”

Bottom line: as always, buyer beware. “Review the booking policies on the management company’s website, and ask a representa­tive questions about rental cleaning or additional occupancy fees to avoid unnecessar­y and surprising charges,” says Mark McSweeney, executive director of the Vacation Rental Managers Associatio­n.

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RLWPHOTOS, GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O Vacation rental companies are piling on the fees. Among the most common: Booking fees, cleaning fees and parking fees.
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