A new trick for finding the best vacation rental

best vacation rental

Finding the best vacation rental is a lot harder than it looks — unless you use a new feature called a Trip Board.

Decisions about vacation rentals are usually complex and collaborative. It’s you and your significant other, kids, grandparents, maybe even a travel agent. And in the past, that meant emailing or texting a lot of property descriptions to a group that, if it’s like my family, never agrees about much of anything.

And then Vrbo released its new Trip Boards in March, which allowed vacation rental guests to tag, share and vote on their favorite properties.

I’ve had a chance to use Trip Boards for several rentals, and it’s a game changer. I spend about 350 days a year on the road with my three school-age children, and we live in vacation rentals. We’ve stayed in all kinds of places, from a million-dollar mansion in Massachusetts to temporary housing without air conditioning on Hawaii’s Big Island. Along the way, we’ve learned an important lesson about booking with a trusted agent like Vrbo, HomeAway or TurnKey.

The market for vacation rentals is growing at a breathtaking rate of 26% a year and is now worth an estimated $168 billion. Put differently, there are a lot of folks in the same position as I am: trying to determine which rental is the best one for them. Vrbo’s Trip Boards show that in such a competitive industry, it’s not just the technology you provide your owners and managers that gives you an edge. Sometimes, helping consumers can help you, too.

How Trip Boards help you find the best vacation rentals

Trip Boards are basically a collection of homes and condos that you like. You can share a board with a friend or family member, with options to either collaborate — in other words, to make changes or add to the Trip Board — or to “view only.”

When you log into your Vrbo account, you’ll see a little heart-shaped icon and a “Trip Boards” option. Clicking on it will generate a blank page with an option to create a new Trip Board.

I found the best way to create a board is to begin searching for properties. When you’ve identified a home you like, click the heart icon on the right, next to the “search” function. That automatically adds the property to your Trip Board.

In the past, sharing properties required that you send a slew of mile-long URLs to your traveling companions, or that you use a collaborative, cloud-based system like Google Docs. Neither was very elegant and, speaking from personal experience, the information sometimes got lost or overlooked.

In the end, my three kids and I would huddle around a single computer, arguing about the best choices.

You can also vote on a property you like (although there’s no option to “dislike”) and leave a comment on a rental. You can see your collection of properties on a single page and can tell which ones got the most votes.

Using Trip Boards is dead simple. As long as you look for the heart icon when you sign in, you can use this feature the next time you shop for the best vacation rental.

How I used the Trip Board feature for my latest stay

I’m staying in a Vrbo home rental in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the moment. It’s a modest midcentury three-bedroom home in the Southwest Village neighborhood. How we got here is quite a story.

I started my search for a property about two weeks before our arrival. That’s considered a last-minute reservation in the vacation rental business, but we tend to do everything at the last minute.

I knew in advance that my 16-year-old and 14-year-old sons wanted to participate. My 12-year-old daughter wasn’t into it, which was fine. She has a veto and she knows it.

I found half a dozen properties that looked interesting, were in our price range, and were available for the month. After I “hearted” them they showed up on my Trip Board. Then I shared the Trip Board with the boys.

They reviewed the selections and added a few of their own. They also eliminated a few of the properties for reasons ranging from location to missing amenities. We ended up with about eight homes or apartments that were excellent candidates.

Next, we voted.

Vrbo’s Trip Boards allow you to “like” as many properties as you want, so we ended up with three leading rentals. Three is perfect, because the next phase of our booking is the negotiation process — but that’s a topic for another story.

Vrbo also sends you an email to remind you about your Trip Board, with helpful images of the apartments, condos and homes you selected.

Thanks to the new Trip Boards, we found the perfect rental at an affordable rate. I’m not sure if it would have been possible without this technology. Think about the logistics of emailing links and property descriptions for maybe two dozen finalists. That’s why we inevitably used to end up crowding around one computer for the final selection process.

What’s happening behind the scenes when you create Trip Board?

I asked Matt Stanley, a product manager at Vrbo, for a few details about Trip Boards. He says since March, users have made more than 2 million Trip Boards in their efforts to find the best vacation rental.

“Since creators can invite others to see and collaborate on their Trip Boards, the number of boards being used is much higher,” he told me.

Some of the most sophisticated technology in the vacation rental space has been reserved for owners and hosts. For example, hosts have access to sophisticated programs that predict demand for rooms and list average rates for their area. So why did Vrbo decide to deploy advanced technology to benefit its guests?

“The process of planning a trip with multiple people and choosing the right property that suits everyone’s needs can be challenging and time-consuming,” he says. “We created Trip Boards to simplify and take the stress out of the planning process.”

The company wanted planning for a vacation to be “easier and also more fun,” he says. “Vrbo wants travelers to be as excited about planning a trip together as going on the trip itself.”

Vrbo’s Trip Boards are a lot more flexible than I even knew. You can opt to receive push notifications to alert you whenever someone has voted, commented, or added a property to a Trip Board, says Stanley.

I asked him about some of the features that are conspicuously missing, like “dislike” button. It’s under consideration, he told me.

“We currently offer travelers a way to vote on properties they like, and collaborators can express what they like and dislike about each property using comments. We’ve seen in lab testing that there are more features we could provide to enhance the Trip Boards experience and we are evaluating which ones to introduce,” he says.

And the best part? When it comes to sharing a view-only link to a Trip Board, there are no limits. In other words, I could share my next Trip Board for a rental in Houston with all 25,000 readers of my daily email newsletter and Vrbo’s server won’t choke up.

But really, guys, I wouldn’t do that to you.

Posted in Smart Consumer Tagged ,

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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