Beware of these shocking new vacation rental fees!

vacation rental

When I walked into my Hawaii vacation rental, I collided with a wall of hot, humid air — and an unexpected vacation rental fee.

I scanned the house for a thermostat or air conditioner. I found a small wall unit, but I couldn’t plug it in. It had a lock on it. I called the owner, who said she’d be happy to remove the lock if I paid her an extra $300.

Seriously? Seriously.

Apart from cleaning fees and insurance, vacation rentals used to be one of the last all-inclusive travel products. You could count on utilities, wireless Internet, cable TV and other basic amenities being included.

Not anymore.

“There is nothing more maddening than when your expectations for your vacation are shattered just moments after you arrive,” says Steve Schwab, CEO of Casago, a property management and vacation rental company in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Yes, vacation rental fees are becoming more common

Schwab and other industry experts say experiences like mine are becoming more common. Owners and managers are quietly instituting new fees to offset rising expenses or to meet increasing customer demands. You can easily spot most of these fees before you book. And it’s worth a careful look. Otherwise, you could be on the hook for something like overpriced air conditioning.

The vacation rental owner in Hawaii said she started locking the wall unit after a previous tenant ran the air conditioning constantly, leaving her with a costly utility bill. I assured her that we would only run the AC during the hottest hours of the day. But she wouldn’t release the lock unless I paid the $300. I refused.

For the rest of our stay, we made plans to be out of the house during the early afternoon to escape the oppressive heat. It was a valuable lesson learned. Always — always — find out if air conditioning is included in the price of your rental.

When I checked the property description, there was no mention of the air-conditioning fee. I called the vacation rental site through which I’d booked the house. It quickly refunded $280, the full amount of its commission.

There’s a reason for the new vacation rental fees

Kiedra Hinkle-Tyson, who co-owns vacation rentals in St. Louis and in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, explained the economics of vacation rentals. She says that there is a surcharge for electricity usage at both houses, and three additional fees at her St. Louis house: a cleaning fee, an “extra person” fee and a service fee.

“We have additional fees because our vacation rental companies charge us fees,” she says. “Airbnb charges us 3  percent, and charges us 15 percent. So to offset some of these charges, we pass those charges on to the customer because they are the ones staying and enjoying the home.”

Sam Zuo specializes in Airbnb arbitrage, an emerging business that takes advantage of cost differences between home rental and home sale markets. He manages more than 10 vacation rental properties, and he says fees are a big part of his business. Among his bestsellers: early and late check-ins (at $25 an hour) and items from the minibar, which he stocks with wine.

Zuo says Airbnb has made it easier to add “resort” fees or “management” fees to reservations. “These are one-time fees that hosts can add to their listing for every new reservation,” Zuo says.

How this happened – and what you can do

In the early days of online vacation rentals, the sites charged modest booking fees. But lately, those charges have increased. Last year, for example, the popular vacation rental site HomeAway increased the subscription price that property owners pay to list on its platform by 25 percent, to $499 a year per listing. When I made my last booking on the HomeAway site, it also charged me a $300 “service fee.”

Fees imposed by booking platforms aren’t the only costs cutting into owners’ profits. Daniela Andreevska, the marketing director at Mashvisor, a real estate data analytics company, says many destinations have introduced new taxes on short-term rentals.

“Frequently, vacation rental owners have to pay the same taxes as hotels, in addition to income tax on their rental income as well as other fees,” she says. “This is a new trend as many local authorities are trying to regulate and control the short-term rentals business. Naturally, owners have to increase the nightly rates or add service fees to protect their profit.”

What are your expectations?

Another factor: guests’ expectations. For example, some homes in the Hawaii neighborhood where I rented didn’t have air conditioning. As a visitor from the mainland, I expected it.

“The industry really shouldn’t be headed this way,” says T.J. Clark, co-founder and CEO of TurnKey Vacation Rentals, a national full-service property manager. Certain essential amenities should always be included in the rate. At TurnKey, for example, high-speed WiFi is included in every home. There’s also a washer and dryer or a comparable service on the premises. “In fact, we won’t work with homes that don’t have these capabilities,” Clark says. “We see these items, and many more, as standard amenities for vacation rentals, which guests should expect to be included, not part of an upsell. We’re also not shy to highlight these items that aren’t always free at hotels as benefits for staying at one of our properties over another .”

Here’s how to avoid extra vacation rental fees

Avoiding extra charges takes a little sleuthing. That’s because there’s no standardized way of displaying rental amenities, like a nutrition facts food label. You have to read every line of the property description, including details rendered in “I-can’t-see-this-without-reading-glasses” type, in light gray.

“The best way for renters to know about these fees is to ask,” says Jim Prugh, owner of Lindsborg Vacation Rentals in Lindsborg, Kan. Sometimes, emailing the owner a simple question — “Is everything included?” — will clear up any misunderstandings.

Prugh points out that travelers can also avoid booking fees from Airbnb, HomeAway and by reserving a stay directly with an owner. “I steer my guests, whenever possible, directly to my website,” he says. Typically, that can save you several hundred dollars per rental, depending on the length of the stay, although you also lose having an intermediary help you should something go wrong.

Most important, though, is to read the contract before you agree to pay a deposit. It should describe everything you thought you read in the property description, including any special terms — or conditions about air conditioning.

Posted in The Navigator 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.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

%d bloggers like this: