Home for a Holiday

Vacation rentals offer affordable alternative to hotels

San Diego: house-rental hot spot.

The last time I went to Zion National Park, the biggest decision I had to make was which bed I would sleep in each night in my vacation rental home. That’s because Coyote Ridge (yes, the place even has a name) sleeps 14. It has a 10-person hot tub, gas grill, fireplace, a kitchen that far exceeded any I’ve owned, two satellite TVs and a DVD player. And it opens up to an acre of outdoor space, just seven miles east of Zion (see for yourself at coyoteridgezion.com)

Sure, it may seem a bit excessive for two people, but wait until you hear the cost. We paid just over $180 a night (actually it was $275 a night for its winter rates, but the third night was free). Add to that the fact that we were cooking our own meals instead of going out to eat, not to mention the sheer relaxation value of a luxurious house, rather than a mediocre hotel room—there’s no question that the excess was well worth it.

It was only my second time staying in a vacation rental, but now I don’t want to travel any other way. And I’m not the only one. Options run the gamut—a one-bedroom beachfront cottage in Santa Monica, Calif., a five-bedroom estate in San Diego, high-rise condos on the Las Vegas Strip.

Top Vacation Rental Destinations in the West
According to TripAdvisor.com, in September.

  1. San Francisco
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Lahaina, Hawaii
  4. Palm Springs, Calif.
  5. Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
  6. San Diego
  7. Big Bear Lake, Calif.
  8. Princeville, Hawaii
  9. Los Angeles
  10. Ka-anapali, Hawaii

While it’s long been a popular way of traveling in Europe, vacation rentals are just now starting to pick up in the United States, thanks to the Internet. The vacation rental market represented $24.3 billion in 2007, which is more than one-fifth of all hotel room revenue ($107 billion) and 8 percent of the total U.S. travel market ($289 billion), according to market research group PhoCusWright.

 “Renting a vacation home is simply a better deal than staying in a recreational hotel,” says William May, director of the Vacation Rental Industry Association, based in Seattle. “If you’re going to go to New York on business and stay one or two nights, a hotel is an ideal solution for you. But if you’re going to go someplace for a week or two, let down your hair, relax, renting a private vacation home is a better deal, and I don’t just mean financially.”

While many sites, such as HomeAway.com and VRBO.com are geared toward vacation rentals, other heavy hitters in the travel industry are also beginning to take advantage. Last year, TripAdvisor.com began listing vacation rentals and now has more than 100,000 on its site.

It’s an option that business travelers are using as well as vacationing couples and families looking to stay in the city, country or suburbs. But the most popular rentals, says Hank Hudepohl, director of vacation rentals at TripAdvisor.com, are near the ocean, lakes and mountains.

“Hotel operators don’t have the exclusive on the main attraction, and that main attraction is the geography itself, whether it’s the mountain landscape or the beach landscape or a lake,” Hudepohl says. “That’s where the rentals really tend to thrive and do well.”


Where to look

HomeAway.com: Lists more than 230,000 properties in 120 countries. This site also runs VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), which includes properties listed by more than 140,000 homeowners.

TripAdvisor.com: Lists more than 100,000 verified rentals and has partnered with FlipKey.com to provide property reviews.

DiscoverVacationHomes.com: Powered by the Vacation Rental Managers Association, this site not only connects travelers with vacation rentals but also serves as a consumer resource and guide to the industry.