A trend is emerging that shows large online booking companies are charging renters a service fee when booking a vacation rental; TripAdvisor is the worst offender. TripAdvisor has gone all in and is now charging customers a service fee of over 13%!! Following are some ideas on how to avoid TripAdvisor’s disgustingly high service fee.

Ready to book your next holiday? Like the majority of people, you probably start by using your favourite search engine (everybody should use Google!) and begin querying away.

When the results of your query pop up, you first see paid results….that is, advertisements for the keywords you specified.

In example, lets say you type into Google, “Ponce Inlet Vacation Rental” [try it here]. The top results are going to be from big companies like TripAdvisor, AirBNB, VRBO, HomeAway and the likes because they spend huge amounts for that top result.

Further down the result page and after the advertisements, you’ll begin to see “organic” results…those that aren’t paid. Even then, because those big vacation rental websites have massive content, you’ll still mostly see their webpages. Then, after the organic results, more advertisers. The deeper you look…that is, going deeper into the search results beyond page one, you’ll begin seeing the small guys and gals like myself listing their vacation rental.

It’s quite hard to avoid using those big “middleman” companies to find your perfect holiday rental but with a little bit of time and effort, you can sometimes get in direct contact with owner and avoid the service fee being charged.

Two Ideas to Avoid TripAdvisor’s High Fee

  1. Try to contact the owner directly
  2. Search for a listing you are interested in on one of TripAdvisor’s competing websites

1. Contact Owner Directly

This, if possible, is the best way to avoid TripAdvisor’s steep service fee. And, as you can imagine, is the best way to avoid all fees charged by the dominant vacation rental sites.

The trick is actually finding the owners contact information…website, telephone or email. TripAdvisor and like minded websites will scrape all identifying information from their websites and communication.

Earlier this month I listed theCondo on TripAdvisor and received my first inquiry and was stunned by the high service fee being charged. I tried giving the vacationer a heads up about the fee and sent her an email via TripAdvisor’s email system.

Below is the email I received from TripAdvisor when I tried letting a customer know to contact me directly to save some $$:

Email from TripAdvisor

Hello Paul,

Unfortunately we were unable to deliver your message to Brittany xxxxx (name concealed).

There were some contact details or payment instructions in your message such as: an email address, web address, phone number, mention of a competitor, bank account or credit card details. This goes against our terms of use.

All payments for your listing(s) must be taken online through one of our websites: TripAdvisor, Holiday Lettings, FlipKey or Niumba.

Please re-send your message, without any contact details or payment instructions.

You’ll be able to exchange contact details with your guest once the payment has been made through our website.

Best wishes,
The TripAdvisor Team

I ended up sending the quote with the high fee and never heard back from Brittany.

2. Find Listing on a Competing Website

Often, as is the case with theCondo, the same vacation rental will be listed on multiple venues and it’s there where you’ll find a lower fee.

The best example of a company charging a lower service fee is HomeAway/VRBO. In their case, they will charge anywhere from 4% to 9% and in all instances, no more than $499. HomeAway further generates income charging an individual to to list their property their website.

In the case of AirBNB, they actually charge the owner the service fee…not the renter.

Many owners will often pass those costs onto the renter whether it be higher rental rates or surcharge(s). If you’re lucky, some owners just suck it up and call expense a cost of doing business.

It’s in your best financial interest to find the listing you are interested in on a TripAdvisor’s competing website.

Those are the two options as I see them in order for you to avoid the extremely high service fee TripAdvisor charges.

Although circumnavigating the service fee can be cumbersome, if you’re want to save a couple hundred dollars depending on the rental amount, it can be well worth it. Maybe you can take the money saved and go have a meal out!