Villa owners: VRBO gets cheaper, with a catch

The headline from VRBO’s latest change for owners sounds great: The annual renewal drops to just $349 a year, IF you sign up for online booking. That’s how VRBO will collect its brand new service fee from your guests who complete their booking through VRBO, not through you.

If you reject the new online booking system, the renewal rate still falls to just $499 a year, half what some plans are now.

But here’s the veiled threat in VRBO’s message to owners: Participating, or not participating, in online booking will determine the position of your listing in search results.

The way I read that? Let VRBO hit your guests with a big service fee (4%-10%), or VRBO will bury your listing.  (WATCH THE CEO’s VIDEO)

The sort of good news is a grace period. VRBO will let you add one year under your current plan if you renew by July 11.

VRBO is also adding an owner review of renters feature – I guess so other owners and management companies can see if they’re about to rent to horrible people – and it’s adding a VRBO tab on the Expedia website (Expedia paid $3.9 billion last year to acquire Home Away, VRBO’s owner.)

I really don’t know what to make of all of this. It’s a money grab, and people traveling to St. John already shell out a crap-load to rent a villa, plus 12.5% in hotel taxes to the VI government. A VRBO service fee of 4% to 10% might be too much to ask.

On the other hand, VRBO generates a bucket load of St. John bookings. You can’t really live without them today.

What do you guys think?

14 Replies to “Villa owners: VRBO gets cheaper, with a catch”

  1. I do not like what they are doing one bit. We need to ban together and let Homeaway / vrbo know our dissatisfaction with there new policies.

  2. I haven’t been to St. John since 2009, but I’m now planning a trip for 2017. It seems that villa rental prices are modestly higher, what I’d expect over that time period. But the higher tax, the 4-5% fee many rental agencies now charge, and now the VRBO fee really sting. These charges won’t stop us from coming, but they will impact the level of villa we’ll be able to rent.

  3. From an owner’s standpoint. My Page Views are already down 50% and My Contacts are down 30% since the beginning of 2016 for VRBO. I’m buried so low on the VRBO Cruz Bay page sometimes I can’t find my own properties.

    I receive no credit for keeping the calendar current, responding in an hour and great reviews. Obviously I’m not happy with the money grab by VRBO/Home away. If instead of 4%-9% Service Charge they had instituted 1% or 2% to Guests it may have gone over better. They were great for me the last eight years not so much anymore.

    I recently saw where a Florida company has starred a “For Owners Only” site subscription only. Believe this approach will soon follow as direct competition throughtout the US to VRBO/Home Away.

    On the other hand Flip Key and Airbnb have had a Service Charge to both Guests and Owners for years and as a result I receive very few reservations from them.

    Look at a number of hotels – they now charge $30 to $50/day resort fee.

    I saw this coming about a year ago and started making alternate plans. I now rely less and less on VRBO as a sole source for guest rentals.

    What’s the answer – Wish I knew?

  4. Can some enterprising web developer, or maybe even a non-profit arm of the Tourism folks, start their own version of VRBO – something like “St. John Villa Rentals by Owners” and just bypass the money grabbing Expedia site? My prediction is that savvy St. John visitors will latch on to that quickly.

  5. If You have rented from the person before would you have to go through VRBO or could you call then directly to rent their villa?

  6. I don’t mind the tax so much — the territory is desperate for money like every other municipality. The other grabbing hands are complicating a simple transaction between the villa owner and the folks that want to rent them.

  7. As someone who has been coming to St. John since 1977, and having stay in every conceivable form of abode, I am now on more than likely my last trip using any website other than maybe

    The reason it is becoming way to expensive thru any of the other sites. This years upcoming trip will cost us a great deal in service fees and taxes. the taxes I can deal with, VRBO & it’s parent company Trip Advisor are just trying to get rich.

    I have found in renting from VRBO is if you can go direct with the owner you are better off. Unfortunately for rentals on St. John I have not been able to find you can do that thru VRBO or Homeaway.

    It was a nice way to do business until they were bought out.

    With all of the internet scams out there it is getting harder as a consumer to make sure you have a legit rental you are looking at, thus we are planning next year to just go thru as they can be trusted.

    I feel bad for the owners, they are the ones who will suffer the most.

  8. Thanks for the comment Ron.
    Keep coming to St. John.
    FYI…your initial inquiry through VRBO should go directly to the owner, who can respond directly to you. If you complete the transaction with the owner, and do not complete the booking through VRBO, you should be able to avoid the service fee.

    Also, please consider dealing directly with all of the management companies who are on the ground on St. John (such as ours, and avoid fees and potential calendar booking mistakes.

  9. Ron –

    You make a really good point. A suggestion go to VRBO and pick out some villa names you like. Then just search the web and likely the villa owner has a site and work with you directly. When renting always call the owner and get a feel of comfort with them.

    I just did that with a place I’m renting in Seattle – worked out great.

  10. Personally,I would never rent thru VRBO. I always go thru a reputable management company on island. Our cabin rental company in Hocking Hills,Ohio is listed on VRBO, however, we don’t allow online booking thru them. When we receive inquiries thru VRBO, my email response explains that VRBO is an advertising site only for us and we then direct them to our company web site so they can see all that we have to offer along with online booking. With over 40 cabins to chooses from, VRBO has different rates for Property Managers and it is very expensive so that is how I get around that. It has worked for us for years that way. My online booking system is amazing and the annual fee is to my company, not our guests.

  11. I will never again book through VRBO or the like. It’s easy enough to search villas through the web and then rent directly from the owner. Seems like a great opportunity for an industrious group of owners to create a new booking service without the outrageous fees.

  12. If anyone is interested on St. John, all us VRBOers should come together and pool in for a professional web designer for a new site that is Rent Direct From Owner (RDFO) or similar….we can pool together our ideas for the creation. I have been VRBO for 4 years…and like others…b/c I don’t want the bookit option, I am buried at the bottom of the list…the new “service” fee is a real turn off to everyone…most of my renters are now repeats that I give a discount b/c of the 12.5% tax and ones that inquire through VRBO I respond in the VRBO “dashboard” to keep my rating up, but use their personal email to actually book so they avoid the service fee. I would prefer a stj rental web site with no “service” fees that can be trusted. This can be done!!

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