July 17 - No Longer on Owners Direct
After a very successful first year with Owners Direct in 2015, and a more disappointing one in 2016, my current subscription has now ended and I have decided not to renew with this much transformed company.
Since being acquired by Expedia and taken under the wing of the US arm of HomeAway (it is slowly rebranding from Owners Direct to HomeAway over time), their business model has changed significantly, to the detriment of both property owners as well as travellers looking for a bargain holiday let. It's making a significantly increased amount of money, but this has been at the expense of taking more from travellers and giving less to property owners, and its not known whether their increased profits can be sustained given the number of property owners now currently making an exodus from the site.
The company have decided that they would like to control bookings, rather than the historic method of simply putting travellers directly in touch with the owners (the clue was in the name!) to arrange holiday bookings and prices/deals. It is now nigh on impossible for travellers to contact the owners directly, or for the owners to know who is attempting to book their holiday lets by establishing a direct dialogue with the prospective guest. In addition, they've added on a surcharge - initially capped at 9.6%, but significant nonetheless, which has now risen to almost double. This can add hundreds of pounds to the price of a holiday for a modest family, and a thousand or more onto large group bookings.
In return, say Owners Direct/Expedia, the traveller receives a 'book with confidence' guarantee which doesn't appear to amount to much more than you'd get by paying using a credit card anyway, and the internet and social media are now littered with horror stories regarding people who have run into serious and expensive problems when trying to invoke this guarantee when things have inevitably gone wrong with their bookings. It's even been featured on Radio 4's You and Yours programme. Most of the issues involve the fact that they use an unregulated third party payment provider to handle the money, who are outside of the jurisdiction of the UK Financial Ombudsman, and therefore it can be very hard to gain official support in the event of financial disputes with Owners Direct/HomeAway.
If you are still using Owners Direct to try and find a great deal for a self catering holiday property online, then be careful, and here's a few tips which could save you money and headaches!
- When initiating a search for potential properties in an area that you are keen on, beware of the misrepresented search results featuring literally hundreds of irrelevant properties that are miles away from the area you are searching on. Owners Direct have introduced these erroneous properties in search listings in order to punish owners who are doing everything they can to resist adding the Owners Direct surcharges, and making sure that their properties are buried at the end of these huge irrelevant listings so that no one will ever spot them. There are two ways around this. Use the Google map on the search page and zoom in on the area you are searching on, with the 'search when I move map' button ticked. This will make most of the erroneous properties go away. Then go to the end of the search list and work backwards. All the owners offering surcharge free pricing are at the end of the list, so you'll find better rated properties at much better prices.
- If you see a property you like on the website then find out as much information as you can from the entry, and then use Google to see if you can find a direct website for the property (like this one). Then make contact with the owner via that website rather than via Owners Direct. I can absolutely guarantee that you'll get a far better price using this method than by enquiring or booking via Owners Direct. It can be hundreds of pounds less in some cases.
- Be aware of the lesser known listing sites which are now doing everything they can to fill the gap left by Owners Direct, by simply listing properties and enabling the traveller to contact the owner directly to negotiate dates and prices. They may take several years to build up a suitable portfolio of properties (and some may fall by the wayside trying), but the more enquiries they get, the more chance they have of succeeding and getting us back to the days when booking your own holiday accommodation could be fun, and great value for money!
Don't take my word for it, spend ten minutes or so on these websites and see for yourself!