How to Avoid Hidden Booking Fees that Big Box Sites Charge

For the past five years we have subscribed to advertise our cottage on both VRBO/Homeaway and TripAdvisor/Flipkey as our main advertising venues for the rental of arli cottage (a.k.a. Art and Linda’s Island Cottage). Last year VRBO/Homeaway was purchased by Expedia and immediately began changing their business profile. The first thing they did was to add a “Service Fee” of up to15% which was added to the total paid by the guest.  We view this to be an extra fee that you should not have to pay as it adds no value for the guest.

VRBO/Homeaway is also attempting to control the entire transaction, communication, etc, removing the “personal touch” of booking directly through an owner.  They have removed the option to contact us directly.  Phone numbers and email addresses of the owner and guest are hidden until after the first payment has been made.  So, if a potential guest has a few questions and wants a phone conversation, the only phone number available for them to see is the toll-free number for VRBO/Homeaway’s “booking assistance”. I guarantee that the person answering the phone knows nothing more about our cottage than what we listed on the home’s description.  And I certainly would expect that the VRBO representative has never been to St Simons Island so would not be able to effectively answer questions about the island either. Thus, VRBO/Homeaway is no longer an advertising or networking venue, in our opinion, as it used to be.  It has just become a booking site with the priority being to drive profits for shareholders.

In light of all these business changes and to begin to put the listing site dependence behind us, Linda and I have created our own new website, We are able to include much more information than there was room for on the “big box listing sites”. You will also find additional information about St Simons Island and the surrounding areas along with pictures, guest reviews, and a frequently updated description of local activities/events and things to do and explore during your vacation on SSI.

By the end of this year (when the renewal date of our subscription expires) we will discontinue our subscription to VRBO/Homeaway so we can maintain our business model of open communication between guests and owners, and more importantly allow guests to avoid booking fees!  Guests booking directly with us will still have the ability to use their credit card to pay securely, very similarly to how they would pay through VRBO/Homeaway.

Regarding our listing on TripAdvisor/Flipkey, they have not yet changed the business model for our subscription with them.  At this time there are no extra fees and they do not attempt to prevent direct communication between us and potential guests.  We will let you know if that changes.  So, at this time while we discourage guests from reserving through VRBO/Homeaway, you still have an option to book through our TripAdvisor/Flipkey listing.  However, booking directly with Linda and I through is another great option.

One final note.  We feel that there is still a use for the “big box listing sites” for guests looking to vacation in a home or condo.  It’s a venue where you can view hundreds of properties, so if the dates you want are unavailable at arli cottage or if you are looking to rent a vacation home somewhere else, you can check the “big box listing sites” to easily find many other properties. However, we suggest that once you find a property that looks good you should leave the “big box booking site” and then do an online search using the name and location of the property.  That way you may be able to find the owner’s website for the property and contact the owner directly, allowing you to avoid the “service fees” and to have your questions answered personally by the owner of the property.

VRBO/Homeaway started out as a great site to advertise arli cottage and we are disappointed that they have changed their business model from a site where people used to matter more than their profits. Through our own web site,, we hope to maintain personal contact with our guests, save our guests unnecessary added fees, and offer more information about SSI to make your vacation at arli cottage even better!