How retirees can book a last-minute winter getaway
In February, even snow lovers who spend the winter in cold climates doubt that they should fly south. If you’re a last-minute snowbird, you can always find a warm winter nest for the right price and on the right conditions, provided you’re flexible.
Retirees these days face more competition from travelers of all ages who can work remotely, says Nola Lu, spokesperson for VRBO.com, a vacation home listings website by owners. For example, demand for VRBO-listed properties in snowbird hotspots is up more than 20% over 2019. Florida still reigns supreme as a top destination for snowbirds, but winter bookings are coming in early, which now leaves you with meager choices in the Sunshine State. You can find a better selection of vacation rentals in places like Flagstaff, Arizona; Galveston, TX; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.
Plan a longer stay
During snowbird season, many owners set a minimum stay of at least one month. The longer you stay, the better the rate. For example, rent for a two-bedroom Victorian cottage in Galveston for this month of March is regularly $289 per night, but a one-month stay gets a 25% discount. In addition to the rent, you will pay additional costs as well as state and local taxes. In Tucson, Kimber Leefers, an agent of Holiday rentalssays you can get a lower fare if you’re willing to travel in April or May, when you can still avoid the last season of snow or mud back home.
Cast a wide net
Search extensively on sites such as Airbnb.com, Vacasa.com and VRBO.com. Try an undated search by location to get the best selection, including the cheapest options, says Lu. Also contact a local vacation rental property manager or real estate agent, who can suggest communities that fit your budget and interests. The rates offered by a local expert should be competitive with those of national search sites, or even better. Ask about last minute cancellations or new registrations, which may be offered at a discount. Do not hesitate to make a counter-offer with a lower rate.
Read the fine print
The “Terms and Conditions” constitute your rental agreement. Read it carefully to find out if utilities, Wi-Fi, parking, and access to community amenities, like a pool, are included. As a general rule, part of the total cost is due when you reserve the property and the balance before your arrival.
Cancellation policies are often tied to how much notice you give. For example, you can get a 100% refund if you cancel at least 60 days before check-in, 50% if it’s a month before, and no refund with less than 30 days notice. The policy may apply even if you cancel for travel restrictions related to a pandemic, natural disasters or illness. To protect yourself, buy travel insurance; some policies may cover cancellation for any reason, Lu says.
Emergencies may also occur at home during your stay. Whether you’re renting from a private host or a professional management company, find out who to contact in case you need maintenance, says Shaun Greer, vice president of sales and marketing at Vacasa.com. If you’re worried about breaking or damaging something during your stay, some properties have a prepaid fee for a damage waiver — say, $79 for damages up to $3,000 — or an equivalent amount of security deposit.
What happens if the specific property you have booked has been misrepresented or becomes unavailable or uninhabitable? Property managers will usually try to give you a similar or better property at the same rate or offer you another accommodation at a lower rate and refund you the difference. The terms and conditions should state what happens if the replacement property is unacceptable to you.
Beware of scams
If an online ad on classified sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace offers super cheap rates on high-end vacation properties and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t rush into a decision. Obtain a copy of the rental agreement before sending a deposit. Verify that the property address exists. If the rental is at a resort, call to check the listing. Never transfer money. Instead, pay with a credit card, which offers some payment protection.