Boggling though it may be, up to a year or so ago it all worked in a simple, honest and straightforward way. We, the owners, paid the listing site an annual fee in order to showcase our property there: they maintained the site and the software platform; we wrote our copy, created our advert and provided all the information about our holiday home as well as our contact details, then you contacted us directly to find out more or to book. The listing site did what it said on the tin: it listed. End of.
The times they are a-changin' ...
The TripAdvisor group: TripAdvisor itself, Holiday Lettings, Flipkey and Niumba
You pay a booking fee of between 10% and 17%.
You pay a booking fee of between 10% and 15%.
The Expedia group: Homeaway, Owners Direct, Abritel, Fewo-direkt, VRBO and others
Guest commission is being introduced during 2016: you'll pay a booking fee of between 4% and 10%.
As if that's all not bad enough, the 'guest booking fee' is charged by stealth on many sites. Take Holiday Lettings: the guest is provided with a quote for their holiday that doesn't show a breakdown between the amount of the rental (in other words the amount that the owner will receive) and the booking fee paid to the listing site. This site doesn't clearly display the fact that holidaymakers will pay a fee - it's buried in the bowels of theTerms and Conditions, but it's hard to find, not many people will bother to read those to the end, and even then it gives no indication of what percentage the guest will pay. Even owners aren't told that.
What do you get in return? A bottle of champagne? Shares in the company? Guaranteed sun? Er ... no. You get a big fat zilch that you weren't getting before.
How to pay less for your holiday
Cut out the middle man and book directly with the owner.
Search for what you're looking for on Google, but don't give up after the second or third page: individual websites almost always rank lower than those of the mega-corps. Or ... use the listing sites as an information resource to find properties you like the look of, then seek out the owner's website and contact the owner directly.
You may need to put a bit of graft in though: in order to police the payment of the guest booking fee, listing sites are removing all owner contact details from listings - so no website or email address or phone number is shown. And you may not know this, but if you make an enquiry, your contact details are completely hidden from the owner and all contact is filtered by and through the listing site; bookings must be made directly on the listing site, by clicking the 'Book Now ' button. However, it's not difficult to trace the owner's website with a bit of careful detective work - look for clues within the wording of the listing itself, try Googling the name of the property or the village, look carefully at the photos to see if the property name is there or even use Google's image search facility.
Responsible holiday home owners need your help
If we're going to survive though, and not disappear into the mire of 15 million identikit apartments in 100 concrete resorts, we need your help. We hope you'll begin to look at us as the holiday equivalent of the farmers' market, and will choose to buy from us directly rather than from the hypermarket with its 72 brands of butter. Not only will you pay less for your holiday, but you'll be supporting small local businesses at the same time.