How to Book Last-Minute Rentals at Your Vacation Home

    book last-minute rentals late bookingsWhile your goal may be to have all or most of your rentals booked ahead of time, realistically, booking in advance is not always possible. Instead of panicking because of last-minute travelers, try to increase your bookings year-round by targeting these procrastinators.

    Due to the hurried nature of last-minute bookings, many people let their guard down during the screening process. Don't sacrifice this important step just because you're doing things quickly. Careful screening is one area you never want to compromise, even to facilitate a quick booking.

    Who Travels at the Last-Minute?

    Special event travelers Maybe they just got tickets to a sold-out concert in your area, or maybe they just decided at the last minute to attend their cousin Mildred's wedding. Either way, they need accommodations...and fast.

    Weekend getaway seekers Last-minute travelers tend to stay closer to home than their forward-thinking counterparts.
    Budget travelers Especially these days, many travelers are watching the airlines for weekend airfare deals. Since most of these deals don't come up until a week or so in advance, often travelers don't even know where they're headed on Friday until Thursday night.

    How Can You Capture Last-Minute Travelers?

    Include available dates in your headline. A popular way of grabbing last-minute vacationers is to change the headline on your listing. Think of something that would be eye-catching to a potential vacationer looking to rent a vacation home in your area. For example, “May 10-17 Open! Luxury Penthouse Condo w/ 3 Pools, Ocean Views.” If a renter does a search for a vacation home for those particular dates, your property might show up. Even if they are not looking for specific dates, showcasing an available week might make a renter jump on a particular opening.

    Run a “Special Offer” or "Deal" for your open week(s). Another effective method for booking those hard-to-rent weeks or filling a last-minute cancellation is to offer a special. You can run a Special Offer on and or a Deal on that highlights your listing in the search results and includes your home in the Deals sections of the websites. You can also list your offer in your headline. A special offer doesn't have to be a deeply discounted rate. It can be a complimentary dinner at a local restaurant, free attraction tickets or even a welcome gift basket left for renters at your second home upon arrival. Advertise whatever makes your property unique. Be creative!
    Respond quickly to inquiries. When travelers are looking for last-minute accommodations, they don't have much time to wait around for an answer. The best way to grab these late bookings is to respond promptly to your inquiries, whether it's with a quick e-mail or an introductory phone call. Let your guests know that you're available and ready to help them finalize the details of their vacation.

    Be accessible via phone. People who want to book last minute want to book now. Be sure to include your home or cell phone number on your listing — whatever number is best to reach you at. It’s important to be accessible to travelers, especially if you want their bookings.

    Use a coded door lockbox. Likely, you will have already set your lockbox code up for your next guests. To accommodate last-minute travelers, have a back-up code you can give out. This will allow you to take last-minute bookings while minimizing logistical hassles.

    Have your housekeeper clean immediately after each rental. If you have a gap between bookings, you might be inclined to have your housekeeper clean your home closer to when your next guests will check in. But what happens if you get a last-minute booking and your house hasn't been cleaned since the previous guests checked out? We'll tell you what happens — you'll be left scrambling! To ensure a seamless process even for last-minute reservations, be sure your housekeeper cleans immediately after each group departs to avoid this situation altogether.

    Screening and Handling Payment for Last-Minute Bookings?

    When someone calls you today and wants to rent your property tomorrow, here are some suggestions for collecting the funds at the last minute. Keep in mind that all rentals, especially last-minute rentals, must have signed rules and reservation contracts. (If your renters cannot get you a signed contract in time, have them e-mail you saying they've both read and agreed to all of your Terms and Conditions. Of course, then follow up and have them leave the signed version with your housekeeper.)
    Accept credit cards or PayPal .

    Overnight mail secured funds like personal checks. Be leery of anyone who wants to pay more than what you're asking or who wishes to pay by cashier's check or money order.
    Wire transfer the funds directly into your bank account via a bank-to-bank transfer (not to be confused with untraceable wire transfer services like Western Union, which you should avoid).
    Have your housekeeper collect the money for you. Have your housekeeper meet your guests when they arrive. Double-check ahead of time to be sure they understand you expect payment in cash, and just have your housekeeper take their payment off your bill.

    The Bottom Line: Avoid handing out the keys or directions to your home until your guests have paid in full. The key to booking last-minute rentals is to think like a last-minute renter. Consider upcoming dates and what you'd be willing to offer to get those last-minute bookings.

    © Copyright Christine Karpinski 2006