There is a lot of talk in the tourist industry about "on-line booking", which started with the appearence of websites like AirB&B and Booking.com . Other major brand names soon latched on to this idea and prone it as the future of holiday rentals. On the face of it, it looks a simple and safe way of booking your holiday accommodation. The reality is not quite so good...
The short answer is no. The major brand websites for holiday rentals now propose a system of on-line booking and encourage (or even bully) people to use this facility. Whilst this can offer some simplicity there are some things that you need to bear in mind:
The property owner or agency will be charged a commission by the website, so will generally have increased the prices shown to cover this.
You may be charged a service or booking fee by the website. (This may not appear in the price until the very end when you make your payment, so check carefully.)
This means that the price you will pay can easily be 15% more than with a direct booking.
You will usually have to also pay the breakages deposit at the time of making your reservation.
This means tying up a large amount of money unnecessarily for perhaps 6 months, whilst in many cases of direct booking an unbanked cheque when you arrive is sufficient. Properties on the Vendee-Gites website mostly use the SWIKLY system, in which you just register your card details and there is no amount tied up.
You are dealing with a huge automated system and, as with anything like this, it is not 100% foolproof. From a property owner's point of view, the loss or corruption of data is a significant issue and these systems rely totally on this data for correct availability and accurate prices. Forums abound with people with blocked money and reservation errors. To make a claim, the call-centres are (as usual) difficult to get hold of and often very inefficient.
The website will suggest that is is not wise to make a booking for a property that does not use their on-line system, as they give you a guarantee on your booking. If you read the small print you will see that the extent of this guarantee is in reality rather limited, apart from a major fraud, which is thankfully rare.
Just taking a little normal care to check on details will already avoid getting caught out in most fraud circumstances. For example looking at the address on Google Earth, or doing a search on the property name and/or the owner name.
With on-line booking you may be cut off from direct contact with an owner or agent (to prevent getting round the commission payment), which can be less reassuring. It's always best to have a contact to be able to ask questions and confirm details. Don't hesitate to telephone if you can, as this will put you more at ease with your choice. You may also find that an on-line booking is made through the site without a formal rental contract (which is, after all, legally mandatory in France).
Yes, by all means pay by card, as long as it's a recognised system with a bank or via a well known third party payment provider (like WorldPay, or PayPal. When you pay by card you get automatic purchase protection from your card, which mostly replaces the so-called guarantee of the on-line booking websites.
From the point of view of holiday accommodation suppliers, it is clear that this recent forcing towards on-line booking is mostly just a question of big companies cashing-in on a huge source of income, on the back of both property owners and customers and to the detriment of the holiday market in general. They get it both ways, the owner or agency pays on the booking, and you do as well !
The choice is yours... but if you would prefer dealing directly with the supplier, be it a property owner or a local small agency then here's the tip :
The listings on these big brand websites for any criteria searches have the plain advertisers with no on-line booking at the end of the list (they are penalised for not toeing the line...). So if you prefer contacting and booking direct, start at the end of the list !
Thankfully, some websites are still mostly plain advertising with little or no on-line booking. ChezNous.com is a good example. The properties with on-line booking are clearly marked and the rest have full contact details for the owner or agency.
You can also look for small local agency businesses where you have the benefit of dealing with real people, who know the properties and are easy to contact. For example Vendee-Gites.com. They have over 20 years of experience in holiday rentals in the area, excellent service, personal contact and their complaint rate is virtually zero.
You will note that we have not mentioned the names of "culprit" websites. A quick search on internet will give you a large number of resources dealing with this subject and concerning several well-known brand names...
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