A vacation rental is an ideal choice for summer vacations. You'll get more room for the family, can take advantage of amenities such as full kitchens, and will often enjoy prime locations with beach or mountain scenery.
Brian Sharples, CEO of HomeAway.com, advocates starting your vacation search early. "The traffic for booking summer rentals on our site starts to go up in January [and] remains very strong typically throughout April ... People tend to plan earlier and earlier these days." The site's most popular destinations include Cape Cod, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Destin (Florida), and Key West.
Anne Woodyard, co-owner of Music and Markets Tours, a tour operator offering cultural trips to Europe, owns a vacation home in France. For European rentals, "villas with a pool in a desirable location are snapped up quickly," she says. "I'd suggest booking those five to six months ahead. [The] minimum for summer vacation rentals of any type would be three to four months ahead."
Many travelers wouldn't anticipate finding deals on vacation rentals, but there can be promotions and sales available if you do some legwork. "Have some flexibility in terms of when you can travel," says Sharples. "People who have great homes in great locations have no trouble filling up spring break, Christmas, and August. The average [owner] rents out [their vacation home] 20 weeks if they're doing a good job. In those other 32 weeks, owners are very willing to cut deals and their prices."
He also suggests looking for a last-minute rental. "Go to our sites and look for next week or two weeks [out]," says Sharples. "If time is available, the owner has already conceded that they might not rent that week out. [You] can call and ask if they'll give you a deal, and they're often flexible at the last minute."
And don't discount off-peak areas for summer. "Florida represents one-third of all vacation rentals in the U.S.," Sharples says. "There's been an amazing amount of development and a lot of inventory. Some of the demand had dropped from hurricanes. Florida is a fairly competitive market right now; [there are] some good deals to be had."