Booking a holiday cottage?
It’s a jungle out there! But, with a little insider knowledge, you can find your dream cottage at a good price and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing your holiday is safe and secure.
We’ve compiled this list of eleven handy tips to help you get what you really, really want with less hassle and even less expense. Use it when searching My Favourite Holiday Cottages for your dream holiday home, as well as other sites we’re also happy to recommend as purveyors of good practice like us.
Set Your Search Criteria
Set your search criteria. Don’t get overwhelmed by casting your net too widely. You’ll spend hours searching for a perfect cottage if you do. Set up too wide a search and you risk wasting your lunch break trawling through pages of wholly unsuitable cottages and losing the will to live. To be honest, there are so many lovely holiday cottages in the UK, there’ll be oodles that’ll meet your criteria so focus, focus, focus!
Take full advantage of sites offering good search criteria
Start off with two sets of criteria: Essential and desirable. Essential requirements will cover the number of people, location and other needs such as pets and ground floor bedrooms for the grand parents. Desirable requirements include such things as a sea view, hot tub, WiFi or a dishwasher. Most sites will allow you to specify your needs. If you don’t find what you want, then gradually relax your criteria. Maybe it doesn’t really need a tennis court if it means giving up a view of the beach.
As well as MFHC you may wish to search other ‘agency’ or ‘directory’ sites. Agency sites feature holiday properties the agency manages on behalf of an owner. Directory sites feature properties directly advertised by their owners. My Favourite Holiday Cottages (MFHC) is a directory site. You’ll find other directory sites mentioned in this article.
2. Save money: Book Direct with the owner
The benefits of using an agency are that their sites are easier to find on the Internet and most will offer a wide range of choices. But remember, you may be paying a premium as the prices will include an agency’s commission and often a booking fee.
To save money, book direct with the owner and you’ll get a better cottage for your money. An owner’s website allows you to find out a lot more about the suitability of a cottage before handing over the deposit. Use sites that provide clear links to a holiday cottage’s own website to discover all there is to know about it. So much better than relying upon the limited information in the advert.
Two examples of popular sites with web links to a cottage’s own website.
For example, not all cottage owners will update availability calendars on their directory site listings – but it’s a fairly safe bet that the calendar on their website will be up to date. These days many owners sites allow you to book the cottage on line then and there. It’s a sign of an owner who’s pretty up to date with the management of their cottage.
If you like the fun of the hunt, then the further down the pages you look on search engines the more you’re likely to find individual cottages. Their sites cannot compete with the millions the main agencies invest in their sites to ensure top page ranking. So, skip page one and head for page five or beyond instead.
Is it the right holiday cottage for you?
Check Google Street View to see what is around a cottage. If the property doesn’t tell you exactly where it is or doesn’t display photos showing what lies immediately beyond the garden border then Street View is very helpful. If, for example, you want to check that an otherwise idyllic Pennine cottage doesn’t border the M62, then this is how you find out.
You can do this very easily on MFHC using the Map Search function. Just click and drag the ‘person’ icon to the cottage location and Street View will open automatically.
4. Clarify what’s included.
Does a cottage have the essential facilities you might take for granted? Are they all included in the price? These days it’s rare to find cottages where you have a slot meter for your electricity, or need to bring your own bed linen or T-towels, but they do exist. Don’t assume - check. This is often why it’s better to book cottages from their own website rather than from a directory or agency advert, as agencies as much about a property, usually no more than the information listed. It also does no harm to e-mail a few questions to an owner. The speed and content of their reply will tell you much about the type of owner and the way they are likely to treat their guests.
Making a booking
5. Last minute discount opportunities
The standard rule of thumb is that many holiday cottage owners will offer a late booking discount of 10-15% if there are less than 2 weeks to go before the date of arrival. You can ask, but don’t expect to be offered a discount much further in advance. That’s because many bookings are made 4-6 weeks before the date of arrival, and owners are mindful of this. ‘Last minute‘ pretty much means what it says.
Higher Mullacott Farm Cottages near Ilfracombe offer a 10% Earlybird discount to returning guests
6. Early Bird Discounts
More owners are offering ‘earlybird’ discounts to encourage returning guests. If you fancy returning to a holiday cottage next year, check to see if you can get a discount if you rebook straight away. Alternatively, book well in advance before owners have decided upon next year’s rates. Rather than lose the booking, many will let you have the cottage for this year’s rates which, as prices inevitably go up, should save you a few pounds.
7. Arrival/Departure Dates - Be Flexible
If possible, ensure you can start your holiday on a Friday, Saturday or even a Sunday. It’s darned frustrating to find the perfect cottage only to lose it because you can’t arrive on a Friday evening. Outside the main seasons, owners will be more flexible about changeover days but during the school holidays, forget the very idea!
8. Write a Personalised Enquiry
This may sound like a strange tip, but these days owners receive so many generic enquiries from sites that allow you to send the same message to dozens of properties at the touch of a button that owners of the more desirable cottages don’t even bother to respond, as they can see they’ll be wasting their time. It’s all too easy to spot this type of enquiry. An owner sitting at their computer at 10.00pm looking at a list of 15 enquiries will inevitably be selective about the ones they’re going to invest time in responding.
The content of your enquiry should make it clear that it cannot have been forwarded to a host of other property owners. Include the name of the cottage you’re enquiring about, along with any specific questions, and your enquiry will be treated to a courteous and timely response.
Peace of mind
9. Read the Booking Terms & Conditions
These should always be accessible on websites for you to read before you book. And if you think that reading the small print is beyond tedium, think again, you may find some interesting little gems there, such as “Refunds will not be offered in the event that you are disturbed by the dawn chorus.” Honestly!
10. Avoid Scams
Use a cottage’s website or a directory site that lists when a cottage was first advertised on the site. As advertising scams are revealed when the first guest arrives, an advert that has been listed for more than 6-8 months is likely to be the real McCoy.
Trustworthy sites will show for how long a cottage has been advertised.
Individual websites take more work to set up and their owners more easily traceable so are less likely to be used by scammers. However do phone the owner if you’re unsure.
11. Get Travel Insurance
An owner is under no obligation to refund you if, for any reason, you fail to turn up, e.g. due to bad weather. Many will rightly state this in their terms and conditions, but best to make sure you are covered. Agency sites will often offer policies, but, before signing on the dotted line, check they will refund the full cost of the rental and the basis on which they’ll do so.
If you’ve had experience of booking holiday cottages and would like to add any further suggestions to this list, they’ll be most welcome. Just email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rick Bond is a director of My Holiday Marketing, a company specialising in helping to make life easier for holiday property owners and their guests.
Phone: 0845 680 5431