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Orchard Cottage in open countryside near South Molton in North Devon

Eleven Top Tips for Finding and Booking a Holiday Cottage

Are you booking a holiday cottage?

It's a jungle out there! But, with a little insider knowledge, you can find your dream cottage at a reasonable 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 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

1. Focus

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. There are so many lovely holiday cottages in the UK, and there'll be oodles that'll meet your criteria so focus, focus, focus!

Take full advantage of sites offering good search criteria.

Start 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 grandparents. 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.

However, some sites that advertise independently owned cottages will also charge you a form of booking fees such as VRBO, and TripAdvisor. You can find yourself paying up to 10% more for a property using one of these sites. Check the site's bookings policies first. 

To save money, book directly 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 a cottage's suitability before handing over the deposit. Use sites (such as My Favourite Holiday Cottages) 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.

For example, not all cottage owners will update availability calendars on their directory site listings – but it's a reasonably safe bet that the calendar on their website will be up to date. 

These days many owners sites allow you to book the cottage online then and there. It's a sign of an owner who's pretty up to date with their cottage's management.

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 websites cannot compete with the millions the main agencies invest in their theirs to ensure top page ranking. So, skip page one and head for page two and beyond instead.


Is it the right holiday cottage for you?

3. Location

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 beneficial. 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 why it's usually better to book cottages from their 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 not harm e-mail a few questions to an owner. Their reply's speed and the content will tell you much about the type of owner and the way they are likely to treat their guests.


Making a booking

Higher Mullacott Farm Cottages showing a large garden in bloomDolly's Barn @ Higher Mullacott Cottages. Sleeps 11 on the North Devon Coast

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 two 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 should save you a few pounds as prices inevitably go up.


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 they forget the very idea during the school holidays!


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 where senders haven't checked availability or other key criteria. Some 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 10.00 pm 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. To ensure your enquiry receives a courteous and timely response, include the name of the cottage in which you are interested, along with any specific questions, and 


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 if you are disturbed by the dawn chorus." 


10. Avoid Scams

Ideally, use a site that affords you direct contact with the owners. It enables you to look them up -or check for reviews elsewhere.

Use a cottage's website or a directory site that lists when a property 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 an experience of booking holiday cottages and would like to add any further suggestions to this list, they'll be most welcome. Just e-mail them to me.

Rick Bond is a director of My Favourite Holiday Cottages, a company specialising in making life easier for holiday property owners and their guests. E-mail.  Phone: 01598 710631