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Cheap Self-Catering Holidays

Cheap villas and apartments via Airbnb, HomeAway & more

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Jenny | Edited by Martin

Updated August 2018

Book the right way and holiday rental sites let you snap up five-star private accommodation for two-star hotel prices.

This guide shows the top holiday rental booking sites, how to grab late deals and tips to haggle the price down. Plus find out how to protect against fake villas and apartments, and pay safely.

Is a holiday rental right for you?

Whether it's a villa in Vendée, a cottage in Cornwall or an apartment in Amsterdam, mega bargains are available by booking private holiday properties directly from owners. Facilities vary wildly, but most are great for self-catering, and many include pools and barbecues.

These pads aren’t for people who like to be waited on hand and foot – guests usually do their own cleaning and washing up. But if you don’t fancy battling for a sun-lounger each morning, private properties can offer space for groups of friends or families with kids who need to let off steam.

You can slash food costs by cooking up a storm in the kitchen, and cut luggage space if a washing machine’s included.

Hotels vs holiday properties

As a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the bigger the per-person saving. Couples may find hotels sneak ahead of private rentals, though it’s always worth checking - see Cheap Hotels. For families of four or bigger groups, holiday rentals can whup hotels’ bottoms on price.

For example, we found a one-bed apartment for a couple in Biarritz for £800/wk, yet a comparable double hotel room nearby was just £550/wk. However, we found a three-bed Crete villa for £450/wk while a similar quality hotel was £1,560/wk.

In the UK, we spotted a four-bed cottage in the Lake District for £630/wk - with eight people staying, that's £11/night each. A comparable hotel for eight people came out at £1,460/wk.

The more folks you cram in, the better. If guests kip in the living room (check ahead if there are sofa beds), the savings can rocket.

Some inspiration ...

Many MoneySavers swear by holiday rentals. Please add your feedback to the Cheap holiday rentals forum discussion.

We've stayed at wonderful places in Europe and the Caribbean using rental sites and have always been delighted. Barbecues on relaxing evenings with glasses of wine, jump in the pool anytime, do washing as you go. Loads of privacy and space to enjoy yourselves as a family... I love it.

It's also way more cost effective than hotels. You can tell a lot by the effort the owner puts into the advert and reviews from previous renters.

- mrsdee

We stayed in a stunning two-bedroom San Francisco apartment with all mod cons for less than half the price of a decent hotel room.

We also had greater flexibility (rented bikes for several days and stored them in the apartment) and a quiet neighbourhood. We plan to go back to the US later this year and will certainly do the same again.

- uzubairu

I've booked self catering accommodation through holiday rental sites for 10 years and have had some amazingly cheap deals. Now my family have grown up and left home, we go out of season and get even better prices.

The owners we've dealt with have been genuinely lovely and, as it's their personal holiday home you're staying in, don't expect cloned, uninspiring boxes! Highly recommended way to holiday.

- oysterlover

Step 1: Follow the DOs & DON'Ts

It's possible to stay in palatial villas and other holiday homes for paltry prices by booking directly with the owner. You search for properties on holiday rental sites, and pay the owner, rather than a tour operator.

This can mean rock-bottom prices, as you're cutting out the middleman, but there's less protection if things go wrong. So follow our dos and don'ts.

DON'T get tricked into booking a non-existent property

DO pay by credit card for extra safety

DON'T use instant money transfer services, eg, Western Union

DO research the area

DON'T pay top dollar for flights

DO ask for fill-in dates

DON'T forget to check package holidays

DO rent outside peak season to cut costs

DON'T pick a trendy destination if on a budget

DO get a written/emailed agreement

DON'T forget travel insurance

DO check if your EHIC card's valid if going to Europe

DON'T think travel insurance will cover you for fraud

DO self-cater like a pro

Step 2: The top holiday rental sites

Direct booking sites make trawling for holiday rentals a cinch. Use at least three websites to set a target price before you book. Though remember...

Holiday rental sites effectively just list adverts. You're booking directly with the owner.

While incidents are rare, you need your wits about you. Always check the property exists and pay safely. While it is possible to book via agencies, such as VillaSelect, these tend to be pricier, as you're adding a middleman.

Best for global reach*

Powerful site* features more than 1m properties worldwide. The search filters are specific. So if you wanted, you could request only properties with a pool, web access or air-conditioning.

Quick questions:

Does it ever have special offers?

How can I pay?

Is there any extra protection offered?

What is the dispute resolution process?


Top for easy payments


Particularly strong in Europe, Clickstay* lists 37,200 properties. It processes card payments itself, so there's no bank transfer hassle. It also says it'll refund 100% of your money if the property turns out not to exist or be available for your dates.

The catch is credit card payments are unlikely to be covered by Section 75 protection.

Quick questions:

Does it have special offers?

How can I pay?

Is there any extra protection offered?

What is the dispute resolution process?


Best for search options (incl Holiday Lettings)


The holiday rental section on TripAdvisor* collates 800,000 listings from several letting sites including, Holiday Lettings and FlipKey. The majority of those sites' listings are there, but for belt and braces you may want to check those directly too.

You can narrow down options by rating, property type, stay length payment type and more. There are nifty extra views such a map view and a deals page (you need to search by area to see them). As you'd expect, properties come with reviews.

Quick questions:

Does it have special offers?

How can I pay?

Is there any extra protection offered?

What is the dispute resolution process?


Best for peer reviews


You might know Airbnb as a room-rental site, where you stay with a host in their home (see the Cheap Hotels guide). Yet it’s cracking for renting entire properties too.

The site lists a huge 3m homes in over 190 countries (though many of these are spare rooms - it was unable to break down the figures for us). Accommodation includes apartments, villas, castles, boats, tree houses and private islands.

Airbnb has a strong focus on peer reviews, which means you’re less likely to end up with a dud.

The site processes card payments itself, so there's no bank transfer hassle. The catch is credit card payments are unlikely to be covered by Section 75 protection.

Quick questions:

How can I pay?

Is there any extra protection offered?

What is the dispute resolution process?


Fab for UK late deals*

You might be used to using eBay* to grab gadgets or spruce up your wardrobe, but did you know you can use it to rent holiday properties too?

Many property owners use it to offload unsold holiday dates, especially at the last minute. Try searching its travel section, or just search for "holiday cottage" or "villa holiday".

eBay sellers have a feedback rating that acts as a useful guide to whether they've dealt fairly in the past. As a guideline, look for a seller with over 98% positive feedback, and a high feedback score of at least 30.

A big warning. eBay might feel safer than booking direct with the owner. Yet its buyer protection scheme doesn't cover "intangible" products, including holiday properties. Worse, pay by PayPal and you've no Section 75 protection. See Pay The Right Way.

Step 3: Haggle for discounts

Once you've found a property, try calling or emailing the owner to ask if they can drop the price. You're negotiating directly with an owner, so they have complete discretion.

They are more amenable to haggling less than four weeks before the date or at slower times of year, when fewer holidaymakers are after their pad.

You could also try calling or emailing owners of similar properties nearby to see if they can beat the price. Though remember aggressive haggling's usually a mistake, as it annoys them. If you're polite, charming and give the impression you'll be a tidy, responsible guest, you'll get much further.

Don't mention that you've already booked flights, as they will know you're committed to visiting. But do mention if you're a couple or smaller group, as it means less cleaning.

MoneySavers' haggling successes

Need inspiration? Here are some MoneySavers' haggling successes. Please add yours to the Holiday Rentals thread.

The trick is to leave it as late as possible. In the Easter school holidays I got a 5* beachfront apartment at Treyarnon Beach (Cornwall) for £500 instead of £950, simply by leaving it until four days before we wanted to go. I've had similar deals in Northumberland and the Scottish Highlands.

- wigansheryl

Make sure you haggle and definitely don't take the first price they tell you. Most property owners will knock money off.

We saved $1,000 on a three-week rental in the US. The year before last, we got a much bigger place than we expected just by pushing them.

- eslick

Step 4: Ask the right questions

Always pick up the phone and chat to the owner before paying. Use the official number listed on the holiday rental site.

Here are some of the key questions to ask before you hand over your cash. Remember to be polite – they don't have to rent to you. But if they're unhelpful, keep your cash in your wallet.

  • What is included in the price? Check for additional charges.
  • How far is it to the beach, restaurants and supermarket?
  • Is it family-friendly? For example, are pools gated?
  • What cooking equipment is there?
  • How do you get there from the airport or station?
  • Do you supply bed linen, towels and loo roll?
  • When and how do I pick up the keys?
  • Is there a local keyholder who can help us when we arrive?
  • Are there cleaning fees?
  • Does the place have mobile reception/internet access? What's the wi-fi key?
  • Is there a TV or DVD player?
  • Is the property smoking or non-smoking?
  • Is electricity included in the cost? If not, what's a typical weekly bill?
  • Does the owner live nearby, in case of problems?
  • Is a deposit required?
  • Is there a washing machine (can reduce luggage costs as you need less clothes)?
  • Are the beds doubles or twins? Are there cots if you've babies?
  • If there's a swimming pool, is it currently fit for use? (Some are covered in winter months, so in spring or early summer it may not have been serviced.)

Step 5: Pay the right way

Most owners ask for a 25% non-refundable deposit on booking, then the balance four to eight weeks before. We're often talking £1,000s, so pay the right way to protect your cash.

Pay by credit card

Book holiday properties directly and you’ve little protection. Yet pay the owner directly for a holiday property (even overseas) costing £100+, on a credit card and Section 75 laws say the card company's jointly liable with the retailer. Always clear the card in full each month to avoid interest. A booking fee's also likely.

If the holiday home turns out to be non-existent and you can't resolve the issue, ask your card company to sort it. For full help, see the Section 75 guide.

Confusingly, some holiday rental sites have options to process your card payment on their sites and pass the money onto the owner. The downside is if you pay an intermediary for services supplied by someone else, Section 75 credit card protection is unlikely to apply. You may still be covered by the card networks' chargeback schemes though.

For transactions under £100, Visa, Mastercard and Amex offer chargeback schemes. These aren't legal like Section 75, but part of the rules banks abide by to offer these cards. You can claim money back within 120 days of the problem happening. Full details in the Visa, Mastercard and Amex Chargeback guide.

What if they don't accept credit cards?

While a credit card's safest, the trouble is many owners don't have credit card payment facilities. If they don't, think carefully about going ahead. Pay by bank transfer and, frankly, you've zero protection. It's also highly unlikely your travel insurance would cover this type of fraud. Always follow the checklist above to avoid booking a fake property.

If you do pay by bank transfer, never pay money into an account in a country which isn't where the owner told you they lived, or in a different person’s name. Always double-check the account number and sort code of the account you are transferring money into. If money is transferred into the wrong account, you may not be able to get it back.

Never, ever wire money

Alarm bells should ring if you're asked to pay by an instant money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. While you've no protection when you pay by bank transfer, at least these are usually traceable.

Instant money transfer payments cannot be traced at all in cases of fraud, so are highly popular with scammers. Holiday rental websites' guarantees won't cover you if you pay this way.

If someone asks you to pay by MoneyGram or Western Union, be highly suspicious. Never pay this way.

What about PayPal?

There's a misconception that PayPal’s safer, but it's not true. Its buyer protection doesn't cover "intangible" goods or services, which includes holiday home rental.

If you pay by credit card via PayPal, Section 75 protection won't apply, as technically you're not using the card to buy the goods or services, but to charge a PayPal account.

If you do pay by PayPal and use Visa, Mastercard or Amex, one possible route to get your money back is the card networks' chargeback schemes.

Full details in the Visa, Amex & Mastercard Chargeback guide.

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