Skiing is one of the best sports in the world, and huge numbers of us look forward to our ski vacation every year, whether we manage just the one trip, two, or even three or more, the excitement of arranging that vacation to a ski resort never goes away. You pick the resort, the dates, arrange everything with family and maybe some friends and you look forward to getting out there on the slopes.
But just because it is exciting does not mean any of us should just blindly walk into overpaying for our vacations. Getting the best value from your lodging is undoubtedly a great way to save money on ski vacations. Considering a rental property instead of a hotel will usually give you more space as well as the ability to save significant money on meals. If you are planning on using VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) property for your next ski trip (and why wouldn’t you?) there are some things you can do to get the best deal possible.
What to do Before you Book Your Ski Vacation Rental
The first you can do to get the best VRBO deal is to book early. The best values are often those booked well in advance. So, if you can plan you trip 3 months, 6 months or even longer in advance, you will be able to get the very best deal possible on your accommodation. The theme we see on AirBnB is that while prices might not go up very much closer to the date, the inventory of good rentals goes away. That means all that is left is the stuff that might be a little overpriced.
Speaking of timing, another thing you can do if planning ahead is to avoid peak weeks. You can usually save considerable money on your accommodation by avoiding the most popular times, and you will enjoy the added bonus of there being fewer people on the slopes as well! When are peak times? Generally speaking, they are the Christmas and New Years weeks, and Presidents Day weekend. Not quite as peak, but still higher, is MLK Day weekend along with popular spring break weeks in March.
There are other things you can do as well, or instead of that, if you have decided to go at short notice, getting a good deal all revolves around the ability to be flexible. While you may have an image in your mind of the perfect location for your stay, on the mountain so you can ski right back to your door and so on. However, by widening your range of vacation dates and looking just a little further out from your first choice of location, you can often find huge savings. With most resorts now offering good transport to and from the slops (and often free of charge, too!) it is barely an inconvenience to go a little out of your way anymore either.
Another way to find better deals by choosing the right ski area itself. If you can be flexible, there are often plenty savings to be had. By opting for one of the less attended ski resorts you will find that accommodation can be a lot cheaper. And remember this does not mean compromising on the skiing. Many resorts today do not have the ‘pull’ of Aspen or Vail, but when it comes to the skiing, they are just as good. Think Grand Targhee as an alternative to Jackson Hole, for example. By favoring these less-renowned resorts, you can find way better deals.
Doing the Ski Vacation Rental Deal
All of these suggestions revolve around being shrewd about the property you choose, either by booking early to gain a discount or adjusting your requirements for a last minute trip to save a notable amount. However, your ability to save some money does not stop there. Once you have selected a few suitable locations, ideally as many as possible, you can then start talking to the owners through the site. By having options, and not putting all your eggs in the one basket as it were, you have the ability to walk away, placing you in a strong negotiating position. Getting the price down can be done in a couple of ways.
Firstly, you can straight up ask for a discount. If you explain that the cost is “a little more than I would like to pay” and see if they can be flexible, you will be surprised how often that yields results. This is especially true if you are early booking or on off peak times when there is no guarantee the property will be taken up by someone else. It’s important to ask this in a sensible and polite manner, and accept that if the owner says no, there really is not any point pushing it, as you are likely to annoy them instead.
The other thing you can do is negotiate on timing. Ask if there is a discount for leaving early on the last day, if that fits into your travel plans. It gives the owner extra time for cleanup before the next guests arrive, a real benefit they may compensate you for.
You are going to be most successful in negotiating if you can demonstrate why you are a desirable renter. Are you non-smokers who have quiet evenings each night, and will only have 3 people in a 6-person cabin? Tell the owner that. It could make a big difference and convince them to give you a discount.
If negotiating, it is best to negotiate on just one term, not multiple. If the condo has a 4-night minimum stay AND and $500 price per night, don’t negotiate on both. Rather, give the owner what they want on one, but negotiate on the other.
Finally, negotiating obviously works better in a slower year — like a pandemic winter (hopefully we don’t have many more of those) or a low-snow year. If it is a great snow year and people are feeling great, it is a lot harder to negotiate.
Short-Notice Ski Trips
Finally, if you are flexible in your travels…. e.g. you have flexible vacations and can drive to the ski area, consider doing the opposite of our first piece of advice, and wait as long as you can to book. We would NOT advise this for families who need to have flights booked and know where they will be going on their ski vacation. However, in some cases you can negotiate a great deal by emailing the rental owner (through VRBO) and asking if they can cut you a last-minute deal on a unit that would otherwise go unused. While this can be a way to save money, be warned that it is risky and can also be a way to end up with nothing, or a poorly-rated unit that nobody else wants.
The chances of getting a workable short-notice deal are better if you choose a location that is easy to get to. Assuming you have to travel-in to the ski area, consider a place that is close to a major airport like the Utah Ski Resort range or the Lake Tahoe area. Both put you under an hour from great ski resorts. You can be the envy of everyone, and look at the snow report first, and book our ski trip second. We all only wish we could do that!
There is no doubt that VRBO offers an incredible opportunity for finding the best priced accommodation, and if you are an astute planner you can really score some great deals. Know where you want to ski, and keep your eye on your favorite places. Plan ahead, be flexible and you could save plenty on your next ski trip.
A few Ski Vacation Rental FAQs
Which site is better for ski vacation rentals? Homeaway, AirBnb, VRBO, or others?
It really depends. We have always liked VRBO just because it has been around the longest in North America and seems to have the best database of inventory and reviews in most ski towns. The others are good, too, and we would use any of them for the right property. We like the user interface of VRBO’s filters the best, but if you are someone who just wants to rent a room vs. an entire home, AirBnB is what you want. In short, the answer is that “it depends.”
Many rentals are actually listed in multiple places — you might find the same rental on AirBnB, VRBO, and a property manager’s private website. Increasingly, it is becoming a moot point as to which platform a property is on. More and more properties are being listed on all available platforms. Behind-the-scenes, most properties use software that will show as booked on all platforms if it is reserved on any one of them.
What is the minimum stay in a vacation rental?
This depends on two things: The property owner’s rules, and the norms for that micro-market. Some markets see a norm of 7-day rentals, others often have a 2-or-3 day minimum. You might see longer minimum stays during peak times like a holiday weekend. The owner might also have their own rules, just to be sure they are not having to turn over renters too often. Finally, a homeowner’s association might impose rules on short-term rentals, which then have to be passed-on to the owner who is trying to rent out the place.
In a go-to ski area like Big Sky or Vail, it is pretty common for the minimums to be longer for high-demand weeks like Christmas. Generally speaking, you will have more luck negotiating on the minimum stay length as you get closer to the rental time…. but that can be a gamble.
I own a ski condo. Should I rent it out for income?
Renting your ski condo can be a good source of additional income, especially if you are willing to rent it out during some of the high-demand times. If you are willing to rent your place out around the holidays and over weekends, there is a chance you can do quite well during the winter months. If your place is ski-in, ski-out, it will do even better. Expect that the summer and fall months will be slower and will command lower rates, and that the spring months will not see any renters.
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.