How to find the best homestay booking sites
From holiday rentals to house swapping and couch surfing, book a bed at a great rate and protect your holiday savings.
Bag a bargain bed
Accommodation can make up a fair chunk of the cost of your holiday, but there are ways of keeping costs to a minimum, or even getting accommodation for free. If you haven't got your heart set on seeing chocolates on the pillow every night, then a hotel alternative like holiday rental or a room in a homestay could save you a lot of money.
But there's a plethora of house sharing, short-term accommodation and house sitting sites online so use our guide to get value for money from the most popular and some of the lesser-known sites.
Airbnb.com.au is host to more than 3 million listings worldwide in over 65,000 cities and 191 countries. Accommodation includes entire houses, rooms, or shared rooms in private homes. The site lets prospective guests and hosts screen profiles, read reviews and references of each other, and confirm that each other's phone numbers and social media profiles are verified by Airbnb.
Our guide to using Airbnb, which covers pricing, risks and refund and cancellation policies, found the average Airbnb rate was 10% to 25% cheaper than a hotel room in five cities world-wide.
Stayz.com.au is a Sydney-based company considered part of the 'HomeAway' family of brands, which in turn is owned by the US conglomerate Expedia Inc. It lists more than 40,000 Australian holiday rental properties. The site takes a hands-off approach when it comes to the management of properties, relying on self-regulation by property managers.
Only email addresses verified as having been used to book with the property can leave reviews and property managers can't hide negative reviews. Reviews are moderated for 'inappropriate content' but Stayz says it is has no obligation to investigate truthfulness or accuracy of reviews or responses from the property owners.
Another Expedia-owned site, HomeAway.com.au, along with its subsidiaries (which include VRBO.com, VacationRentals.com and Stayz), boasts more than 1,000,000 listings of vacation rental homes in 190 countries. It claims to be the only Australian holiday rental site to offer free protection against internet fraud. If you're scammed through one of their listings, they'll reimburse the rental fee up to $1000.
TripAdvisor-owned flipkey.com features more than 300,000 vacation homes and rooms located in more than 11,000 cities throughout the world. They promise that every property owner is verified by staff "to ensure you are only dealing with nice and trusted people".
Travellingfrogs.com is an Australian owned and managed site launched in 2016. It generates revenue through an annual fee for property owners so there are no commissions (for guests or owners) and no service charges.
Property owners set security bonds and variation or cancellation fees so check the property details before booking. There's no user reviews on the site, so check reviews of the properties on TripAdvisor.
In a market dominated by international behemoths, Aura.travel claims to be the largest Australian-owned holiday rental site. It appears to operate on a stripped back, no user reviews model with booking policies largely set by the property manager.
Where there are booking sites there are booking site aggregators. In the world of hotel booking, aggregators such as HotelsCombined.com.au and Trivago compare a range of booking sites at once saving you time trawling through all the booking sites on the web for the best price.
Tripping.com performs a similar service for a range of holiday rental sites such as HomeAway, Stayz, Flipkey, Booking.com and TripAdvisor and so lays claim to being the "world's largest search engine for vacation and short-term rentals".
Haven't got the dosh for a hotel, or prefer a more personal experience when on the road? Couch surfing could be for you. The concept has been around for a while, but it's no longer confined to the kindness of friends or relatives. Couchsurfing.org is a free online portal that connects couch surfers to hosts around the world. Although the site offers verified profiles and reviews of hosts and surfers, staying with strangers could have its risks – some listings offer only "shared sleeping surfaces", so be careful when choosing your host.
And there's always the good old house swap. From intervac-homeexchange.com, which claims to be the original house exchange service, to homeexchange.com and houseswapholidays.com.au among others, there are plenty of sites out there to help set up the switcheroo.
Some people have trouble finding a trusted minder to look after their pets and property when they go away – and sometimes those people live in very nice places. If you're responsible enough to keep pets and plants alive (you'll often need character references and a police check to prove it), sites such as aussiehousesitters.com.au and happyhousesitters.com.au could line you up to sit pretty in a free holiday house.
As we found in our guide to house-sitting agencies, it's usually free for homeowners while memberships for house-sitters vary.