What is the Service Fee and how to avoid it
You don't mind paying a few extra hundred euros/pounds/dollars on your next vacation rental, do you ? According to VRBO/Owners Direct/Homeaway "travelers don't mind paying a service fee".
In 2016 HomeAway & VRBO were bought out by corporate giant Expedia for 3.9 billion dollars. The next month they rolled out a new Service Fee that they are charging to travelers who book through their websites. While Expedia said originally that the fee will range between 4% and 9%, more recently they've raised the service rates to 6% to 15%. Perhaps the worst part about this fee is that the money generated from travelers like you is being invested back into their network’s marketing strategy, so they can continue to collect from the unknowing guest who just wants (and deserves) to find a good deal on a vacation home.
The Service Fee they are charging the travelers, is for booking through their sites and does not go to the homeowner.
Understandably, renters are often confused, as they think the homeowner is charging this Service Fee, and are unaware that it is charged by HomeAway/VRBO and that the homeowner has no control over it.
Limiting what you see
All of these sites are attempting to hamper any effort for travelers to avoid paying the Service Fee.
As of January 2018 they have completely hidden traveler's and owner's contact information (name, email address, telephone number) from the homeowners and travelers until the traveler books, leaving the only communication possible being through their system to ensure they can collect their extra fees from the traveler.
In addition to blocking contact information, Expedia has also begun hiding listings from view in the sort when Expedia deems that owner to be one who is not playing along with their new "payment structure".
In response, many owners have begun listing their vacation rentals on local and regional sites, creating their own sites, and creating Facebook pages for their properties, in order to be able to book without the traveler having to pay the Service Fee and to engage their potential clients BEFORE requiring any money to change hands. Caring owners want you to have a great vacation and may help you understand that their house or condo may not be exactly what you are looking for. Best to do that freely and openly before the booking.
What can travelers do ?
If you find a vacation rental you like listed on HomeAway, VRBO or other, don't immediately book it. Instead, search your regional vacation rental listing sites, where you can email or call the owner freely, and book it without paying the expensive Service Fee.