Jun 25, 2013

FlipKey offers a free listing with commission based pricing. This means that you pay nothing up front to be listed on FlipKey and TripAdvisor, their parent company, but instead pay 3% of each booking made.

We first listed with FlipKey in 2009 as part of a promotion that meant we only paid $2.99/month. In 6 months we received only 1 booking, and so when the promotion ended we canceled our listing. At the time it just seemed to be one more listing site that didn't get enough traffic to compete with the big players. But to be fair we didn't have any reviews, and the six months spanned a fairly quiet season for us. So when FlipKey announced their free listing, we decided to give it a try and called and re-activated our listing.

So how does it work?

First, it's important to realize that all of the restrictions I talk about below are specific only to the "free" (commission based) listing. If you pay for a traditional listing (currently $299/year) then FlipKey works just like VRBO or any of the other listing sites.

No Direct Communication

To ensure that FlipKey can collect their 3% commission, they need to make sure that you will process any payments through them. To do this they don't allow any direct communication with prospective guests. Instead, all communication is channeled through the FlipKey messaging system. As an owner, you login to the FlipKey web site or use their iPhone app, to review inquiries and respond. You don't see the potential guests phone number or email address, and they don't see yours, until a reservation is confirmed and payment has been collected.

It's worth mentioning that FlipKey detects any attempts (intentional or otherwise) to circumvent this. They detect phone numbers, email addresses, and certain web links included in messages, and either prevent the message from going through altogether, or remove the offending information. Here is how a message came through from the first person to inquire (I've changed their name)
Jane Doe
to Heather Chapman 
For security reasons, contact information is hidden  
Hi again,
Do please reserve the house for us. I'll sort out payment after I get home from work today. When I put in the dates on flipkey, I think it comes up as unavailable. Would you mind checking on that for me. My phone number is (phone: hidden) if it would be helpful to communicate that way, this evening.
Thanks, Jane

For us this lack of direct communication is the most significant issue with FlipKey's free listing. We're fortunate to have had minimal damage in our vacation homes since we began operating them in 2006. And we put this down in large part to very thorough screening. We recognize why FlipKey has to impose this restriction, and we've made the decision to accept the risk for the next 6 months. But then we plan to either pay for a listing, or drop FlipKey again.

FlipKey holds the payment until the guest checks in

As part of agreeing to make a booking with a guest, you get to define the payment schedule and cancellation policy. The guests make their payments to FlipKey through the web site. But FlipKey doesn't release this payment to you until after the guest has checked in. Presumably this is an attempt to reduce fraudulent listings. But it leaves us feeling that if a guest simply doesn't like the property then they could contact FlipKey and get their funds back, circumventing our cancellation policy.

In the many years we've operated a vacation rental we've never had this situation happen. But we put that down again to good communication with the guest before making a reservation. When we screen guests, we're not just making sure they aren't likely to damage our property, we want to make sure that they will be happy in our home.

Offers expire in 48 hours

When you extend an offer to someone through FlipKey, they have 48 hours to accept or reject. Since you have no way to contact them other than through the FlipKey messaging system, you can be left waiting for 2 days before you can offer the same dates to someone else. Our normal practice has been to put a 24 hour expiration on any offers that we extend. This reduces the chance that we have to turn away another inquiry while we're waiting to receive confirmation from a first one.

We contacted FlipKey about this 48 hour period and their explanation was "The reason why the 2 day rule is in place is due to the fact that owners and travelers can be in different time zones".

Do you have a free listing with FlipKey? If not, are you thinking of getting one? Or do the restrictions make it better to pay for a traditional listing? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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