Instant Bookings: Pros and Cons for Your Vacation Rental

It’s one of the hottest topics in the vacation rental industry right now, and it’s constantly up for debate: should I be accepting instant bookings? Am I missing out if I don’t? While there are many arguments for and against both sides of the coin, lots of owners feel lost and confused, not knowing whether they’re doing the right thing.


The world of spontaneous travel can be beneficial for your business if you want to enable instant booking for your vacation rental. However, if you’ve decided to turn off instant booking, we’ve got you covered there too. Scroll to the bottom to see how to turn off instant booking for all the major OTAs.

What is instant booking?

Instantly bookable vacation rentals are those which don’t require any kind of approval from the host prior to booking. Guests simply choose their travel dates, agree to house rules and press the booking button for their payment to go through – just as they would with a hotel. It’s become an increasingly popular choice for owners and guests to choose instant booking. Above all, instant booking is more common with hosts on listing sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, FlipKey and so on.

The pros and cons of using instant booking for vacation rentals

If you’re still trying to weigh out your options for instant booking then this list is for you. Instant booking can be a great benefit to your business, but only if you’ve fully understood the risks and drawbacks. By reading up on the advantages and disadvantages of accepting instant bookings, you’ll be able to adjust your booking preferences accordingly.

Pro: Increased conversion rates

Modern-day travelers are accustomed to everything being instantaneous. Think about it, they book their flights with the click of a button, they check in their luggage with another. Booking accommodation isn’t any different, and it’s what a lot of travelers look for.

That’s why instant booking functions can play a big role in increasing booking conversion. With instant booking, owners are able to compete with hotels that have been using it for years, and guests will find the process just as easy and simple as booking a hotel room online.

Matthew Gurley from MyBookingPal shares his wisdom on instant booking conversion:

matthew-gurley“Property managers who convert to instant book see an influx in bookings, and generally have a lower cost of sale when it comes to acquiring a booking. You pay a staff member to answer dozens of inquiries hoping a portion of them convert, or pay a staff member to only spend time on customers that have already handed you a credit card to charge the deposit through an instant book. Choice is yours, but the second saves your time, and increases your revenue.”

Con: Decisions are out of your hands

One downside of accepting instant bookings is that there’s very little “screening” process in place to make sure guests are a good fit for your home. In fact, they are the ones that decide they’re suitable, as pressing instant book is, in itself, an acceptance of your stay requirements. For a little more built-in security, you can always send your house rules separately to ensure that they fully understand the terms they agreed to regardless of how fast they made the booking.

This can still reduce a host’s own sense of security or peace of mind. Given that instant bookings are automatically accepted, can hosts really be certain the person coming to stay at their rental is really who they say they are?

On listing sites like Airbnb, however, you can usually set restrictions according to your preferences for instant booking candidates. For example, choose whether you’d like to host guests who Airbnb deems eligible for instant booking, or restrict this setting to only include guests who have received positive reviews or been recommended by other hosts.

Pro: Guests can’t get enough

No matter what the travel purpose, guests love the instant book feature. In booking your property, it is assumed that guests will have read and agreed to your property’s house rules.

Instant booking is convenient for them because there’s no waiting around for you to accept. That means they can go ahead and make the rest of their travel plans, knowing full well that accommodation is sorted. They can even filter results on sites like Airbnb to only show vacation rentals that allow instant booking!

Matthew Gurley adds:

“There is a huge importance of house rules or fine print for book-it-now websites. As long as you are not violating any local discrimination laws, line out your guest screening process in house rules or fine print. Let the guest book instantly. If they are breaking a single line item, just cancel with a refund. They’re breaking your rules, so there aren’t negative repercussions for cancellations in this case.”

Con: Increase in cancellations

For some guests, instant booking is an easy way to bide their time (and not miss out on a room or place for certain dates) while making their decision, especially if the host has a flexible cancellation policy.

Whether your rules are flexible or super-strict, avoid receiving last-minute cancellations by clearly stating your cancellation and refund policy on your website or your listings so any potential bookers are aware of what rules apply.

instant-booking-con-1

Source: community.airbnb.com

At the same time, a shift towards the promotion of instant bookings on listing sites may possibly lead to more cancellations from the host side, which could have a negative effect on listings.

Pro: Less bureaucracy

Hosts and guests alike can all take advantage of instant booking and its ability to cut hours and hours of admin time. With instant booking, the guest makes their reservation, then the only thing both hosts and guests need to worry about next is check-in.

 

instant-booking-pro-1 instant-book-pro-2Source: Airhostsforum

Con: The blame’s on you for double bookings

Hosts that use instant booking can be left in a tricky situation if they list on more than one platform, as any mistakes like double bookings are going to fall on your shoulders.

When you accept instant bookings on various portals, your different calendars require constant updating to block out those booked periods, which can easily become quite a handful and unfortunately, mistakes can be made.

instant-booking-con-2Source: Quora 

Having an up-to-date calendar across all your channels is essential for hosts to get the most bookings and least errors or cancellations. This can, however, easily be solved by using a channel manager which automatically updates all your reservations and calendar availability from one centralized place.

Pro: More direct bookings

Allowing instant bookings on your own vacation rental website helps you reach your end goal: more direct bookings. As a result, this will help build up your guest email database and you’ll be able to nurture past guests into return bookings. That’s because you’re not sending them anywhere else to book, or even giving them a reason to look elsewhere because you already have what they’re looking for!

Pro: Improved website credibility

Accepting online instant bookings and credit card payments gives your vacation rental website the edge over many of your competitors who don’t offer these services. The very nature of accepting online payments makes your site more professional, not to mention more reliable! Adding a security seal like VeriSign serves as social proof to your potential bookers, they’ll be assured that their sensitive data is safe with your website.

Pro: Listing sites prefer it

Many of the big listing sites like Airbnb and HomeAway openly admit their algorithms favor hosts with instant booking functionality, as they believe it’s a huge benefit for their users.

Not only can this preference be reflected in search results, whereby instantly bookable properties tend to show up first, but also in press releases and updates from the OTAs themselves.

If you’re worried about attracting the wrong type of guests, however, do as PartySquasher recommends and ensure your listings require a verified ID, or even customize your requirements to include guests who have previously ranked 4-star and above in their reviews!

instant-book-pro-3

Pro: Never miss a booking

Allowing guests to book instantly is good news for both of you: they’ll get to book their dream vacation rental, and you’ll never miss out on bookings by responding too late! As long as you have instant booking activated, guests will be able to select your property for the dates they need and reserve immediately without waiting for your reply or confirmation.

Pro: Accept more last-minute bookings

If your property accepts instant bookings, you’ll open up a whole lot more options regarding the type of guests you attract. In particular, we’re talking about last-minute bookings. Whether that’s spontaneous out-of-season weekend trippers or someone who’s decided to stay longer in a city, your home could be the one they choose depending on this factor.

instant-booking-pro-5Source: Airhostsforum

Disabling instant booking on listing sites

If instant booking doesn’t sound like your thing, it’s not a problem. There are many hosts that still feel that they want to hand-select their guests to guarantee the best experience. The tricky part is navigating how to turn that feature off. If you’ve already activated instant booking or it’s the default setting for one of the sites you list on, it’s important that you turn this off to prevent future instant bookings.

How to turn off instant booking on Airbnb

Airbnb can attract a number of travelers, from millennials to workcationers, which is a great benefit, but might not necessarily be your target market. So, if you’d like to turn off this feature on Airbnb, you’ll need to follow a couple of steps. First, head to your listings and select the property you want to modify. Once you’re inside the property’s page, click the “Policies and rules” tab. From there, you’ll clearly see the “Instant Book” feature where you’ll want to click “edit.” You can choose to either turn it on and select your guest requirements or simply turn it off and save your preferences.

Remember that there are added benefits to having instant booking on Airbnb, such as an additional boost to obtaining Superhost status and positive search placement, so you might want to think twice before turning off the instant booking feature on Airbnb.

How to turn off instant booking on Vrbo

Much like Airbnb, there are benefits to having instant booking on Vrbo. With Vrbo’s instant booking feature, you can attract more travelers by showing up on the search feature “immediate bookings only” and drastically increase your listing’s exposure, as Vrbo properties with instant booking are featured on other Expedia Group sites.

Instant booking for Vrbo

Still, if you’ve decided this isn’t the feature for you, feel free to turn it off in your settings. You’ll need to log into your account and click the appropriate listing. In the navigation menu, you’ll click “Property” then “Rules and policies.” From there, select the Booking type, then you can choose either “Instant Booking” or “24-hour review” depending on your preference. Just press save and that’s it!

How to turn instant book off on Trip Advisor

Tripadvisor also offers an instant booking feature with similar benefits as Airbnb and Vrbo. As of right now, Tripadvisor has disabled its instant book feature. Once it does become reactivated, you’ll be able to edit this in your account settings. You’ll click “Online booking settings” and switch the Instant book feature off or on then press save. When the toggle is green, the feature is on. When it’s grey, instant booking will be turned off.

Keep in mind that not all properties are eligible for instant booking, so you might not have this feature activated in the first place. Only properties that meet these requirements are eligible for instant booking:

  • Currently, hold an acceptance rate of 75% or higher
  • Have maintained at least three bookings in the last two years
  • A 20% cancellation rate at most
  • On the free-to-list plan

 How to turn off instant booking on Booking.com

The instant booking feature on Booking.com is a touch more complicated. When you first list your property on Booking.com, there is a tutorial that walks you through your calendar setup. If you opted into instant booking in that phase then it turned on from that moment forward. There’s currently no way to turn this feature off from your account settings, so you’ll have to contact the Booking.com help desk. 

Summary

As you can see from the list above, there are far more pros than cons when it comes to enabling instant bookings. If you’ve been clear about your house rules, implement a rental agreement for guests to sign before check-in, and have the flexibility to take on these kinds of reservations then this might be the right approach for you. Instant booking can positively impact your occupancy rate and take the hassle out of accepting reservations. 

If you’re ready to try something new with your booking preferences, why not give instant booking a go? If you ultimately decide to turn it off, your website and OTAs give you the option to enable or disable the feature with ease. 

Instant bookings are going to have reservations rolling in in no time! Make sure you’re prepared by using a channel manager and reservation calendar with speedy synchronization times. Instant bookings run a higher risk of double bookings, so get one step ahead of the issue by implementing vacation rental software that’s up for the task. 


What do you think about this article?

Show Comments (4)
  1. Having read most of this stream, mostly “pro instant booking”, I have the following comments.
    First, I am most familiar with VRBO (renting out our personal use condo when we are not using it…), so the first response from a Property Manager about how much easier for streamlining his property rentals is NOT my situation. I am a single location owner; I easily keep my response time less that 24 hours, and often less than 2 hours.
    Second, “assume guest reads your guidelines”…amongst these, we are smoke free, “including private patio and poolside”, which needs to be re-confirmed with my guest…also checkout time 10am (though I frequently can make allowance in discussion with my guest).
    Third, due to our unique beachside location, guests always have questions about how long it takes to walk to town..availability of taxi’s/bicycles…whether we have our bedding changed daily (we do not)…do we have 24 hour security presence (yes). Some minimal discussion is always helpful to both sides before a booking is comfortably made.
    Finally, have I missed out on some bookings where a guest may have made a commitment earlier than they were ready to? Yes. Does this bother me? NO. I’m in it to make some money (to offset expenses), NOT to make “the most money possible”. Mine is not a “business”.
    I’m hugely disappointed in the new VRBO and Airbnb models who are motivated by increasing company profit while riding rough shod over the old concept of providing website for home-owner and guest to meet. If VRBO continues to allow me to NOT allow instant booking, I easily accept that I may be diminishing my profits and losing an occaisional client. That’s my choice. “Choice” is what VRBO and Airbnb wish to remove to their increased profit models.

  2. I agree with Lee. I have a lakefront cottage that is my only rental. I am on vacation home rentals, vrbo and now craigslist. vrbo is trying to push everyone into instant booking with the owner responding in 24hrs. Not only do I pay them to advertise but now they want to charge a booking fee to guests for instant booking. If I use their credit card service I am charged 2.9% of the total. No thank you. I just want an advertising forum, but of course I am pushed down the ladder in placement of advertising because of this. I prefer to communicate with potential guests from the get go. By the way I tried using vrbo’s book now feature for a place in Florida that appeared to be available on the calendar. I was instantly charged the booking fee on my charge and the owner had 24 hrs to accept my booking. Never heard from him and my booking expired. Lets see if vrbo reverses the charges as quickly. Plus I lost valuable time waiting for a confirmation in a time period when the market is very busy there. I do not like the book now feature as a property owner or a guest.

  3. Instant Booking would be marvellous if guests always abided by the house rules. Often they don’t even read them or, having read them, take the attitude of “Who is to know if I squeeze a few extra kids into the house or have a party?”

    The chances of getting the absolute guest from hell are, no doubt, quite small but the outcome of such a “Black Swan” can be horrendous & costly. Two examples:

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/bookingcom-vacation-rentals-nightmare-stefano-sessa
    http://observer.com/2017/03/airbnb-nda-damage-in-london-after-drug-party/

    Matthew Gurley’s wisdom about the hotel-like benefits of instant booking fail to point out the obvious fact that, unlike a hotel, a holiday home does not usually have resident staff to ensure that the guest does honour the house rules. In addition, the consequences of overbooking can be more easily managed by the simple solution of upgrading to a better room or putting the guest in another hotel.

    He makes it sound easy: “Let the guest book instantly. If they are breaking a single line item, just cancel with a refund. They’re breaking your rules, so there aren’t negative repercussions for cancellations in this case.”

    Apparently, this leads to “Peace of Mind” because “you can cancel penalty-free before or during a trip”. Two points here:

    The concept of penalty-free is a slippery one because you will never know how much your prominence on a listing site may suffer because you have cancelled a booking. To imagine that there will be no consequences is naive at best.
    Would it not be better to have that important conversation with your potential guest in which you find out enough about your guest to give you the confidence to ok the booking? At the same time, you make absolutely sure that your guest knows the rules. Our experience is that it is better to encourage the guest who intends to break the rules to go elsewhere rather than have to cancel later or go through the worst situation of asking a guest to leave.

    How many owners want to front up to a guest and ask them to leave halfway through their stay? Indeed, many owners would be worried about the potential whiny reviews they might receive and the inevitable back and forth with the listing site trying to establish the truth of what happened. Who needs that?

    Guests may love the idea of instant booking and want it but the reality is that the waiting period is a maximum of 24 hours but usually just a few hours.

    Less Bureaucracy – this is nonsense. Communicating with a guest is not the equivalent of a government department being high-handed. It is the establishment of a conversation with the family or group that is coming to stay in your home. Your home is probably your most valuable asset and you want to protect it and your immediate neighbours from guests who are only thinking of themselves. This conversation is an opportunity to establish a rapport with your customer. Done well, it can add to the whole guest experience.

    Real Estate agents do not have “Instant Leasing” for obvious reasons – they want first hand knowledge of the customer hoping to lease so they interview in person. The best a property manager can do is have a phone conversation with the potential guest. Even so, a phone conversation can tell you a lot more than a restricted email exchange.

    Of course this process is a little more time consuming than relying on the impersonal algorithm but this is a people business. The big listing sites are all about scale. People are not. People are families or friends who are going to stay in your home. People are also your neighbours who will have to suffer the side effects of short term renting if you do not take their interests into account as well.

    Who you let into your home is, undoubtedly, a tricky business. You can inadvertently run foul of the anti-discrimination laws. It is virtually impossible to refuse anyone when you have availability on the calendar. The best you can do is to be absolutely explicit about the rules and the consequences of breaking the rules. That is usually enough to ward off those who have no respect for you or others in your community.

    The risk of a double booking is far greater with instant booking if you are on several sites. I consider it completely unacceptable to bump a customer because of your inability to keep your calendars synchronised in real time.

    As far as I know, the sites like Xotelia and Bookingsync that offer calendar syncing are not instant because it depends on the cycle that each listing sites adopts to update their listings. So, even with syncing it is possible to be caught out. You are therefore taking a risk with other people’s money. An additional consequence is that a customer may immediately book non-refundable airline tickets on the strength of the accommodation booking. Unes that customer can find alternative accommodation you may be imposing a large financial cost on your customer.

    There is an element of madness to this pre-occupation with instant booking. According to research, most customers look at several sites and draw up a list of 7 or more properties. This takes time and is usually done several months before the time of travel. Yet we are being persuaded by large listing site promoters that it is essential. Essential for whom?

    The listing sites rarely have to deal with the consequences and, if they do, they are not exactly enthusiastic if the AirBnB host who had his apartment trashed is to be believed (see the Observer story above).

    The benefits outlined above appear to be another example of “privatise the benefits and socialize the costs”. The listing sites gain the benefits and the host, the customer and the neighbourhood carrying the cost when things go wrong.

  4. Cutting to the quick as they say: If you have a villa or house that can only be let to 1 client at a time (as we have), having IB is super dangerous. I had a booking at midnight one day and got up at 6 am to see that booking.com had accepted an instant booking for the same dates. Fortunately, I was able to change the midnight booking but not until I’d had a reminder from Booking that I had to either accept their reservation or find their client another villa and I’d pay the difference. I ditched Booking .com after that and will not use IB if I have other agents involved. IB is a recipe for disaster if you have a 1 client property. They would not turn it off for me, so if it is “on” beware.

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