Make the most of your hunt for holiday villas and cottages by following our hints and tips below: tips covering both searching and booking.
• Use Advanced Search
When searching for self-catering holiday accommodation using a Booking Engine or Accommodation Agent site we recommend using their 'Advanced Search' facility. This sort of drill-down search is available on most sites these days and will allow you to narrow things down using various criteria, be it price, location, rooms, facilities or special intrests – often in a fairly broad way, but also sometimes quite tightly. Advanced search will often be found in side columns or navigation sections, and remember to scroll right down so you get to see all the options available (some are pretty extensive!). So if you're looking for a rental property with a piano, tennis courts, a wash down area for your surf gear, a hot tub, bike storage, or a painting studio this can often help.
(The photo shows the 'Feature Filter' in the 'Advanc ed Search' in the side column of the Cottages.com website.)
• Comparing accommodation
When comparing properties from different sources make sure you're comparing like-for-like; things like bed linen, fuel/heating/electricity or cleaning are included on some sites but added on as an extra on others.
• Best rates
Book in the low season (generally outside of school holiday times) or shoulder season (between the high and low seasons) for better rates and more flexible bookings, see our individual country notes for specific information.
• Accommodation reviews
Read guest reviews with caution and a pinch of salt! While reviews can be extremely useful when comparing properties, be aware that, wherever they're placed – be it on an owners own site, a Booking Engine or Accommodation Agents site, or a third party review site – reviews can be, and often are, manipulated. Sometimes by an owner trying to boost their business by placing favourable reviews, or placing poor reviews for competing businesses; sometimes by an ever-growing army of over-zealous self-appointed 'reviewers' who are on the look out for faults however small; sometimes by guests who've been coerced or rewarded into placing good reviews. Always be wary of anonymous reviews and remember that names and profiles can be faked too. Also consider the date of any holiday cottage/villa reviews you look at, many are woefully out-of-date and things could have changed considerably since they were posted.
Pay by credit card where possible as this will give you some protection should the business fold before you've taken your holiday. Some booking engines and a few independent private owners will protected your payment by placing it in a bond or trust account.
Make sure you receive written/email confirmation of your booking, print that out or make sure you have a copy on your phone or tablet/computer to take with you on your holiday. Also ensure that what you've received is confirmation of your specific booking; there have been cases where an owners website uses an automated booking system that issues an automatic email 'thank-you' reply, resulting in several customers believing they've each booked the same week!
• Check the inventory
Some owners will ask you to pay a security deposit to cover any breakages. If you're charged this then ensure they also provide an inventory, often available online, and check this over thoroughly on arrival. Document your check with photos if necessary, particularly with high value items or any damage that was present when you arrived.
• Want more than just self-catering?
Self-catering doesn't necessarily mean doing everything yourself, we have a special dedicated section for serviced accommodation, in which many of the services you'd normally find in a hotel are provided for self-catering guests. This might include things like: daily housekeeping services, concierge, reception, internet access, laundry services, grocery delivery and airport/train collection/drop-off.