Our family of four just returned home a few days ago after a wonderful trip with three other families that “we do life with” here in Orange County. There are 17 of us total. We try to get together monthly for a gathering and attempt to do a vacation together once or twice per year. We have to plan these trips out about a year in advance in order to align schedules and time off, especially due to having eight high schoolers in the group whose lives are chalk full of sports and extra-curricular activities. At this life stage, we adults seem to have much less of an issue carving out a few days for this time together that we put such a high value on.
This Summer’s trip was a four night getaway at a cabin on a small lake just outside of Yosemite. We booked the place on VRBO back in August of 2019, a few months before I even knew that Inspirato existed!
Considering the title of this post, it is important to mention that the 17 of us had a fabulous time together! It’s a huge win just to have that many people staying together in one home and free from any significant interpersonal issues whatsoever. This piece is by no means a knock on VRBO. We’ve had wonderful vacations utilizing their vacation rentals for many, many years. But, there are some very important distinctions between VRBO and Inspirato, even when renting a high-end property off VRBO like we did last week.
Okay, moving on to the 7 reasons why Inspirato (Inspirato Pass in our case) puts VRBO down for the count in a mano-a-mano matchup.
1) Transparency of Pricing: Has anyone else noticed this issue with VRBO over the past few years? And yes, this actually is a serious knock against how VRBO presents their rates. The nightly rate listed on the website is not anywhere near to the price you’ll end up paying at the end of the day. On average, it appears that your actual cost will be 30%+ over what is listed on the site. That is NOT transparent, or even ethical in my book. I understand if pricing jumps 10% with tax/service/etc. But 30%, and even higher, is crazy! There is a “service fee” for VRBO, an outrageous cleaning fee (definitely a profit center for them), and then all other taxes and fees. In our case, what appeared to be a $1,300/night rate turned out to be closer to $1,800/night…what the heck?!
With Inspirato Pass, all pricing and fees are 100% transparent. You pay your monthly subscription fee, and literally nothing else! On our last Inspirato trip, our folio at check out actually showed $0. What a great way to end a vacation! So, with Inspirato there are no surprises and no subtle (or not-so-subtle as with VRBO) hidden fees to increase their profit margins. What you see is what you get. And what you get is extraordinary!
2) Pre-Trip Peace of Mind: With Inspirato, once you book your reservation, you simply relax and are free to start dreaming about your upcoming vacation. Your Inspirato Team and the on-site concierge will contact you and offer assistance with almost anything you can imagine as you begin to plan for your trip. They start answering questions that you didn’t even know you had yet. They share with you all about activity and restaurant options. They start making any arrangements that you may request. You rightly feel that there is a team working hard behind the scenes to deliver the absolute best vacation imaginable. You are left worry free. What a luxury to just relax and bask in the anticipation of your upcoming travels. Oh, and in case you want to understand a bit more about the wonders of Inspirato concierge services, here you go.
It’s a bit of a different story with VRBO. After being left with a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth realizing you just paid over 30% more than the advertised rate, you begin to feel a bit uncertain about what your experience may end up being like. After all, you were duped into paying a higher rate than expected. What’s next? The owner may or may not be responsive to questions you have. And any type of concierge service whatsoever? Forget about it. Don’t get me wrong, some owners are great to work with. However, they are exclusively in the business of renting out their home. They are not in the hospitality industry. They are not focused on delivering a most incredible experience for their clients. You simply never know what you’ll get. You may win big and get that owner who just loves to connect with renters, provide all sorts of info, quickly answers questions, etc. You also very likely may get the owner who doesn’t want to have any contact whatsoever with his/her guests. They are slow to respond to questions. Their answers lack substance. You are, for the most part, on your own.
Personally, I’ve experienced both the good and the bad (even some ugly) with VRBO over the years. The trip we just returned from was one of our better experiences with an owner, and yet there were still so many unknowns and things to figure out for ourselves. And with no concierge or local contact, finding and planning activities to do was a unique challenge. With Yosemite National Park being closed (visiting Yosemite had been the initial impetus of our trip), it sure would have helped to have at least some type of concierge to assist with activity planning. Fortunately, we are a resourceful bunch and did find some really fun activities to fill our days.
3) In Case of Emergency: What happens when you’re at a VRBO place rather than an Inspirato residence and you’re faced with some sort of an emergency? In our case, one of the moms in the group stepped on a very long, very old, very rusty nail on the path between the house and the dock. It punctured her foot, resulting in a significant injury. We had set up an “Extreme Croquet” course (okay, in hindsight perhaps not the wisest idea) that we built into a steep incline between the house and the lakefront. It was going to be epic! We play lots of games as a large group and for this trip we created what we called “Random Family Olympics”. We drew family names out of a hat so that all of the families were mixed into four different teams. We were having a blast! However, it was interrupted by an injury on the Extreme Croquet course that put a pause on everything.
If this would have been an Inspirato trip, a quick call to concierge explaining what had happened would have led to the easiest and most expedient solution, in this case a Tetanus booster. However, we had no one to call. We texted the owner for info about nearby urgent care facilities, but never heard back. Thus, we had a hard time finding a place to take her, as it was a Saturday. Our friends ended up having to drive two hours to Modesto (4 hours roundtrip!) just to find an urgent care that had a Tetanus booster available. This is a small example of how Inspirato care and attention to detail can make a tremendous difference in an overall vacation experience! The good news is that she got the booster and the Random Family Olympics continued! Much to my chagrin, my “Random Family” took home the Bronze medal, and that was out of four families. We’ll get ’em next time!
4) The Inspirato Residence Versus the Vacation Rental: The title of this one alone goes a long way in getting the point across. VRBO stands for Vacation Rental By Owner. And a vacation rental is what you get. There are a number of things that make a house feel like a vacation rental. It sort of assumes a level of quality that is a big step down from a regular home. After all, as far as the owner is concerned, why spend top dollar on furnishings, appliances, finishes, etc. when it’s going to be “just a vacation rental”? Our place last week was nice enough, but an Inspirato Residence it definitely was not. Common areas were small when considering the number of bedrooms. Kitchen was tiny for a house that can sleep 20. Bathrooms were adequate at best. And although there were 4 bathrooms total, (one per family…a challenge for me with a wife and two teenage daughters) only one of the bathrooms was en suite. Outside of a nice master bedroom and bathroom, all of the other beds and baths were quite small.
Now, consider the Inspirato Residence if you will (doesn’t that just sound more relaxing and luxurious than….vacation rental). This is NOT a vacation rental. Inspirato Residences are carefully selected and curated vacation homes. Common areas are large and generously appropriate for the number of occupants. Interiors are designed thoughtfully and professionally. Kitchens are large with high-end appliances. Almost all bathrooms are en suite, offering a level of privacy and comfort that is unrivaled by VRBO. And I’d be remiss not to mention the kitchen amenities! Inspirato Residences have everything! Vitamix, KitchenAide mixers, high-end cutlery, flatware, stemware, and so much more! A Michelin star chef would be more than comfortable working their craft in an Inspirato Residence kitchen!
Additionally, when you arrive at an Inspirato Residence, you feel like you’ve already done a walk through due to the details you’ve previewed on their website. The floor plan feature on the property description page of each Inspirato Residence is a wonderful feature. You know exactly what you’ll be getting. It seems as if almost all Inspirato Residences also now have a 360 degree walk through feature, giving you an even clearer idea of what your vacation experience will look like. It’s all so well done and thoughtful.
5) Daily Cleaning Service: I can keep this one fairly short and sweet. We had 17 people in one home (important to note that we were all careful to quarantine prior to our trip together, and we had an ER nurse and Cardiologist along with us in our group. We took necessary precautionary measures related to COVID). Each day we would mobilize and clean the house from top to bottom. We had to drive up from So Cal with all of our cleaning supplies. Would we have enjoyed the Inspirato Clean Vacation Experience each day of our stay? Uh, the answer is a resounding YES! We even had to pack up and bring all of our own bedding due to the owner’s concern about cleanliness during Coronavirus. So instead of the owner taking extra precautions to clean linens carefully upon our departure, we had to pack and bring all of our own. Nevertheless, we still paid the full exaggerated cleaning fee as well. So yeah, this is a huge deal always, but even more so given the times that we find ourselves in. Rest assured, you will never be asked to bring your own linens and cleaning supplies to an Inspirato Residence.
6) Grocery Shopping Service: Oh my goodness, this would have been SO SO great to have on this last trip. We had a four car SUV caravan driving up from OC to the Yosemite area. What filled up all of our vehicles to an extent that we could scarcely squeeze in even one more extra pair of socks?! Yes, groceries! (well, that and the required couple of bins of linens and bedding) So it turns out that 4.5 days of food for 17 people is a LOT of food. I think each family had done a Costco run and a regular grocery store trip prior to our departure. It was a pretty comedic scene to take in once we unloaded all of the food and tried to find a home for everything. It would have been a beautiful thing to arrive and find a kitchen fully stocked with all of the items from our shopping list that we would have sent to our Inspirato concierge a week or so in advance. Granted, it would have been quite a shopping trip for Inspirato, but that is part of the incredible service they consistently both offer and deliver. In addition to a beautifully filled pantry, we undoubtedly would have also been met with a thoughtful welcome gift basket waiting for us upon our arrival, a small but important touch to start a vacation off on the right foot (I’m always such a sucker for the welcome amenities for some reason…I love those things!). In all of my VRBO’ing over the years, never have I come across any type of welcome amenity. That’s okay and it’s not expected. It’s just an example of the difference between Inspirato and VRBO experiences.
7) Time to Head Home: Stripping beds, following all of the departure instructions on the laminated paper taped to the kitchen wall, trying to figure out where to take our extra trash bags as we read about the penalties involved if we leave any trash bags out (bins at the street were already full). That was what our final hours looked like as the 17 of us ran around packing up and prepping for our exit. (Picture the Home Alone scene where the McAlister family is chaotically running around a packed house prepping for their trip. Yep, that was us.) We did finally figure out what to do with our extra trash bags. It turns out we had to drive them to a dumpster about 10 minutes away from the house. We had four huge trash bags and four family vehicles. That ended up meaning that the kids in the back of each car got to hold a big ‘ol trash bag in their laps as we drove away from the vacation rental. We all laughed, hoping the bases of the bags wouldn’t rip before getting them out of our cars. Fortunately for our kids, they didn’t. We launched the bags into the dumpster and were on our way.
Leaving an Inspirato Residence is much less eventful. You pack up your bags and head out. That’s it. And one my favorite things about Inspirato Pass is that right after you check out, you start imagining what your next adventure will be, scrolling through available Inspirato reservations. As we drove away from our vacation rental, I was dreaming about a future Inspirato vacation with this exact same group of “framily” as we call it (friends that are like family). What would that look like? Where could we go? My dream would be to take this group of 17 for a ski trip to Breckenridge this coming winter, staying at Swift Landing, a breathtaking Inspirato Residence that houses up to 21. I can’t imagine how fun it would be to do a ski trip with this crew all staying in the same home! Some day!
I leave you with this; We had an incredible time last week with our family and dear friends. It was a blessing to get away during this season and enjoy the company of one another in such a beautiful place. Our vacation rental worked out well. VRBO has some issues for sure, but they can still deliver a fun vacation. That being said, Inspirato Residences and their included services are at a whole different level entirely. It’s apples and oranges my friends.
Wishing you happy and healthy travels!