THE BAD NEWS for those looking for a Cape or Islands vacation rental for this summer: Now that the recession is over, many properties are raising their fees. “Pricing for 2014 has increased at its largest rate in our 17-year history,” says Elizabeth Weedon, spokeswoman at Wellesley- and Brewster-based weneedavacation.com, a searchable database of about 3,500 rentals. “The Cape and Nantucket are both up around 3.5 percent, and the Vineyard is up a record 5.5 percent.” Hotels are largely following suit. The good news, though, is that you can still find deals, no matter what kind of accommodations you’re looking for.
INNS AND HOTELS
Elizabeth Rothwell of Scout Hotels says that for the Islands, in particular, it’s best to plan early, since many weeks during the peak season book up quickly with conferences, weddings, and other events. “Especially for dates around the Fourth of July and the middle of August,” says the spokeswoman for Scout Hotels, which manages the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth and the Harbor View and Kelley House in Edgartown.
Yet procrastinators can still find special offers and packages throughout the season by checking websites, “liking” their favorite properties on Facebook, and signing up for mailing lists. These promotions are on a limited number of rooms, so you must act fast. “If you see a good offer that matches up with your available dates to travel,” Rothwell says, “it’s always advisable to jump on it.”
Websites like hotels.com and kayak.com do provide lower rates, but Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, recommends them only for initial comparison shopping. “More and more [hotels] are just offering the best price on their websites,” says Northcross, “trying to cut out the middleman.”
Many chambers of commerce post last-minute offerings for all types of accommodations in their area, as does weneedavacation.com for the entire Cape and Islands. “If people can be spontaneous,” says Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard chamber, “it’s a fantastic way to get great deals. Several times last year I saw rooms that normally post for $250 to $350 a night down to $155 or $175, so the savings are significant.” Sometimes, she adds, telephoning the chamber will yield results. “We’re talking to hotels all the time.”
COTTAGE COLONIES AND B & BS
“Don’t be shy about asking” for deals, Gardella says,“especially with smaller inns, B & Bs, and cottage colonies. They’re owner-occupied and -operated businesses, and often small business owners have to do everything. It might be a couple who owns it, and they get very busy and sometimes forget to do marketing.” Sometimes there will be a room or two available, especially midweek, that they’d rather see filled at a cut rate than not at all.
Cottage colonies can be less expensive than stand-alone houses because there are more of them on the property, says Northcross, but it depends on where you’re looking. “In Hyannis, it will be less expensive than in Chatham,” she says, “just because there are more of them.” If you’re the kind of traveler who prefers 800-thread-count sheets, a cottage colony is not for you. “They may be really rustic and basic,” Northcross points out.
This may be where you’ll find the most flexibility in pricing, according to Joan Talmadge, co-owner of weneedavacation.com, because there are so many homes to choose from.
“One way to save,” she says, “is by traveling with another family, either extended family or sets of friends. You can rent a four-bedroom, two-bath home on the Cape and split the cost. You can even have breakfast and lunch at the home for additional savings.” And, she says, search on “pet-friendly” if it applies to forgo the cost of kenneling.
If you’re traveling alone or with a partner or friend, stick with your must-haves, says Jan Macallister of Sotheby’s International Realty in Osterville. “If you don’t need as much space, don’t pay for it,” she says. “Two bedrooms won’t be as much as three, and you’ll pay a little less for one bath. As you increase amenities, the price will go up.”
As with other accommodations, certain weeks are easier to get. Those traveling without children, for instance, will find a broad range of options in the last two weeks of August, when parents with school-age kids have September stress on their minds. Prices may be 10 percent less in those weeks, says Talmadge. And throughout the season, you can still ferret out last-minute finds as cancellations pop up, again by checking the area chamber’s website or calling.
Remember, too, that as with real estate, location matters. Some towns are less expensive than others, says Macallister, and “the closer to the beach, the higher the rental.” Talmadge agrees: “I think a lot people forget we have wonderful freshwater lakes and ponds on the Cape. Many homes are either on a pond or within walking distance. They tend to be on the smaller side and less expensive than beachfront homes and are still not far from saltwater beaches.” Either way, with a little legwork, you’ll be in the swim.
Elizabeth Gehrman is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.