Finding last minute house swaps in Europe

Recently my plans for a trip to Europe changed pretty dramatically. Two weeks before departure I was still figuring out where to go. Of course this meant I also didn’t have lodging set up. Once I picked the cities and dates I started looking for home exchanges.

Obviously at this late date, chances were basically zero that I’d find someone wanting to do a simultaneous exchange with me. Also, I needed lodging in lots of places for a few nights each. This is the perfect situation for points-based home exchanges.

I use two networks primarily for points exchanges: Guest to Guest and LoveHomeSwap. I’ve earned a lot of points on both network hosting people while away from home, so I was looking to spend some of these points.

I was searching for places to stay in Zagreb, London, Brussels and Paris. In Europe both sites have many listings. Though it turns out neither is well represented in Croatia, where I ended up booking an Airbnb instead.

Last minute search features

The LoveHomeSwap search feature isn’t very useful when you have specific dates for travel. It doesn’t allow you to filter by dates, only by month. So while a lot of results turned up in my searches, most weren’t actually available during my dates, and many had already indicated this on their calendars. LoveHomeSwap also doesn’t display results on a map, so I couldn’t narrow in on the area I knew I wanted. Overall I found searching on LoveHomeSwap to be a frustrating waste of time.

Guest to Guest, on the other hand, is nicely set up for searching based on specific dates and narrowing in quickly on availability. I used the “guest wanted” filter which allows hosts to list dates when they are seeking guests. I also tried selecting “secondary home” as a filter, figuring these folks might not bother to turn on “guest wanted” because their place is mostly available.

Finally, I ran searches on Guest to Guest just with our dates included, as this returns people who have indicated availability for those dates at the top of the list. The problem is, I know I don’t keep my available dates current all the time. Also, I might be available for a simultaneous exchange, but not for a points stay. So I had the least hope for these folks. Nonetheless I sent out a handful of inquiries on this list as well. I was also able to filter to only places with two beds, an option not available on the LoveHomeSwap search.

London

In London I found a lot of vacation homes on LoveHomeSwap, the only filter they had that might indicate last minute availability. But all that were in a good location were already booked. There are surprisingly few listings on Guest to Guest in London, and nothing available in areas I wanted. For the two nights I would be in London with a friend we were stuck with Airbnb or hotels.

However, I got lucky with my one layover night in London and was able to book a place I had stayed previously through LoveHomeSwap. That’s a separate story (stay tuned).

Brussels

I had booked a points stay in Brussels for one night through Guest to Guest, back when this trip looked very different. I decided to extend my stay there so I reached out to my host to ask if this might be possible. Fortunately I knew this was a vacation home for him, and his calendar showed it available. He was very gracious and allowed me to book more nights. He even offered to bring in a second bed since I’d now be traveling with a friend.

Paris

I found a lot of listings on Guest to Guest in Paris; no surprise since this is where they are based. I turned to the “guest wanted” filter first. I sent out about 6 inquiries for the four days I’d be in Paris (2 of them with a friend), expecting to hear back from all of them. They wanted guests after all! To my surprise only 3 responded: one rejecting my request and the others agreeing to it. Unfortunately one who accepted had a cat in the flat and I’m allergic. The second one had a listing with 2 bedrooms, but when I asked her to confirm this she told me one room was not for use and so there was only one bed in the flat.

I was going to be in Paris alone for two days, before meeting up with my friend. So I tried to modify the booking for the one room place that had agreed to my request to just cover those two nights. I received an immediate note back telling me it was no longer available those dates. I wonder if she accepted two requests at the same time, or just decided not to leave town those dates. Either way I’m glad I didn’t end up booking with her. To me the inaccurate description of her flat and this game with dates available are red flags.

Because it’s easier to find a stay for two nights, I also sent out some inquiries for just the days when I would be in Paris alone. For these dates I could include smaller flats so that increased my options. And I used the vacation home and date-based searches I mentioned above, to increase my options and odds of success.

In the end I got four positive responses for the two nights I would be alone in Paris. Three from Guest to Guest and one from LoveHomeSwap. All of the Guest to Guest homes had listed “guest wanted” on my dates, and I ended up selecting one of those for my stay. The one I picked was the first to respond to me, but also the best option for location and points pricing.

Lessons learned

Guest to Guest has improved their search functionality over the years, and I really like it! The default to filter out people who don’t have a response rate over 80% is also great because it means I don’t waste my time with the many people who join this free site but don’t really use it.

LoveHomeSwap, on the other hand, seems to have made their search functionality less useful over time. And they still haven’t fixed the long running bug with request dates showing up wrong. A pretty important feature to get right! I have a pretty big bank of points with LoveHomeSwap, but I may just try to run through those this year and then cancel my membership. I’ve had some great exchanges through this network over the past few years, but it seems to me they are not interested in making improvements that serve members’ needs. At some point I want to stop giving them my money.

And lastly, this experience led me to immediately update my calendar on all the networks I use. When people update it regularly, that calendar function can be really helpful!

1 Comment

  1. Great.
    for gtg you also have a face book group which is nice for last minute

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