HomeExchange.com introduced a new house swap option joining the exchange networks facilitating points-based non-simultaneous exchanges. This new feature, which they call balloons, makes it easier for people to find swap partners by eliminating the requirement that you exchange directly: my home for yours. The HomeExchange.com balloon is similar to swap points, but rather than placing value on a night, the balloon places value on an entire stay. You host someone and you earn a balloon. Then you can spend that balloon to stay anywhere, anytime. Each entire stay is covered by one balloon.
There are some pros and cons to this concept. I like that HomeExchange is valuing all homes equally. I am not a fan of variable swap points values where each person sets the number of points they “charge” per night. There are a lot of ways people can game home points values, but my main objection is that I want points to work just like a regular home exchange, where we agree that we just swap houses. No negotiating over whose home is nicer or more valuable, each has it’s own merits and I only swap to places I want to stay, and I expect people will only swap to my home if they like it. Of course I say this from the privileged position of living in a city that is a desirable vacation destination, in a home that is in a good location. I do understand that allowing people to lower the points value of their home might help facilitate swaps to less desirable locations/homes.
I’m not sure I like the HomeExchange.com balloon system of placing the value on an entire stay rather than by nights. I do not value a 3 night stay the same as I value 2 weeks in another person’s home. I think about home exchange in terms of how much I’m saving on lodging: 2 nights is short enough that I might pay for a hostel or use hotel points, 2 weeks of free lodging is worth a lot more to me. This could also lead to gaming the system: host someone for a day and get a week or two of free lodging. On the other hand, the balloon concept is similar to the non-simultaneous exchanges that often vary in length, so I can see how it makes sense to just value all stays equally from that perspective.
Typically, if I’m putting together non-simultaneous swaps, it’s because I’m looking for shorter stays. This means I’d have to find others who also want short stays if I’m going to earn enough balloons from my empty home while I’m traveling. For instance, on an upcoming trip to Scotland we are staying in 2 different houses using swap points so that we can explore different regions. If I did this through HomeExchange.com’s new balloon system I’d spend 2 balloons for these stays, but potentially only earn 1 balloon back if I had only one couple stay in my home while we’re away (which is my preference so there is no concern about cleaning or logistics in between guests).
HomeExchange.com has seeded some member’s accounts with 1 free balloon, but not all of those who were invited to use the passport system got this balloon. I think that was a mistake: they need to encourage use by seeding accounts with some redemption options. It costs them nothing to give everyone a free balloon to jump start this system. I hope as they roll this out to more people they will consider doing that.
It’s not clear how many accounts are on this new balloon passport system initially or how members were selected to participate. When I browse passport listings I see thousands of homes. I’m thrilled to be an early adopter on this system, but with no way to opt out and an automated opt in system I’m concerned that many of those passport listings aren’t actually accepting balloons for home exchanges. I know at least one person who was enrolled but doesn’t plan to use the system. There is an easy fix to this problem: in the list of types of exchanges someone is willing to do HomeExchange.com needs to add this balloon system so people can clearly indicate participation.
Hopefully they didn’t foist the new system on people who don’t want to use it just to make it appear that there are a lot of options for balloon redemptions. I recall LoveHomeSwap’s introduction of swap points was a bit awkward when they had only a few homes opting in to the system and so they had to game their search engine so that most searches wouldn’t return zero homes. Fortunately LHS points adoption has grown dramatically and this is no longer a problem.
Overall I’m thrilled to see HomeExchange.com innovating and introducing ways to facilitate more exchanges by making it easier to find a swap partner. This sort of non-simultaneous exchange, which doesn’t require a mutual swap, opens up a lot more options to HomeExchange.com members. Not everyone wants these options, but for me it’s an indispensable tool in my home swap kit.