A year ago HomeExchange.com introduced Balloons, their version of points-based house swapping. Instead of having to arrange for a simultaneous home exchange, having to agree on exact dates to stay in one another homes, members can earn and spend “balloons” on swaps.
Here’s an example of how it works: Let’s say I’m going to be away staying with family for a week. My home will be empty so I can host someone from HomeExchange.com and earn a balloon. Then, on my next trip to Mallorca I can spend that balloon to stay in someone’s vacation home.
The point of balloons is to facilitate non-simultaneous swaps when reciprocal exchanges aren’t possible. Most other home exchange networks that offer something along these lines opt to use points as a currency. With points you can place a value on a one night stay in a home, and then calculate the “cost” based on the number of nights you need. Balloons, on the other hand, value every stay equally. You can spend one balloon for a 3 week stay, or for a 2 night stay. Both stays “cost” the same.
I have a home exchange set up through LoveHomeSwap in Bangkok for September. That site has a lot of vacation homes available using their points system. And I found a really nice place for my stay. This leaves my home empty during that trip, so I was happy to get a request for an exchange via HomeExchange.com. The Parisian swappers offered me either a simultaneous exchange or a balloon stay. Their dates overlap perfectly with my Bangkok trip. I will be earning my first balloon!
Although this is my first earned balloon, I do already have one in my account. HomeExchange.com seeded some accounts (maybe all accounts) with balloons to encourage use of this system. Obviously you can’t start off with no one having any balloons. There’s no way to get started!
I think the balloon idea is creative. But as someone always looking to maximize value, I have a hard time considering using balloons for less than a week stay. I’m more likely to spend a few points in another network for that short stay and look for a longer swap to use my balloons. And this is not what HomeExchange.com intended. They offer balloons to simulate a typical exchange, where every stay is valued equally.
At this point I’m mostly hearing complaints from HomeExchange.com users that they can’t swaps with their balloons. I think it’s probably a bit premature to start complaining: it’s only been a year since the concept was launched, and I think it will take a bit of time before it becomes popular. I hope balloons will catch on as I like having flexible exchange options. When a simultaneous swap isn’t possible I’ll definitely use balloons.
In an interesting twist, I’ve received several solicitation emails from people looking to earn balloons. These come in as proposed swaps, but the message isn’t asking if they can stay in my home, instead they are offering their home up on specific dates in exchange for a balloon. So far these solicitations have only come from people in areas that I list as desired destinations. And in fact one of them may work out for a stay over the Christmas holiday.