Today the network HomeExchange announced they’re eliminating the Essential pay-per-night membership option. Essential members keep active profiles on the network for free, and they pay $15 per night for swaps. This system made financial sense for people doing only a few nights of home exchange each year. But for more than 10 nights it is cheaper to pay the $150 annual fee for Optimal membership. Starting December 2 people won’t have this choice.
Lots of members opposed the Essential option on HomeExchange. As HomeExchange explains on their FAQ about this change:
“We have noticed that the Essential formula creates misunderstandings about the use of home exchange. The payment per night is more similar to hotel services and short-term rental which are not in line with what home-exchanging actually is. Furthermore, we have seen an increase in the number of very short-duration-exchanges made with the pay-per-night offer which has frustrated hosts and do not have the characteristics of what a home-exchange is.”
Since they’ve always had these two options I’m not sure what this increase is about. Perhaps recent advertising campaigns brought in new members focused on cheap lodging rather than actually home exchanging.
Exchanges already set up with the pay-per-night plan will be honored. But members can’t set up new swaps with this system after December 2.
Full access for non-members
In an interesting twist, HomeExchange is giving everyone access to the full content of the website without payment.
“You are required to have the Membership only at the finalisation stage of arranging your exchange. This means that you will be able to create your account, your listing and profile, make searches, contact Members and propose exchanges without having the Membership.
When the arrangements for your exchange are set and you are both ready to finalise the exchange, you will be asked to pay for the Membership when you click on ‘Finalise the exchange’.”
There are only a two reasons I can see to pay before setting up your first swap. Most compelling: all Optimal members get 500 GuestPoints for joining. If you want to spend these on your first “exchange” you will need to pay before setting it up. There are also Facebook groups only open to Optimal members. Some folks use these groups to facilitate finding exchanges and to interact with the community.
This full access policy is no better than the “Essential” membership option for data privacy. Home swap networks overall expose a lot of member data to the public. And the data that is only visible to members is easy to access on free networks; just spend a few minutes to create an account.
This also means members still need to weed through lots of inactive listings created by people who wanted to test out the network but then lost interest. With no skin (money) in the game, it’s inevitable some people will join but then leave without inactivating their profiles. This is not a new problem for HomeExchange.
Putting aside the concerns above, I see why HomeExchange is doing this. People want a way to test out home swap networks. You can’t know if you’re going to find matches until you really put in the work to seek exchanges. A few week trial just isn’t long enough to test that thoroughly. So HomeExchange is basically giving people an indefinite trial. It also helps their membership numbers. I will continue to work with HomeExchange to get an accurate count of active members to display alongside their total membership count in my home swap network comparison spreadsheet.