The home exchange network Love Home Swap is playing with their pricing model, again. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. I expect networks to periodically experiment with pricing models, or change their pricing to reflect changes in the network. The problem is, Love Home Swap’s new pricing model is really hard to distinguish from a scam. And given their history of misleading advertising of membership counts, I’m going to call it intentionally deceptive.
What price is Love Home Swap advertising?
Love Home Swap advertises three levels of membership: Lite, Standard and Platinum. The Lite membership is $132 per year while Standard is $156, and Platinum is $180. (You pay it as a lump sum so looking at a per month price is meaningless.) Standard and Platinum include some perks not part of the Lite membership. But if you only have one home I don’t think the higher levels are necessary.
Up until this year, the Love Home Swap annual membership fee was ridiculously high at $240/year, almost $100 more than their next highest competition. But it was all in pricing.
What will you really pay?
$132/year seems like a big improvement, and I was excited about this apparent decrease in fees. It brings LHS in line with standard industry pricing. But this base price now comes with additional fees for each swap. Here’s how it works:
- Members pay an annual fee of at least $132/year.
- Members pay an additional per exchange fee for all swaps using points. This fee ranges from $69 to $129 depending on the length of the stay. I believe this fee is charged to both the host and the guest.
- There is no additional fee for reciprocal exchanges not using points.
I don’t like this new pricing model because I primarily use Love Home Swap for points-based exchanges. And so it’s clearly going to cost me a lot more money. And it also just feels like a calculated play to get more money out of members without admitting that prices are going up. (See also their new points + cash booking options). I want to pay for the service LHS provides, connecting me with other home swappers. But at $240/year I was ready to quit the network. This new pricing model will cost even more if I do just one or two exchanges.
Fees hidden from members
What’s worse than raising the prices with these additional fees, is the sneaky way that Love Home Swap is introducing this pricing model. Nowhere on the website does Love Home Swap tell new members that they will have to pay per swap, on top of the $132 per year base membership price. You have to create a profile and pay for your membership before you can find any information about the additional costs for points-based exchanges!
Someone in our Facebook group chatting about home exchange recently posted about this LHS pricing. She was charged extra for a swap after she had paid for an annual membership. And this charge was totally a surprise to her! I think this is surprise going to be very common.
Once you join, create a profile, and pay for your membership, it’s still very difficult to find anything that tells you there are additional fees to do points swaps on LHS. Here’s what you see when you sign up as a new member:
I activated my profile and was welcomed with the screen above. I was given 200 free points without signing up for the points system. And I wasn’t prompted to opt in or out of the points swapping while creating my profile. I clicked on the “Learn more about Points” button above and it brought me to this screen:
Looks simple enough. Most people will probably stop here and start searching for a points-based exchange. But I kept reading because I knew what I was looking for. I scrolled down through three more screens of nicely done images telling me how great points-based swapping is, and explaining in more detail how it works. I finally got to the FAQ about points.
That’s the bottom of the page. Near the very bottom there you can see the question about points being included in my membership. And here’s what it says:
So you’d think that is the end of the story. Points are included! But I knew, from the sales person who tried to convince me to renew my membership, that there are FAQs about this additional points pricing. So I went back to the main help page and found another FAQ on points. And on that page I see this:
I had to scroll down a page to get to the service fee question, hence the two images above.
This is pretty much the definition of hidden costs! I don’t see how anyone could argue this is a fair business practice. The website actually contradicts itself. But even if that first FAQ included this service fee, I’d still argue this is a very well hidden cost. And LHS is going to have a lot of angry members on their hands.
To be fair, I suspect that some of what’s going on here with the contradictory FAQ info is not so much malicious deception as a narrow focus on sales and marketing to the exclusion of good web development practices. And so stuff is changing but no one is doing the work to make sure the website is up to date in all places. I actually found another example of this problem while poking around looking at pricing stuff.
The “Borrow Points” pricing contradiction
Let’s look at the “Borrow Points” link featured prominently at the top of every screen.
Below are the FAQs printed on this main Borrow Points page that comes up from the link at the top of every screen.
The above pricing contradicts the FAQs that I see from the more general help link on the LHS webpage.
Too many pricing models, too little information
I know LHS is constantly changing their pricing model to try to optimize (presumably profit). But the result is incorrect and contradictory information in the FAQs. I’ve heard from a lot of people that LHS is very bad at providing support when it has to do with anything besides renewing your membership. It appears this is leaking into their work updating the website.
I recommend that people avoid the Love Home Swap network. I will be leaving the network when my membership expires at the end of this year. I’ve had some great exchange experiences with LHS members. And I used to list them among my favorite networks. Even after learning about their deceptive advertising (claiming 10x the number of listings they actually have!) I stayed with Love Home Swap. In large part because of the representation of homes in Asia, where most other networks are lacking. But I just can’t support a company that is intentionally deceiving members.