If your beach vacation lasts longer than a day or two, you're already doing your bank account a huge favor by opting for a house of condo rental over racking up fees at a hotel. But what if we said you could save even more? We tapped experts along the Gulf—rental central—to find out how you can get the best deal on your lodging.
Start online. Try a large-scale site like HomeAway, which acquired VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and has more than 20,000 listings in the Florida Panhandle and Alabama Gulf Coast, to get a sense of pricing in different communities. If you don't find what you're looking for, narrow your focus with a smaller agency that specializes on the region, like Gulf Coast Rentals, which represents more than 1,300 properties in Florida.
Create your "must-have" list. "If you want a Gulf-facing property but don't care to be at the see-and-be-seen beach, consider a less well-known town like Navarre Beach," says Dave Williams, founder of the aforementioned Gulf Coast Rentals. If you dream of having a pristine waterfront view, consider a condo, simply because there are more of them available.
Think beyond the beach. You'll save roughly 10% if you look for a place that's not right on the beach. And you don't have to go that far. Diana Heather, the spokesperson for HomeAway, says Perdido Key, the 16-mile stretch between Pensacola, Florida, and Orange Beach, Alabama, is a great bet. "Many of the properties that are not 'beachfront properties' are just a short walk to the water," she says.
Negotiate. If you learn that a six-bedroom beach house is available a month before your trip, the owners may be open to locking access to two bedrooms and allowing your family four rooms at a discount.
Will you be heading to the beach this summer. Which will you do—hotel or rental?