Editorial Policy

Credit card deposit can lead to post-vacation stress

Allie Johnson

November 12, 2013

My husband and I (and our dogs) recently spent a weekend at a cabin in the mountains of north Georgia for some much-needed relaxation. The trip was wonderful, but one thing stressed me out: the vacation rental deposit.

The cabin itself was more like a rustic house, with two floors, a full kitchen and a huge sun porch with a hot tub. The deposit was big, too: $350.

When we checked in, the owner asked how we wanted to pay our deposit, and we handed over our credit card.

After our trip, I kept checking our credit card account online, expecting to see a credit. Days passed, then a week, and I started to get worried. I wondered if our dogs had caused some damage to the house that I hadn’t noticed. I checked the vacation rental website for information about deposits, and I saw a notice that said the money is refunded by paper check within 14 days after checkout.

I went ahead and paid the credit card bill in full. When no check arrived, I looked at our credit card account again and found a credit for the deposit amount, which caused a negative balance. I wished I had asked more questions ahead of time to save myself some hassle.

Like ours, most vacation rental deposits aren’t cheap. According to vacation rental site FlipKey.com, the typical deposit runs from $200 to $500 or more. So it pays to be vigilant when handing over that much money. To avoid problems (and stress) associated with vacation rental deposits, follow these tips:

1. Ask a lot of questions. Here are some things you should know before handing over your card:

  • How much is the deposit?
  • Is any part of the deposit non-refundable? For example, according to FlipKey.com, some deposits include cleaning or pet fees.
  • Under what circumstances would you keep all or part of it?
  • When and how will it be returned?

2. Learn the laws. According to FlipKey.com, consumers are protected by local laws that should spell out how much time the owner has to return the security deposit (usually 14 to 30 days) and under what circumstances the owner can keep the deposit. In some places, according to vacation rental company HomeAway, the owner has to provide receipts for repairs when keeping part or all of the deposit.

3. Get it in writing. Don’t rely on verbal assurances that you’ll get your deposit back. Make sure you get — and hang on to — a piece of paper that spells out the specifics of the deposit. In our case, we did get a detailed document that told how much would be charged for certain transgressions.

4. Use your credit card to pay it. The best way to pay for a vacation rental, including the deposit, is to use a credit card, according to travel site Frommers.com. Credit cards offer more consumer protections than other methods of payment, including the ability to dispute a charge — if, for example, the owner keeps the security deposit for damage you didn’t cause.

5. Check for damage when you arrive. FlipKey.com recommends doing a walk-through of the property as soon as you get in and notifying the manager or owner right away if you find damage. When we read online reviews for the cabin we rented, a previous guest had complained that the owner kept their security deposit over a couch pillow that had been chewed by a dog. The guest denied it was their dog that had an appetite for upholstery. If that was true, the dispute could have been avoided with a walk-through.

6. Be a good guest. According to RentByOwnerGuide.com, one reason owners charge security deposits is to give renters more incentive to be careful and neat during their stay. When we were at the cabin, we read the rules thoroughly and tried to treat the home as if it belonged to a friend. We even cleaned before we left. One exception: We did let our dog get on the bed, despite a warning that a fee would be charged if “excessive pet hair” was found on the comforter.

Next time, I’ll definitely follow these rules to avoid post-vacation fretting about whether or not I’ll get my deposit back. After all, a vacation is supposed to alleviate, not cause, stress.