8 Misplaced Expectations About Vacation Rentals (and Why They Can’t Be Hotels)

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“So honey, if we want the towels washed we just leave them all on the floor?”

“Um … how do you say ‘no’ in Costa Rican?”

In the past 10 years or so, the vacation rental industry has taken off like a rocket, challenging the age-old dominance of hotels by attracting 700 million visitors worldwide in 2022, with a global valuation expected to reach $220.4 billion by 2024.

Vacation rentals are often the go-to choice of younger people today, while a hotel may seem so “old school.” But people of an older generation sometimes have expectations about vacation rentals that they provide hotel-style services, like daily cleaning, a 24-hour reception desk, or perhaps even turn-down service with chocolate mints on the pillows.

Here are eight of the top misplaced expectations about vacation rentals, and some of the reasons they can’t function like hotels. 


Vacation rentals should provide the same services as hotels, like daily housekeeping.

Peter Griffin Housekeeping
Peter Griffin: “Housekeeping? Housekeeping!”

People accustomed to staying in hotels may be a bit spoiled by the daily cleaning, fresh towels, and constant replenishment of soaps, shampoos, and other goodies.

But in the vacation rental industry, this is simply not feasible, and for some pretty simple reasons. 

In a hotel, everything is in the same place under one roof. Housekeeping, laundry, maintenance, gardening, front-desk staff, and management all work in the same place where the guests stay. It’s feasible to provide cleaning every day because the maids simply walk from one room to the next. 

With vacation rentals, the owners very rarely live on-site, and, in fact, may live thousands of miles away. Owners living remotely have to hire local helpers to clean and maintain their homes. Many owners rely on full-service property management companies like Special Places of Costa Rica to coordinate housekeeping, and in fact, we have a small army of maids who usually stay very busy just cleaning up after all the checkouts.

But unlike a hotel with all its guests under one roof, we manage 100+ properties that are up to 35 miles apart, with rentals in Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Las Catalinas, Potrero, Flamingo, Brasilito, Reserva Conchal and Huacas. 

To provide daily cleaning (and soap/shampoo replacement), we’d need a LARGE army of maids who are constantly traveling far and wide to clean all the same units they cleaned yesterday. This would create huge costs that would raise prices to untenable levels.

Many hotels have a full-time laundry staff dedicated to nothing but washing, drying, and folding sheets and towels, often for daily replacement. Again, this is possible if all the guests are under the same roof as the laundry room. But it would be completely infeasible to offer daily laundering of sheets and towels for 100 properties spread over a large area.

Reputable vacation rental companies will provide you with a starter package of towels, soap, toilet paper, and other necessities, though luxury homes will provide all these for the duration. 

But if you’re staying a long time, some things may run out. If this happens, we ask guests to please replenish these supplies on their next trip to the grocery store.


I should be able to get an upgrade.

The Simpsons in Costa Rica
The Simpsons in Costa Rica: This is it?

In some cases, vacation rental guests find that what they booked is less than they hoped for, and now they’d like an “upgrade,” even if they have to pay extra. In a hotel, it may be no problem to upgrade a guest from humbler quarters to a superior suite. 

But remember — the hotel owns ALL the rooms in the hotel, they’re all in the same place, and all the money that pays for these rooms goes into the exact same pot.  

But vacation rental companies typically represent dozens of properties that all have different owners. The rental agreement with each owner is unique, and the rental fees all go into different pockets. 

To provide an “upgrade,” we have to cancel out on one property owner, paying him or her any cancellation fees, and then initiate a new booking with a different property owner. 

Let’s say you’ve rented an apartment from Betty Basic for $75 a night, and you’ve paid her a deposit. But upon arrival, you’re not really thrilled with the place, and now you’d like to move to the $125 home up the street offered by Sam Swank. 

But your deposit is already in Betty’s bank, and she would be due big fees for a cancellation on check-in day. Meanwhile, Sam would need a deposit, too, and this would have to be a totally different transaction. We can’t just take your deposit away from Betty and give it to Sam (and Sam would probably need a larger deposit anyway).

We will always try to accommodate any request to make our guests happy. But please bear in mind that it’s complicated with vacation rentals to just “upgrade” from one place to another because almost all units are under different ownership.


Where’s the 24/7 reception desk?

Family guy
If “Family Guy” can do it . . .

Larger hotels often provide 24-hour staffing of a reception desk. Say you’d like to request room service for two crème brûlées and a bottle of our finest champagne at 3 o’clock in the morning. That’ll be right up, sir!

At Special Places, we do offer 24/7 response to property emergencies, like a house flooded in the night by a broken pipe, but fortunately, these are extremely rare. 

Most issues can wait until morning, and we are fully staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday. But a 24-hour “reception desk” is not really feasible for a vacation rental company with properties scattered all over the region. 

First of all, where would we put it? Hotels put reception desks right in front of the place where all their guests stay, but that’s not possible for us. 


Check-out should be at the same time as check-in.

Man holding a sign saying "Check-Out Should Be The Same Time As Check-In"
One question: When will they clean?

There’s a common perception that vacation rentals (or for that matter hotels) should have the same check-in and check-out times. Aren’t guests paying for a full 24 hours per day? But in fact, they are not.

Check-in times are usually in the afternoon and check-out times are in the morning — in almost all vacation rentals and hotels. The reason for this is very simple: to give the cleaning and maintenance staff three or four hours to clean and prepare the room for the next guest. 

If check-in and check-out times were both at, say, 3 p.m., how would you handle a situation where one group is checking out and another is checking in at the same time? Owners would have to either rent the place dirty, delay check-in by several hours, or forfeit a day’s rental to give them time to clean. 

It’s not economically feasible to give up a day’s rent between every two bookings just for housekeeping. That’s why check-in and check-out times are different almost everywhere.

The No. 1 complaint about vacation rentals worldwide is their cleanliness, and check-out times are in place to give us time to clean properly. Late check-outs force us to rush the job, and that isn’t helpful to anyone.


Eek, there’s an ant in my condo! 

Occasionally, we receive guests who are shocked and horrified to find an ant in their condo — or God forbid a gecko.

the gecko from GEICO
What did I do?

Most of our property owners perform routine fumigation of their homes. We love our animals in Costa Rica, but we do NOT love our cockroaches. We do not welcome spiders or scorpions in our homes, nor do we roll out the red carpet for ant infestations. 

BUT … this is Costa Rica, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. In addition to jaguars, sloths, monkeys, and whales, we have lots of bugs. Remediation against pest invasion is certainly one of our priorities, but there’s no realistic way to ensure that an ant explorer never finds its way into your house. 

Mosquitoes are another reality that it’s impossible for us to eradicate. Many of our finest homes offer open-air terraces, decks, balconies, or pools — perfect places for humans to relax, and humans tend to attract mosquitoes. But even in hermetically sealed homes, if you can go in the door, a mosquito can, too.

Geckos are some of Costa Rica’s most iconic animals, cute and harmless, and hard to keep out because they can literally walk into the house upside down on the ceiling. 

As for ants, they don’t eat much! They are hard-working social animals that are always foraging for food or new nests, and most are totally harmless to humans. If they try to nest in our homes, we will remove them. But if you find a few ants scouting around the house, this is not cause for alarm or emergency fumigation.


Can I get a 50% discount on this rental if you’re not using it anyway?

Simpson's character with a change purse
Looking to save some coin?

Everyone loves a bargain, but occasionally we’re contacted by customers who seem to think they can get huge discounts just because they asked. And by that, we mean asking for discounts of 50% or more.

When a cashier in a grocery store rings up your purchases and says, “That’ll be 30,000 colones,” do you counteroffer with 15,000? Or when you book a hotel or an airline ticket, do you try to haggle?

Owners of vacation rentals have large investments to recover, and they face substantial operating costs for cleaning, gardening, maintenance, utilities, taxes, and more. At our finest rentals, owners have spared no expense to furnish and decorate their homes for genuine luxury and “wow factor.” These rentals are pricey because they’re worth it.

Property owners who have invested heavily in equipping a top-notch vacation rental deserve fair prices. You can certainly ask if any discount is possible, but extreme bargain hunters looking for drastically slashed prices usually end up wasting both their time and ours.

If somebody has put their blood, sweat, and tears into building their dream home, and you offer them half of what it’s worth, that’s not just bad manners, it’s offensive. 


I need to cancel for free, please.

Family Guy cartoon character on the phone
“Because I need that money back.”

We have cancellation policies at Special Places that are pretty flexible, but there are always customers who want exceptions. Sometimes people threaten to give us a bad review, or even to sue us to get refunds they aren’t due.

Vacation rentals are a business, and a late cancellation means a loss of income, money that was going to be used to cover expenses for the property. If somebody cancels 30 or 60 days out, they don’t take into account that the chances are slim we can rebook the property. 

Also, sometimes guests say they have a personal reason why they can’t travel anymore, and they want to cancel the booking and get a full refund. But that’s not how it works — that’s what travel insurance is for. Vacation rental owners shouldn’t be focused on giving money back when they need the money to pay the bills for their home. 


Here’s my terrible review of something beyond your control. 

Tripadvisor review of a mountain with a title "Very Steep and Too High"
A review of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland.

“The beach was too sandy.” This is an actual note from a review in a list of funny travel complaints published by Tripadvisor. 

Another one: “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

Well, we’ll get right on that! 

When you travel to a foreign country to stay in a luxury vacation condo, you should have high expectations, but they should be grounded in local reality. Many of the reviews we receive at Special Places address issues that are totally beyond our control.

Sometimes, when reviewing our properties, guests say they went to a nearby restaurant and didn’t like the food. Obviously, there’s not much we can do about that. 

At times, people have complained that the shared pool at a large complex was not clean. This may be a totally legitimate complaint, but please understand that the owner of the unit you rented is not personally responsible for cleaning everyone’s pool. In a case like this, we can share the complaint with the management of the complex, but we can’t necessarily resolve the issue ourselves.

Sometimes reviewers complain that there was a stain on the wall, or some of the wood inside the house was chipped. While we take maintenance and upkeep issues seriously, we can’t guarantee that every unit we feature is 100% flawless.

We would ask guests to please manage their expectations somewhat when traveling to Costa Rica and staying in someone’s privately owned home. We can’t be the Four Seasons, nor do we charge luxury hotel mega-prices.

“Oh my God, honey, there’s a beetle in the bathroom!!!”

“Really?! Ask if he can sing ‘Hey Jude’!”

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