Podcast #198 — London Vacation Rental Woes; Hertz’s EV Retreat

fence gate with a sign saying Beware of The Bull

Booking.com’s Customer Service Center?

I walked by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre after a weekend of wrestling with Booking.com and TravelNest‘s service agents, trying unsuccessfully to not let them screw up my London vacation rental. The Macbeth soliloquy about a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” pretty much summed up my experience — lots of talk that yielded nothing. But before that, we catch up on Hertz’s EV reversal, Sioux City, Iowa’s embrace of their SUX airport code, and a flash-in-the-pan airport delay betting app. All this and more – click here to download the podcast file, go up to the Subscribe section in the top menu bar to subscribe on your favorite site, or listen right here by clicking on the arrow on the player.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #198:

Since The Last Episode

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios in Nashville, TN after an extended holiday break that had us in the UK for the back half of November — the first week in Dorset on the south coast doing a bit of muddy hiking and then knocking around London the second week. As I mentioned a few episodes back, Irene and I took BA’s direct flights between Nashville and Heathrow. Our flights were on 787’s, but apparently the route has become popular enough for BA to announce they’re upgauging it to a triple 7. Interesting given that Nashville isn’t a hub airport. Had what has become my standard flight-to-Nashville moment — helping a guy rearrange the overhead bin so he could fit his guitar in. Not sure if there are enough musicians to fill those extra seats though. Music tourists? Bachelorette parties? I dunno, but the Nashville airport will need to get their new international baggage claim hall sorted before then. When we arrived, we were told to get our luggage and then go to the immigration line — the exact opposite of every other international arrival flow I’ve ever done. There was only one Global Entry terminal and it was over by the luggage belt rather than by the immigration line. So we all queued up for it while we waited for our luggage to arrive. After a 45-minute wait (and a lot of AirTag checking), we grabbed our bags and headed over to immigration, went to the Global Entry line which seemed to act like a Clear line for TSA — we got a line cut to the next immigration agent, but still had to go through all the questions and photo taking. It was weird, inefficient, very unlike my recent arrivals at ORD and EWR. Maybe they just need more reps to work out the kinks, or bring in a more experienced manager. Whatever it is, they need to fix it before bigger jets and more people show up.
  • After that jaunt in November, we’ve pretty much stayed put, with our spare bedroom being on the receiving end of travel — our daughter Claire was here for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year’s, one couple who’d never been to Nashville before (amazing!) and two other couples for whom Nashville, handily enough, was 8 hours down the road on their first day driving to somewhere. You could say “Great! Chance to be a tourist in our own town!” but it’s more about being the tour guide, which, in Nashville, comes with the responsibility of having informed opinions about things like the best hot chicken joint and the best Broadway honky-tonk. Nashville’s Hot Chicken Week was a couple weeks ago, which gave me the excuse (as if I needed one) to buy the jumbo jar of Mylanta and hit every hot chicken joint to figure out the best — which for me is Red’s 615 Kitchen in the West End. I can’t say I’ve been that meticulous about my honky-tonk opinions; one can dodge only so many bachelorette parties and watch only so many cover bands. And then I’ve gotta keep finding new cool places to take our visitors the next time they pass through town. I’m telling you, this tour guide thing can be a bit exhausting.
  • Bridge Music — Funkist – cdk dub mix by cdk (c) copyright 2007 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: teru

Following Up

  • Well… the lead topic for the last episode was “Renting a Tesla”; finally relenting to Hertz’s incessant email offers/pleas for a November. Two months later, Hertz announces they’re selling off a third of their EV fleet — 20,000 of them. Paging through hertzcarsales.com, it’s mostly Tesla Model 3s, with a few Model Ys and Chevy Bolts sprinkled in. I was a little surprised when I read it because Hertz had been hitting their fleet electrification message so hard. But now looking back on some of my observations in the last episode — the EV aisle at Logan airport full up with 10-12 Tesla Model 3’s and a couple of Polestars, the guys working there being so nonchalant about battery levels and car condition — the clues were there. But someone was driving them. Half of these EVs have 30-60,000 miles on them — which feels heavy for a fleet of 18-month-old cars, even if they’re rental cars. If nothing else, it cuts my Hertz email traffic way down.
  • Just one more thing on EVs. Also in that topic, I talked about the hassle of charging an EV. Not range anxiety — I was only driving 20 miles from Logan; but the effort to find a charger and then the time it took to charge the battery. In London, we stayed in an OK neighborhood between King’s Cross Station and Clerkenwell, typical urban streetscape of walk-up apartment buildings and cars parked bumper-to-bumper along the curb. Walking down the sidewalk the first day there, I saw a cord coming out of a parked car. Where the hell is that going? I looked down at my feet — it wasn’t running across the sidewalk into the building. No, it was plugged into the base of the street light. Pretty clever… and necessary since none of the folks living in these flats has a garage to charge in.
  • Back in November, right after I dropped the last episode in which I talked about my turboprop flight to Sioux City, IA as the “ah ha” moment justifying the price of my first pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about how Sioux City, Iowa is embracing the three-letter code for their airport, SUX. And it reminded me again of that flight back in the mid-’90’s. The agent handed me the boarding pass (the age before smartphones). “SUX, Sucks? Is this a joke?” I asked. She just shrugged; I think she’d heard that before — a lot. I think the Dash 8 was the smallest prop plane United Express flew. We stopped first in Waterloo, Iowa where most everyone else got out for the big John Deere plant there. After the flight attendant buttoned the door back up, she gave the rest of us a look and then pointed us to new seats — kinda eyeballing the weight distribution; moving some of the bigger guys to seats behind the wing. The airport codes for that flight — ORD to ALO to SUX — ‘Alo to Sucks — were fun. Could’ve been better if the plane had swung through Grand Rapids — GRR — for “Grrr…, it sucks”. An itinerary starting in Fresno — FAT– would give us the non-body-positive “Fat Sucks.” Or for a much more unlikely flight — Singapore — SIN — to Sioux City for the much more righteous “Sin Sucks”. I could go on… but I won’t; it’s getting painful, even for me. Apparently, back at the turn of the century — the 21st century — Sioux City asked the FAA for a new airport code for what is officially named “Sioux Gateway Airport”. I guess they didn’t like the alternatives offered — GWU, SGV, GAY — so they kept SUX. And then people built businesses selling SUX merch — Winter SUX, Work SUX.  And probably the most apropos  — “it SUX to lose your luggage.”
  • With all the betting around the Super Bowl — the Vegas lines, every party selling squares — I circled back ‘round to something I saw in September, an app called Wingman. They call themselves a “flight delays prediction market”. Betting on flight delays — sounds like it could be fun, especially when watching the departure board at ORD or LGA. Digging past the headline, I found out it’s a Web3 blockchain dapp (decentralized application) — not sure if it could be any more buzzword-compliant — using some crypto-tokens I’ve never heard of… which maybe let’s them serve gambling laws (?); I dunno. As it is, I didn’t end up giving Wingman a spin; it required connecting a crypto-wallet to the app — which I don’t have… and probably never will. Looking at a site called DappRadar which claims to track 15,000 distributed apps, it looks like Wingman had a moment of hotness back in September after its burst of announcement publicity with 5-6-700 transactions. But in the new year, it’s had a few days with a handful — less than ten; but most days with nothing. Disappointing. I was hoping this could be a new way to fund my flight-delay bar tabs.
  • And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along to comments@travelcommons.com — you can send a Twitter (X?) message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page, or on the Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can skip all that social media stuff and post your comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Jolanta Blues by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.  Ft: Admiral Bob, Martijn de Boer

London Vacation Rental Woes

  • Listeners who follow me on Twitter/X know that I had one of my worst short-term rental experiences during our London trip with Booking.com. And I’ll talk about what I learned from that in a moment, but it got me thinking about vacation rentals in general. For the longest time, it was a local mom-and-pop business, typically in vacation areas — ski resorts, beach towns. You called or stopped by a local realtor, or someone you knew who knew the area recommended a place, and then you rented it from the owner. Friends who rent beach houses on the East Coast tell me they’ve had the same renters for the same week in June, July, August for years. Then Airbnb started up in 2008, first as a platform to rent out spare rooms (remember couchsurfing.com?), but it pretty quickly moved home rentals out of its mom-&-pop vacation spot model into a parallel urban hotel market.
  • I’m not deep in urban planning or rental market dynamics, so I’m not getting into the pluses and minuses of short-term rentals. You can get all that and more with a simple Google search. Maybe I’m old-school (or just old), but my use of short-term rentals is pretty much the same now as it was pre-Airbnb — when it’s a bigger group and we’ll need more space to spread out than a hotel can give you. I also enjoy being able to stay in neighborhoods where there aren’t hotels, to be able to dig deeper into a city, but I also know that it can also be not great for the people who live in those neighborhoods. A couple of years back, we and another family booked into a flat in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. Great flat on a great street; really enjoyed the neighborhood and the time we had with our friends, being able to spend time in some place other than a restaurant or hotel bar, catching up while trying to figure out the espresso machine or the washer/dryer combo. All good. But looking across the landing to the other apartment on our floor, the sign taped to the door in Italian and Google-translated English saying “Keep it quiet”, you could tell the people living in this building weren’t having a great time. And then there’s the story our friends tell of when a condo in their building in Lincoln Park on the north side of Chicago was listed on Airbnb, and one night while at dinner, looking out their window they could see a porn movie being filmed there. Kinda put them off their meal.
  • There are loads of vacation rental horror stories, but not from me. Looking through my trip histories on Airbnb and VRBO, I’ve had a really good run — a great beach place in San Diego, a tiny house in Durango, CO, a walk up in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood, a flat in Split, Croatia with a balcony where I drank my morning coffee watching the sailboats head out of the harbor…. All good, except for London. 
  • Two years ago, November 2021, we were heading over London for a couple of weeks. The morning we were leaving, maybe 5 hours before heading to the airport, we get an email from our Booking.com host — “So sorry, but a water pipe broke in the apartment, so we have to cancel your stay that starts tomorrow.” Wait, what!? Did I read that right? I read it again. Yup, I read it right; we have no place to stay when we land in London tomorrow morning. Luckily, it was just Irene and me; we didn’t need sprawl space. So I quickly pivoted from packing socks and underwear to logging onto Marriott.com to book a room before our Uber showed up, which I did, at the Montcalm East near Shoreditch. The last-minute booking was definitely more expensive, but I was confident it had a working toilet and shower — well, that and I got free breakfast with my Titanium status.
  • Fast forward to this trip, in November 2023, with our daughter joining us, we needed a vacation rental. Given our last experience, we gave ourselves a 5-month head start, booking a place in June. I found a good place in London and booked it on Airbnb. Ten days later, I get a morning email canceling our reservation, but this time from Airbnb, saying the property we booked “doesn’t appear to be legitimate.” Right after that, I get another email, from the property owner, asking me to book direct with him, sending the full payment via bank transfer. So send a couple of thousand dollars in June for a November stay to a guy I’ve never dealt with before, and for whom I couldn’t find any other information — property website, LinkedIn profile, social media presence? Felt just a bit scammy, so I took a pass. Not the last time I’d get this request.
  • Irene took over. That afternoon, she booked a flat on Booking.com. Fast forward to the beginning of November. Starting to get geared up for the trip and think maybe we should check the status of our booking. Huh — Booking.com has a new note saying our reservation now can’t be paid through them. We ping the property owner — “What gives?” We get back a blisto-gram of an email; not aimed at us, but at Booking.com. “Their fees are too high and they’re awful to work with. I told them to cancel all reservations.” Hmm, our reservation is still there, but doesn’t sound like we had a good chance of getting into the flat if we showed up. So Irene canceled it and booked a different flat.  
  • From whom, a couple of days later, we get an email asking us to cancel our Booking.com reservation and book directly with them, with full payment via bank transfer. This sounds familiar. They’re forced into this, going off-platform, they wrote, because London limits short-term rentals to 60 days a year. A quick Google search told me London’s limit is 90 days rather than 60. Not looking to dunk on these folks, but — hmm, you’d think an experienced host would get this number right. Little bit of doubt, so we took another pass on sending a stranger a couple of thousand dollars with no fraud protections.
  • So I search for another place in the same neighborhood and find one on Booking. I hit the Book button and pretty quickly get back a confirmation email from TravelNest, a vacation rental property management company. Good! No more asking me to book direct. They send me the contact info for the property owner so I can coordinate arrival logistics. I send the guy an email — it bounces. I send texts and WhatsApp messages to him — crickets. I go back to TravelNest. “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll contact him.” “With what? The same email that bounced; the same phone number that he hasn’t checked?” “Oh, don’t worry, he’ll turn up.” OK, I’ve got other things to worry about, and London was the second week of our trip, so we had time.
  • The end of our first week — we were hiking/walking down in Dorset on the south coast — I hadn’t heard anything and started to worry. I started pinging Booking and TravelNest; sending emails and calling. Nothing solved, but every time I talked to someone, it was “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” I’m not going to go through every call, — maybe I’ll put all those details on a Twitter thread — but I spent 5-6 hours over 3 days on calls with these people and the problem, my problem, boiled down to this — we were past the cancelation deadline; Booking.com viewed TravelNest as their property contact, not the MIA owner; and TravelNest didn’t want to cancel the reservation and lose the revenue in hopes that the owner would show up at the last minute.
  • You know where this is going. Tuesday morning, we’re driving up to London Heathrow from Bournemouth to drop off the Hertz car and “ping” goes the Booking.com app. It’s a message from TravelNest – “I am very sorry to let you know that the owner of the property you have booked via Travelnest cannot accommodate your upcoming booking. This is due to the host having stopped advertising their property through Travelnest. And we don’t have any alternatives to offer you.” Amazing. They’re just now figuring out that the guy stopped using them. They couldn’t have checked during one of those 5-6 hours of calls a few days ago.  So after we dropped the car off, we took the shuttle bus over to Terminal 2. Irene and Claire grabbed a coffee while I got on the phone to Booking.com. “Oh, I’m so sorry, but don’t worry we’ll take care of you.” But they didn’t. They couldn’t find us a replacement property in the part of London we needed to be. So I ran the same play as two years ago, fired up Marriott.com and found us a room for the night. And then splurged for a black cab instead of the cheaper Heathrow Express so Claire and I could work our Airbnb apps to find a place for the rest of our time in London. Which we did after about the 3rd try.
  • So out of this whole shitshow, what did I learn? First, the London short-term vacation rental market just seems broken. There were so many properties on Booking.com and Airbnb that showed availability, but really weren’t. All told, it took us 6 booking attempts before we finally got one to stick. I’ve never had that happen in any other place. Second, there’s something wrong with the group that runs Booking.com’s short-term rentals. Irene uses (well, used) them a lot for hotel bookings, and we’ve never had a problem. But vacation rentals, every bad experience has been a Booking.com property. As you might guess, we won’t be using them again. Third, immediately cancel reservations where a third party like TravelNest pops up. They don’t add value to you, the traveler; they just get in the way when a problem crops up and are just another point of failure. 
  • Oh, and I guess there’s a fourth — don’t trust anyone when they say “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.”


  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #198
  • I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • As always, you can find us and listen to the current episodes on all the main podcast sites — Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Music. And you can always Alexa, Siri, or Google to play TravelCommons on your smart speakers. 
  • You can click on the link in this episode’s description in your podcast app to get to the show notes page at TravelCommons.com for a transcript of the episode and links to items on the gift guide. If you’re not yet subscribed, there’s a drop down Subscribe menu at the top of TravelCommon’s home page. And along the side of the page, you’ll find links to all the TravelCommons’ socials.
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to mpeacock on Twitter, write them on the TravelCommons page on Facebook or Instagram, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com.  And thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in emails, Tweets and post comments on the website. I really appreciate it.
  • And until we talk again, safe travels; and thanks for stopping by the TravelCommons.
  • Follow me on Twitter
  • “Like” the TravelCommons Facebook page
  • Direct link to the show

1 comment on “Podcast #198 — London Vacation Rental Woes; Hertz’s EV Retreat

  1. Allan says:

    I was assigned an EV by Avis at FLL last week. Curious enough to try it out for the relatively short distances I would be traveling, I got in. After starting, I noticed it only had a 10% charge, so, “check please.” I fired up the Avis app and selected a Chevy Malibu with 1,200 miles on it. As for booking.com, we had tremendous luck using that website for most of our accommodations over a two month period in SE Asia five years ago – exclusively for hotels though.

Comments are closed.