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Rent High Life in Plush Homes: Unreal Estate

SEATTLE (TheStreet) -- For nine years, I've organized fall foliage trips to Vermont for friends who -- in harder times -- found $100 weekend lodging a bit rich for their blood. However, since 2001, I've been able to locate lakeside houses with hot tubs, indoor fire pits, boats and, usually, enough sleeping space to keep everyone happy.

This year's model, a seven-bedroom cabin with private pond, Jacuzzi, fireplace and canoe came out to $109 per person after taxes for a three-night stay. That's just $20 more than an average night at one of the town's four hotels and $50 less than a night at a local inn or bed and breakfast, according to TripAdvisor.

You can get this cushy pad in Palm Springs for less than the price of a hotel room.

"If you have friends and family coming along, good grief you'd better stay in a vacation rental," says Bill Furlong, chief executive of Seattle-based Escapia, which oversees vacation property management site Escapia.com and rental site ClearStay.com. "Imagine what a hotel room looks like after two days in Hawaii with a family of four. You dream of going home."

The vacation rental industry has matured well beyond the shore-and-slopes niches of its infancy. Bookings at Escapia, which comprises more than 200 rental companies throughout the U.S., climbed 8% in June from a year earlier after the company focused on North Carolina's Outer Banks, coastal Oregon and Hawaii. Its distribution partner HomeAway has become the seventh-largest travel site in the world, with rentals in New York, Paris and London as well as Dubai, Cape Verde and Thailand.

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