Still Time For Hot Summer Rental Deals

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Summer rentals don't just disappear with the holiday traffic after Memorial Day, but late-game renters need to keep their sunglass-protected eyes open if they still want to score a place to stay this season.

With Memorial Day gone and the Fourth of July fast approaching, summer rental season is in full swing and the number of vacationers continues to swell. American Express' ( AXP) Spending and Saving Tracker found that 59% of Americans plan to travel despite high gas prices and will spend an average of $1,200 on their summer vacation this year. About 70% of those travelers are hitting the road with families this year, up from only 45% last year.

Still looking for a vacation rental? There are slots available at the seven-bedroom, five-bathroom, 20-person house that hosted MTV's The Real World in Key West.

With 60% of all travelers looking to cut costs, a lot of those families will be looking to the eat-in kitchens, multiple bedrooms and big family rooms of vacation rentals to keep their budgets intact. According to vacation rental site HomeAway, the 81% of vacation renters who say they'll take a trip this summer will spend an average of $136 per person per night.

Alexis de Belloy, vice president of HomeAway, says that while travelers looking to rent a house near their favorite beach for a month may be disappointed, vacationers looking for a week at that same spot can get a big hand from owners looking to fill dates or make up for cancellations. He notes that HomeAway still gets 15,000 new listings a month during the summer months and that even the site's top two destinations offer some hope: consider the one-bedroom studio cottage in Provincetown, Mass., with a kitchen, surround-sound audio, cable, DVD player and Wi-Fi steps from the beach for $995 a week and a three-bedroom Ocean City, Md., bungalow with a full kitchen, laundry, TV in every room and Wi-Fi for eight just three blocks from the beach for $1,085 to $1,360 a week.

"I think the later in the game you look, obviously the more properties are going to be booked," de Belloy says. "Don't focus on the properties that are already booked; focus on the ones that are still available."

That hunt for vacancies can end up well away from the beach, however, as some of the most available destinations and best deals are miles from the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf of Mexico. De Belloy says popular winter destinations such as Breckenridge, Colo., tend to pull out the stops for summer tourists by organizing outdoor activities at their relatively empty ski resorts and dropping the price of four-bedroom houses with hot tubs by nearly a third during the offseason.

In Las Vegas, which saw a downturn in both home prices and airport arrivals last year, property owners are offering deals including a two-bedroom condo with one and a half bathrooms, room for six, a kitchen, two pools, hot tub, gym and a view of the strip a block away for $755 a week -- just to keep up with plummeting hotel prices. Last-minute vacation rental site PackLate, meanwhile, offers those willing to stay on the California end of Lake Tahoe a three-bedroom waterfront home with game room, dock and Internet from $380 a night. It also has availability throughout the summer. 

"In all destinations there is availability during the summer, but if you're making last-minute plans, you should be somewhat flexible about your dates," says Justin Drake, spokesman for Expedia's ( EXPE) FlipKey vacation rental service. "While travelers are not in a great position to bargain when they're looking at limited availability, some owners and managers create attractive specials to book leftover summer dates."

That creativity leads to some pretty impressive perks from some owners, including one in Waikiki who not only offers travelers to Hawaii his one-bedroom condo for $545 to $585 a week, but gives them free fruit, macadamia nuts, coffee and housekeeping for cramming into the 610-square-foot space for that time. That's just slightly less generous than the owner of a two-bedroom, two bathroom condo in Lincoln, N.H., who's throwing in tickets to a New England brewing festival and the use of a car to offset the $179- to $299-nightly rental price. Hopefully the contract has some language about designating a driver.

Meanwhile, the owner of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Lake Havasu, Ariz., with a view of the lake and London bridge will knock 50% off the $175- to $250-nightly price if a renter books the last week in June. That's on top of the home theater, jacuzzi, laundry, full kitchen, outdoor grill and pool and beach access that already came with the deal.

"The only weekend to watch out for is the Fourth of July," says Stephen Daimler, spokesman for PackLate. "Vacancies for the Fourth are filling up quickly, with availability at around 30% for our beach destinations and 45% for our mountain destinations."

It's not just the remote locations that are offering deals this year. TripAdvisor found that among those planning to travel this summer, 50% will head to a city, 40% percent will stay by the ocean, and 18% will visit a national park. In just about each case, there are still openings to be found and deals to be had.

If your crew is part of that final contingent that loves the nation's parks but hates roughing it, Daimler recommends checking out what he calls the "Redneck Ritz": A $400-a-night seven-bedroom cabin-style manse with a sauna, jacuzzi, pool with waterfall, pool table, air hockey table and foosball table as well as multiple levels of balconies with sweeping views of the Smokies. Meanwhile, back by the beach, a five-bedroom beachfront home in Hilton Head, S.C., with a private pool is slashing its weekly price by 30% in an attempt to get a renter to fill a week in June.

If money isn't the problem, but finding a place with enough rental time to spend it is, there are still openings at the seven-bedroom, five-bathroom, 20-person house that hosted MTV's The Real World in Key West, the 5,000-square foot estate on Hawaii's Kailua Bay that served as President Barack Obama's "Winter White House" for the past three years and an eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom castle in Bath, England.

"Owners are always receptive to last-minute rentals," HomeAway's de Belloy says. "If you put yourself in the shoes of an owner, they'd much prefer to have their property booked out, particularly in the high season, than to have it open."

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.