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Warning: Some Vacation Rentals Don't Include Access to Property Amenities | Frommer's Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock

Warning: Some Vacation Rentals Don't Include Access to Property Amenities

You might assume that when you book a vacation rental, you automatically have the right to use its amenities, like the pool or the golf course. But that's not the case.

So you’ve scored a great deal on a resort condo or villa on Vrbo, Airbnb, HomeToGo, or a similar website?

Don’t take it for granted that you'll be allowed to use all the hotel’s facilities.

You might not.

Rental-by-owner agencies open up a wide variety of lodgings to vacationers, often at prices lower than if reserved through the resort. Owners also benefit because the listing companies’ cut of bookings is less than the percentage pocketed by resorts when they handle the booking directly.

But as travelers migrate to rental-by-owner sites, resorts control fewer rooms in their own inventory, and it becomes harder to entice groups to come for large weddings and meetings. To combat that problem, many condo properties allow full access to facilities only to guests booked directly by the resort's head office.

That could mean vacationers who rented through a unit owner are banned from the tennis courts, pools, golf course, or other amenities the guest might have assumed were included. Or those overnighters could be restricted to using amenities at inconvenient hours.

Some owners might omit those details about resort policy when they advertise their units—and you should take the omission as a potential red flag.

Conscientious condo owners state the activity restrictions up front, so if the full use of facilities is not addressed in the property description, take it upon yourself to ask.

To know what you may access, read the unit’s write-up and the guest reviews carefully. Ask the owner to list the activities and facilities that are complimentary, which ones require a fee, and which ones you may not use.

If the owners don't know, suggest they consult the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) or rules of the governing homeowners' association (HOA). Usually, renters are automatically assigned use of amenities when they lease a unit, but some properties explicitly forbid extending the privilege to outsiders, and that's what you'll need to check for.

Some owners get around resort rules by naming renters as "family and friends," which on some properties is enough to extend full privileges for the duration of the stay.

What happens if the resort locks you out of the facilities once you have arrived?

Without written assurances that you were supposed to gain access to the amenities, you won't have much recourse anywhere. If you're just a guest, battling with management is likely to be futile. 

If you previously received promises in writing that you would be allowed free use of the amenities, then you might have a refund case with the website that facilitated the rental transaction. If you never had confirmation of those benefits, you may be out of luck.

Airbnb advises customers to contact the unit owner to resolve the dispute, and if that doesn't work, you might be eligible for a refund under the website's Guest Refund Policy. Vrbo's stance is less generous, suggesting it's more concerned with "uninhabitable" lodgings than with missing amenities; if you get no solution from the owner, Vrbo advises, you can always write a negative review.

Beyond that, you can try disputing the charge with your credit card company, showing the documentation that proves you were promised something you didn't receive—but that tactic is likely to fail if you decide to use the unit for the duration of your reservation anyway.

So it's up to you to find out what's included before you book. Get the inclusions in writing first, or you may find yourself excluded once you arrive.