If you travel a lot, you likely get tired of hotels. Sometimes you wish you had a place of your own in the city you’re in to chill out, watch TV, sit on the couch, etc. You wish you had a kitchen to maybe buy some groceries and possibly even cook for yourself.
For years the idea of finding an apartment in a foreign city was a pain. You had to go through some middleman who would fleece you for the service and you wouldn’t know what you’re getting. There are also all these second-rate online agencies that offer cheap apartments but they’re not very reputable and I would be wary.
Recently, vacation apartment rentals have become a big market. Reputable companies like Flipkey, a subsidiary of Trip Advisor or Airbnb have become almost commonplace amongst travelers.
For me, I had never used one of these services before because I usually don’t know where I’ll be or for how many days so I tend to do things last minute on my travels. However, on my recent stop in Barcelona, Spain I knew I had two nights there so I decided to try it out.
I used Flipkey to find an apartment on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, which is where I wanted to stay. I have stayed at several hotels over the years on Las Ramblas but never in an apartment, so I was excited.
My experience started out a little annoying. I went through dozens of listings in Barcelona and I emailed four different apartment owners to see if they had availability for the two days I wanted the apartment.
Three of four emailed me back. One said he had a three-night minimum and wouldn’t budge when I emailed back explaining I only had two nights etc. OK fine, I thought, he’s out.
The other two said they had no availability for the apartments that I had emailed about but both offered other places in the same area. This obviously led me to realize that I was dealing with apartment services that run multiple apartments. That was fine but it was a surprise and more corporate than I was expecting. I thought I’d be chatting with some guy who was out of town and had his place available like a Craig’s List kind of thing.
Neither of the suggestions fit my original request of three bedroom apartments. However, a two bedroom caught my eye and looked nice in the pictures. It was located right on Las Ramblas at 42 Las Ramblas.
Although I had the address, the place was in a weird alley type thing that had a heavy gate and looked really shady. I didn’t know which call up button to hit so I basically hit them all until a guy came out to let me in. I went to the office and check in took about 45 minutes because he had an issue with his credit card machine. He kept asking me for cash but I didn’t want to pay cash. His asking made me nervous that I was being scammed. So I waited it out. Eventually he got it squared away and I don’t believe he was doing it on purpose.
When I finally got into the apartment, it was pretty nice, but it looked better in the pictures online. The second bedroom was actually a pull out couch in the living room. The kitchen was whatever but I didn’t care because I wasn’t going to be cooking anyway. The bathroom was very nice and clean.
My bedroom was great. It had a king size bed and great air conditioning which in Europe can often be a pain. So I was pleased with the accommodation in general. There were two things that annoyed me though.
First, the Wi-Fi didn’t work in the apartment. Obviously, I use the Internet a lot so I told the manager and he said he’d look into it. He couldn’t fix it for whatever reason. However, he did offer me a refund of one night’s accommodation for the inconvenience. Honestly, that shocked me in a good way because the customer service in Europe is generally awful and it was 143 euros. I gladly accepted and am still shocked they did that as I write this now.
The second disappointing thing was the apartment advertised online had views of Las Ramblas. Mine had views of nothing. It was like a crappy New York City tenement apartment view of other windows and a bunch of garbage on the ground. It was apparent they had multiple apartments advertised and didn’t care who got which one. So when I said I was expecting a view of Las Ramblas, the guy basically shrugged and said that was the only place he had. So it was what it was. I was hardly going to be there anyway so I got over it.
So my experience with Flipkey was OK to good, but not great. I liked the product in the end but I wish it had gone more smoothly from start to finish. With something like vacation apartment rentals, I understand there are a lot of points where it can go awry. For the most part this went well but as I mentioned it’s not a perfect process.
I will likely use them again and will likely try out some competitors at some point. I love the idea of Flipkey and others like it because it gives me an alternative to hotels. But I hate when things like Wi-Fi don’t work and things like views are misleading.
I own my apartment and rent it out often as I travel so I understand the value of honest pictures and advertising. People won’t trust you if you post false pictures. The apartment is what it is, either people will rent it or they won’t so be honest with pictures and for gods sake, have Wi-Fi that works-it’s 2012!