Cape Cod and the Outer Banks Are Booked. What Now?

For most of the past year, the best approach to travel for many has been to wait and see, and book vacations (if they even happened) as close as possible to departure dates. But that has changed in the last few months, as anyone who has scanned booking sites knows.

Summer rentals in popular U.S. beach destinations have become scarce thanks to the increase in vaccinations, relaxed travel guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and pent-up demand. Many homeowners are choosing to take advantage of their vacation homes rather than rent them out this summer, reducing the supply even more.

Also, while hotel occupancy rates are ticking back up, some people still feel more comfortable in a private home, especially if they have unvaccinated children or at-risk family members.

So if the thought of another summer spent entirely where you've been for the previous 365-plus days sounds less than idyllic, now isn't the time to procrastinate. At Vacasa, which markets and manages vacation rental homes, the number of reservations for June, July and August in hot spots is pacing double what it was pre-pandemic in 2019. And the booking window has normalized; the amount of time between when reservations are made and stays begin average from 50 to 55 days currently (in 2020 it dropped to as few as 20 days).

Would-be renters are probably too late for the most in-demand locales in the eastern U.S., such as North Carolina's Outer Banks, the Jersey Shore and Cape Cod, where the online rental marketplace Vrbo says 90% of rentals in all three places are already booked through July and more than 85% of them are rented through August. Rentals in the Hamptons are slightly more available, with about 75% of homes booked for July, likely the result of minimum-stay requirements.

Fortunately, there are other options, from less-crowded beach locations to mountain destinations. Still, searches for stays over Memorial Day weekend at more remote places in the U.S. increased by almost 40% in the past month, according to Airbnb, so they won't stay undiscovered for long.

Those dead-set on a beach vacation may want to consider Norfolk, Virginia, which also offers the requisite arts district and craft breweries. A Vrbo search for weeks in July and August for a group of four shows options ranging from $60 a night to $2,220. York County, Maine, where Kennebunkport is located, is another option but has less availability, according to Vrbo.

Florida, generally quieter during the hot months for obvious reasons, shouldn't be written off. Sanibel and Captiva Islands on the Gulf Coast offer the same stunning beaches in summer as they do in winter. Many different accommodations are still available, from oceanfront houses to modern condos.

Caitlin Ramsdale, managing director for Kid & Coe, which focuses on kid-friendly spots, says off-season destinations such as Florida or Texas offer travelers more options at better prices, and often come with air conditioning or a pool. “You've survived a pandemic, you can survive hot weather,” she says.

For those looking for cooler climates and outdoor activity, traditional ski resort towns in the western U.S., such as Telluride, Colorado, have sprawling clusters of rentals available, for a price. Many listings are for condos located in the center of town at around $350 a night. Or, if you'd like to really splurge, there's a "sleek mountain architectural gem" that sleeps 14 people available for most summer weeks for $20,000 a night.

For travelers undeterred by a long flight, but still wanting to stay in the U.S., Lahaina, Maui, has plenty of options with five-star guest ratings at attractive prices on Vrbo. Hawaii had been closed off to visitors for most of last year, but has eased its policies. Now may be the perfect time to visit while it's still relatively quiet.

Wherever you choose to find a summer rental, being flexible on your dates is key. Places tend to have more availability during the week. And some places may have required minimum stays. Many owners are offering better rates if renters stay for longer because it means less turnover for them (remote workers, take note).

Finally, be aware of the cancellation policy before booking, as well as any travel advisories or restrictions wherever you're headed. These rules are changing quickly as the travel industry transitions out of the more lenient policies it offered during the pandemic. And if you decide to buy travel insurance, know exactly what's covered. Area closures or stay-at-home orders don't override cancellation policies, according to Vrbo, where the rules are set by the host.

Travelers can set filters when using Vrbo to only view properties that have specific cancellation policies. As of now, the most renter-friendly policy allows guests to cancel their bookings 14 days before the check-in date for a full refund. Let's hope that this summer those cancellations are few and far between.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Alexis Leondis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering personal finance. Previously, she oversaw tax coverage for Bloomberg News.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.