The price of the same holiday cottage on the same dates can vary by more than £600, so it pays to do your research before booking a UK break.
Cottage owners often list their property on a number of accommodation websites, many of which are owned by one of a few larger companies. As a result, it's common to find the exact same cottage listed in multiple places, making it hard to know which company to book with.
We spot-checked the prices of six cottages around the UK for a week-long stay this September listed on multiple platforms - including Airbnb, Booking.com and Sykes.
Our research found that not only did prices vary by hundreds of pounds between providers, but refund and flexibility policies also varied significantly as well.
No matter how desperate you are for a UK holiday this year, never book a cottage until you've checked whether the same property is available for the same dates on another site. We did exactly that when checking the prices of the six cottages below, and found the same cottage for the same dates listed on as many as five different sites.*
In some cases, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive site ran into hundreds of pounds. But before rushing into booking with the cheapest provider, you also need to think about how much increased flexibility is worth to you.
The biggest price difference we found during our spot checks was for Appletree Cottage, an attractive three bedroom property in rural Suffolk. Airbnb's price of £2,816 was nearly £680 more than Kid & Coe's for the same dates.
If you're certain you won't want to make any changes to your booking, you can save yourself a huge sum of money by booking with Kid & Coe. But look a little closer and the reasons for the huge price difference start to become clear. With Airbnb, the booking can be cancelled for free up to 24 hours before check-in, whereas Kid & Coe will charge around £375 to cancel the booking up to six weeks before check-in and any amendments thereafter are at the owner's discretion.
We found this cosy one-bed cottage in Cumbria available for the same week in September on four different websites. The cheapest price was available through either Good Life Lake District Cottages or Love Cottages, but you need to be sure you'll want to travel on the dates you book, because date change requests with either will cost £50 and aren't guaranteed.
At first glance, Expedia and Vrbo might appear to offer more flexibility. But despite wanting almost £150 more for the same cottage at the same time, the booking can only be cancelled for free up to two months before check-in, after which the stay is non-refundable.
Located in the tiny Yorkshire village of Gillamoor, which boasts stunning views of Douthwaite Dale, this two-bed cottage is available to book through a variety of different sites, with prices for the same dates varying by nearly £140.
But whoever you book with, the property will still be managed by Rural Retreats, which also has the joint-best price, so your best bet is to book with them direct rather than add another company into the mix. You'll be refunded for each day of your booking that can't legally go ahead, but bear in mind that date changes for other reasons aren't guaranteed.
Don't assume that booking this rustic three-bedroom cottage through a big name like TripAdvisor offers more security than booking direct with the owner. In fact, TripAdvisor just acts as a comparison site in this instance, so your contract will still be with the owner, but it will cost you £89 more. Instead, contact the owner to find out more about their terms and conditions and, if you're satisfied, book direct and pay on credit card (see below for more tips on booking safely).
Even if you book this picturesque Welsh cottage through Booking.com or Snaptrip, Sykes will manage your booking, meaning you'll be subject to its booking conditions. According to Sykes' website, if you want to change the dates of your booking for non-Covid reasons, you'll only be able to move the booking forward, not push it back.
If you're looking for more flexibility than that, contact the cottage owner directly to see if their terms are more favourable. If so, it might be worth paying the extra £71 - provided you can pay on credit card (see below).
Some of the cottages listed on Vrbo have very flexible cancellation options, but that wasn't the case with this spacious three-bed cottage when we checked, so there's really no point in spending an extra £200.
Save your money for when you get to Devon and instead book with one of the other three providers. Make sure you take out travel insurance, though, as otherwise you won't be able to get your money if you're unable to travel because you've caught Covid-19.
*All prices were checked on 3 March 2021 and are for seven night stays in September 2021.