Want To Stay In This Ski Chalet For Free?
They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, well what about a free ski pad for a week or so? How would you like to stay in the chalet, above, in the French Alps for zero payment? Unlike the strings-attached lunch, this is actually achievable if you join a home exchange network and nab a swap to a ski area.With the overheads of ski travel surging by the season, free accommodation could mean the difference between going skiing and staying home. If couch surfing or winter camper vanning is not your thing, it might well be time to consider allowing someone who owns a slopeside apartment or chalet to have a vacation in your own hallowed home in return for their downhill digs. Louise Hudson holds the key to how it's done...
I can hear your questions! But why would they want to come to my home during winter? Would they trash my house and steal my belongings? How could I get something as big or small, as luxurious or as humble, as my place? What about my cat, my dog, my goldfish?
Of course, everyone has these kind of misgivings and today's home exchange sites have honed their systems to make each swap a win:win for all parties. And I don't mean late night rager parties at your place!
THE HOME SWAP BOOM
Bit of history: Home swaps have been around since Intervac launched its service for school teachers in the 1950s but, with the advent of internet technology, online exchange sites have multiplied.
Now in its 31st year, HomeExchange recorded a 33 percent increase in overnights in 2022 compared to 2019 figures. The online organisation has 100,000 members from 130 countries, clinching one exchange every two minutes.
"Over the past year, with the 'revenge travel' movement following the lifting of COVID restrictions, we've also seen an increase in new members and exchanges finalised," says Alex Luckey Home Exchange Collection Brand & Communications Manager. "With the effects of inflation and the rising costs of transportation, people are looking for more cost effective options for their travels, making HomeExchange an appealing alternative."
So how does it work? Homeowners create a listing with details of the home, the area, their own profile, and photos. Once loaded, they receive enquiries through the communication portal for possible exchanges. These can be direct, synchronised exchanges, non-simultaneous exchanges, or one-way, non-reciprocal hosting where the homeowner receives GuestPoints which can be used in the future to 'pay' for their own stay elsewhere.
"Each Member receives GuestPoints to welcome them upon registration and their home is assigned a per night GuestPoint value based on location, number of beds and amenities," Luckey explains. "This feature allows for more flexibility when reciprocal exchanges, whether at the same time or different times, are not an option.
"In 2022, roughly 76 percent of exchanges were finalised with Guest Points, while roughly 24 percent were reciprocal exchanges."
So, you can go plan a ski trip to their abode and they can come to your city/beach/rural retreat either at the same time, a different week(s) of year, or do the deal with points.
Among the most notable ski resort exchanges available in the portfolio are in Colorado, Utah, Italy, Austria and France. There is one cost involved, and that is the annual membership fee (payable only when an exchange is clinched) which is $175 (149€).
Trust is obviously a major component for considering a home swap and HomeExchange has developed strategies to help create a like-minded trustworthy community.
"Our members are both hosts and guests, meaning they have a shared respect for one another's space," says Luckey. "They truly treat the homes they exchange with like their own, often leaving them better than they found them. If that assurance isn't enough, we offer extensive guarantees to our members, such as ID verification, cancellation protection, damage coverage, 24/7 assistance, among others."
HOW IT WORKED
Biting the bullet this winter, I left my Algarve villa in the hands of a couple from Vancouver. I wasn't actually planning to ski from their Vancouver base although it would have been possible at Cypress, Grouse or Whistler.
I wanted to visit my sons in the city before heading over to Sun Peaks for the winter. As the Mt Pleasant penthouse apartment I was exchanging with had only two bedrooms, I locked up two of my four bedrooms and used those rooms to store things I didn't want to share - making our exchange more compatible.
The added advantage for the Canadian couple was that I could declutter the rest of the house for them and - easy for me - just chuck it all behind the locked doors. Barring a couple of easily rectifiable breakages on both sides, nothing went wrong and we are all keen to do another swap in the future.
The membership fee might have been able to cover one night in a Vancouver AirBnB in that area so 13 of my 14 nights were free and it was a really spacious, beautifully furnished and kitted out, comfortable home with views over downtown. And they seemed very happy basking in 20C and swimming in my pool.
SWAP TO SKI
I was motivated to join HomeExchange by veteran swapper Yasmin Parker who notched up several top Utah ski resorts from a lovely residence in Salt Lake City, last winter. Yasmin and husband Richard exchanged their two-bedroom apartment overlooking the marina in Sotogrande, Southern Spain for a five-bedroom home within an hour's drive of 10 ski resorts.
"It was just this fabulous American woman, Laura, and her husband travelling and they wished to explore famous Spanish cities such as Granada, Seville, Ronda, Jerez, Cordoba and Malaga and our apartment makes a perfect base to do just that," says Yasmin.
Along with the SLC home came an SUV facilitating three weeks of day trips to Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude and Deer Valley. "All offered excellent skiing and we enjoyed powder snow, uncrowded resorts and friendly people," says Yasmin.
Their only regret was failing to nab Ikon season passes in advance which would have cut the cost of ski lifts considerably.
THE LUXURY OPTION
If you live in a swanky pile in a highly sought-after area, you'll be interested in the new HomeExchange Collection, an exclusive community for luxury home swaps.
"We had noticed that HomeExchange members who had these luxury expectations were not satisfied on the regular site," Alex Luckey explains. "They had a generally low response rate because they received too many requests. They could not easily find suitable houses or apartments.
"We carried out studies with this target group to understand their expectations in terms of travel and have created a whole new approach intended to meet their need for discretion, confidence and exclusivity."
And you can just imagine the kind of mountain mansion you might get in return!