Did you know you can travel around the world and get lodging for free? That’s what HomeExchange offers with their house swapping service.
RewardExpert spoke with Alexandra Origet, HomeExchange’s global public relations director, to learn more.
About the Company
Ed Kushins founded the company in 1992 and pioneered the house swap idea. Back then the available home listings were printed in a book and mailed to members. Now the listings are kept in a database that you can browse through online.
Home exchanges started in the U.S. and Europe, but interest is growing in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina. Home exchanges in Asia are on the horizon, says Origet.
Kushins stepped back from leadership, but he still travels widely and still does home exchanges. “People write to him for a house exchange and don’t know he founded the idea,” Origet laughs.
How home exchange works
Origet explains that users register and list their home as available for an exchange. They can also search 65,000 listings to find homes and communicate with other members.
Home swaps are free, but HomeExchange requires $150 in annual dues. If no home exchange is made in the first year, the fee waived for the second year.
“We know once you’ve tried a home exchange, you’ll love it and will renew. We understand it might be hard at first. Maybe you didn’t have time or didn’t find an exchange,” says Origet. “People can be shy. They send one inquiry, get a no and give up. We’ll email or maybe call and put them on track.”Origet says that people who send lots of inquiries are able to book a house quickly — often in a matter of days.
There are different methods of home exchanges, which are broken down into two categories: a reciprocal or non-reciprocal exchange.
A reciprocal exchange means two parties swap homes directly with each other. Their trips can be at the same time or at different times. For example, a member in New York might stay in Paris in the spring. Then the Parisians might visit New York in the fall. With a non-simultaneous exchange, the hosts stay elsewhere while their guests are in town.
Another method is non-reciprocal exchange, which HomeExchange calls Passport. In the Passport program a member can host someone without a trip planned. Then, the member earns a “bonus balloon.” The balloon can be spent by traveling and staying in a different member’s home.
Origet says non-reciprocal hosting has gotten very popular because it gives travelers more options for lodging.
“Let’s say I host someone from London and earn a balloon. Then, I can go to Arizona and spend a balloon. This method allows more opportunity,” Origet says.She adds that the system doesn’t allow people with second homes to accumulate balloons. To balance the system, users must spend the balloon once they get it.
“We want to keep the reciprocal spirit,” says Origet.
Is Home Swapping Possible for Everyone?
Origet insists everyone can benefit from the program. Home sharing is completely legal — since it’s not a rental or a sublet, homeowner’s insurance works exactly the same while guests are staying.
The company offers guidelines about sharing personal information. Users are encouraged to say no if they aren’t comfortable with a prospective guest or host.
One problem is a last-minute cancellation. When a traveler has already booked a flight and cannot change plans, Origet says HomeExchange will find an alternate host close to the original home. If that’s not possible, they’ll pay for a hotel room. Origet says people in the suburbs or rural areas can do home exchanges because how a listing is presented is what’s most important.
“People are curious and adventurous” and willing to explore new areas, she says. “Take Yzernay, which is in the middle of France. Even the French haven’t heard of the area. The family created a listing that described the region’s charm. People wanted to stay there.”
Home exchanges and mileage and points programs
“If you’re smart, it doesn’t cost you any more than staying at home,” Origet says. Staying in a house or apartment saves money on food because there is a kitchen. Many homes have laundry facilities on the premises.
What about airfare, which is a major expense? Yes, airfare is still expensive, but with planning, a traveler can find good deals. Origet says travelers can take advantage of their airline rewards and loyalty program to get more benefits from travel. If your reward program is offering a special to a destination you’re interested in, you can use the flexibility of home exchange to find attractive lodging there.