— Of the 343 listings in the United States, the least expensive starts at a modest $130 per night, with four others under $200, but the vast majority are at least $500 a night and many go up to as high as $15,000 per night for a seven-bedroom, high season rental in the Park City, Utah, ski area. Most of the rentals are in top-drawer visitor centers — renowned ski resorts, beaches, golf centers and a few big cities — and many can accommodate large parties.
— Europe scores the highest rental rate, an astounding $21,000 per night for a five-bedroom chalet in Switzerland, but you can also find some more reasonable prices, especially in Greece and Malta.
HomeAway says all of its luxury listings have been vetted by the Andrew Harper folks — something you'd expect in the luxury range — so you aren't likely to face any unpleasant surprises. But as with all listings, HomeAway is just an "online marketplace:" Your deal is with the property owner, not HomeAway.
In another innovation, homeaway.co.uk, the parent company's primary British website, just mounted a new search "microsite": Enter some personal characteristics and the site presents you with one or more suggestions for "Places to See Before You Die." The idea is intriguing, but I found the results a bit quirky. My first inquiry suggested I visit a fancy formal garden in the South of France; when I added the factor for "gastro," it sent me to San Sebastian, Spain, and when I added "shopping," it suggested the Taj Mahal — certainly not the first place to pop into my mind as a shopping mecca. Another disquieting factor: The site implied that I should visit within three years. I wonder if it knows something my doctor hasn't told me yet.
Because I'm a senior widower, I decided to see what "Places to See" would suggest for a younger married traveler living in the United Kingdom. I entered an alias, age 40, and the site returned lots more choices. It had seven suggestions to see within the next few years, going up to 10 choices — adding more, dropping a few — by the time I would hit 78, which is as old as it let me get. It even suggested one destination, St. Helena, where HomeAway doesn't have any rental listings. I have no idea if HomeAway plans to add this feature to vrbo.com, its leading U.S. site, but the UK site is easy to use.
On a more practical note, Hotel WiFi Test (hotelwifitest.com) helps folks who need to stay fully connected during their travels:
— If you're already in a hotel, the website offers a practical and simple way to test the speed of your connection. And it invites you to post your results.
— If you're looking for a well-connected hotel for a future visit, Hotel WiFi Test lists the results developed by other travelers.
The second service is the most useful. If you're planning to visit New York City, for example, you can expect a very fast 75.4 mbps at the Pod 39 hotel but only a relatively sluggish 3.8 Mbps at the Mark. It also posts figures for the minimum Mbps you're likely to encounter during periods of heavy usage.
So far, the database is limited to a few dozen hotels around the world. But it's a great idea, and you can improve it by using it.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)