London Hotel Alternative Onefinestay Has Jolly Good Extras for Families

by  Paul Eisenberg | Apr 10, 2012
Big Ben in London, England
Big Ben in London, England / sborisov/iStock

Vacation rentals promise a home away from home, and even if you've never stayed in one, the benefits for families are what they seem: You've got the low-key privacy of roosting in your own residence, money-saving opportunities to cook your own meals, and more private toilets than you'd find in a comparable hotel suite and, usually, your own home.

The one thing vacation rentals lack – and which traveling families often need more than they sometimes care to admit – are the basic services and amenities of a full-service hotel. That’s where comes in. The site layers on services and extras that permit it to transcend the benefits of your typical vacation rental booking site.

Like many home rental sites, onefinestay hand-selects properties – in this case, apartments and houses throughout central, north, and west London – and lets you to book them while the owners are away. At a glance, you can see how many WC's and bedrooms the place has as well as how many people it actually sleeps. And should you need more beds or a crib, or a high chair, onefinestay will supply them for a flat fee of £40 ($63) each.

What differentiates onefinestay from similar sites are its high-touch services. The site has a representative greet you at your vacation home when you get there, makes a 24/7 phone line available if you have questions about anything, and will even send someone over in person if you're having any problems during your stay.

Within all the homes and apartments they list, onefinestay supplies such goodies as tea and coffee in the kitchens and high-quality linens and toiletries in the bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi is standard, as are basic cooking supplies like pots, pans, dishes, and cutlery. Family-friendly appliances like washer/dryers and dishwashers are also common in the rentals listed. Among the lowest-priced rentals I found in the family section of the site was a £119 ($189) per night two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment that not only had washer/dryer and dishwasher but also had a kids room already equipped by the owner with a baby cot, child’s bed, and toys – which you're free to play with unless you're told otherwise. To minimize misunderstandings, onefinestay puts down “tamper tape” to discourage access to parts of the house that the owners have deemed off limits to curious kids and nosy parents.

While in London, if you'd like to arrange for airport transfers, babysitters, maids, or even a private chef, onefinestay will connect you with reputable third-party vendors providing those services. If you like, the company also will stock your rental's fridge with food (at no extra charge above the cost of the groceries) before you get there.

The fine print for renting through the site is no different than what you’d find in most vacation rental agreements – you’ll need to pay a security deposit, refundable if your family doesn’t damage the place. One unexpected and beneficial policy (more common to time-share contracts) is a cooling off period: If you book your stay more than seven days before the start of your stay, you can cancel your booking within 24 hours of making it if you change your mind about the rental.

Perhaps the flashiest perk is that onefinestay will supply you with an iPhone during your stay, with which you can make free local calls. Pre-loaded on the phone are recommendations from the family whose house you’re using.

If you actually want to get your kids out of your vacation home to see London, you may not want to alert them to one feature of the supplied iPhone: If you point it at the bar codes that you'll find on the walls of the rental, you’ll be able to call up informational videos about your home away from home.

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