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How To Split Family Vacation Rental Costs (Without a Fight)

Family Playing in the Ocean
Allianz - Family Playing in the Ocean

Let’s do some beach house math. Three sisters and their families are paying $3,000 to rent a four-bedroom house on Isle of Palms, S.C., for a week. How should they split expenses?

Easy: Divide $3,000 by three, so they each pay $1,000.

But wait: One sister has three kids, who are staying in the fourth bedroom. One sister is single and has none. And the third sister, along with her husband and baby, is only staying five days. Help!

The worst part of a multi-family vacation is often splitting the expenses. If one person feels they’re paying too much, that can sour the entire trip for everyone. So what’s the fairest way to do it?

Option 1: Splitting vacation rental expenses by room

The simplest way to split a three-family vacation rental is in thirds, of course, even if each family is a different size. This works if everyone is pretty relaxed about money. Or, you can offer other compensation, such as giving the single traveler/smallest family the master bedroom.

And if they’re not so relaxed? One method is to treat the beach house like a hotel and have everyone pay a nightly rate per room. So, in the example above, the nightly room rate would be $107. Sister A, with the three kids, would pay $1500 for using two rooms. Sister B, with no kids, would pay $750. And sister C, who’s staying five days, would pay $535. Easy, right?

But wait — who’s going to pay the remaining $215 for the two nights sister C’s bedroom is empty? And will sister A agree to pay fully half the cost of the beach house just because her family is the largest? Argh, this is harder than it looks.

Option 2: Splitting vacation rental expenses by person

Another method for splitting vacation expenses is to treat it like an all-inclusive resort: There’s a set rate per adult, with kids half-price and babies free. So, with 5 adults and 3 kids sharing a $3,000 beach house… whoa, now we’re getting into algebra. If 5x + 3(.5x) = 3,000, each adult must pay $461.50 for the week, plus about $231 for each kid. Fair, right?

Well, now the family of five is paying even more than half of the house costs: a total of $1615. And that presents its own problem. Is it fair for the largest family to essentially subsidize the cost of a vacation for everyone else? The single sister gets all the benefits of a big, beautiful beach house for a super-low weekly rate, after all.

And what about income? Let’s say sister C, the one with a spouse and baby, is a corporate lawyer and makes twice as much money as either of her siblings. Should she offer to pay more? The answer: Most people agree that income should not matter when splitting vacation expenses and that it’s not fair to expect more from a wealthier sibling/parent.

Option 3: Splitting vacation rental expenses by person per night

The best way to split vacation rental costs among families, according to Splitwise, is that “each person should pay proportionally to the number of nights they were there. This system is robust because anytime someone stays in the shared accommodations for an additional night, the per-night price goes down for everyone.”

Confused? Use Splitwise’s vacation expenses calculator. If we calculate rates based only on the adults in our hypothetical group, then Sister A’s family pays $1355; Sister B pays $677; Sister C pays $968. That seems pretty fair to us.

How to split food costs and other expenses on a multi-family vacation

After all this vacation rental math stress, you’re going to need a cold drink on the deck. But who pays for that? Sharing drink and food costs on vacation is a whole other challenge.

Some families take a buy-your-own approach, which makes sense. Pay for what you eat, and eat only what you’ve paid for. For communal dinners, each family can take a turn buying the ingredients and preparing a meal.

But for big family vacations — the kind with 20 people all sharing a house — it gets tricky to keep track of who bought the blueberry bagels. Math for Grownups has a sensible solution: Use the concept of shares, where each adult has one share of food expenses and kids have a half-share. Buy communal groceries at the start of the trip and divide the cost accordingly. Alcohol costs should be split only by those adults who drink.

Got all that? One last thing: If you’re renting a beach house, you should consider travel insurance. Travel insurance protects your family vacation investment with trip cancellation benefits (in case you need to cancel the trip for a covered reason) and trip interruption benefits (in case the trip has to be cut short for a covered reason), as well as other protections. Compare travel insurance plans from Allianz Global Assistance and get a free quote today. 

Richmond-based travel writer Muriel Barrett has a terrible sense of direction, and has spent many happy hours getting lost in Barcelona, Venice and Jerusalem. Her favorite travel memories all involve wildlife: watching sea turtles nest in Costa Rica, kayaking with seals in Vancouver and meeting a pink tarantula in Martinique.

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Jul 12, 2017