HomeExchange’s Passport Program: Game Changer

We have belonged to HomeExchange for a couple of years. It’s a home swap site, as in, you find someone who wants to vacation in your area, and you stay in their home while they stay in yours. I’ve always loved the concept, but in practice, making exchanges work has been difficult because finding someone who wants to come to California, who lives somewhere we want to go, and is willing to accept our less-than-glamorous home has been onerous.

Most of the times we have had people use our home or stayed in the homes of others through HomeExchange, it’s ended up being a gift. Last summer we hosted a French family while we were in Wisconsin; a nice couple in Utah let us use their guest cottage even though they couldn’t make it out here.

But this year HomeExchange finally introduced a point system, which they call the Passport program, so that if you host someone but you can’t go to their home, you earn a stay in someone else’s home. Also, if you renew your membership for a second year, you get a free point. They call their points “balloons.” I found this out when I logged onto the site for the first time in about a year and noticed that I had been credited with “one balloon.”

In the past, I have asked for exchanges in Lake Tahoe, but perhaps understandably, no Tahoe homeowners wanted to swap for my East Bay house. Now that I had a balloon to spend, I wondered if the situation would be different. After all, they wouldn’t have to stay in my house. They could use their balloon to stay in a mansion in Tahiti! So, I sent out requests to a bunch of Tahoe properties for a June weekend when we have to go there for an ice skating competition.

It worked! Within 24 hours the owner of this cabin had replied that they were interested in hosting us in exchange for a balloon. We’ll be staying there for four nights, absolutely free. I just had a second Tahoe cabin owner respond to my request saying that they, too, would be interested in hosting us.

As luck would have it, I have a French family (a different one from last year) coming to stay at our house next month. The plan was to have them stay while we’re in Tahoe, and then to go camping near Santa Cruz during the duration of their stay. The girls will be at camp anyway. Now that I know about the Passport program, I made sure that I’ll be earning a balloon for hosting them, giving me a second free stay. I just sent requests to the owners of 56 Santa Cruz houses, since Santa Cruz is near the girls’ camp, and since Erik’s company bus picks up in Santa Cruz.

I’m going to bed, and really hoping to wake up to an email welcoming us to Santa Cruz!