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See Your Affiliate Referrals and Earnings, Use Field Codes in Review Templates, New Airbnb Amenities, "Month of Year" Selector

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Hi everyone!  Welcome to the first product update post of 2022!  We're excited and eager for the changes the new year will bring.  Our team is growing and our roadmap has never been more full. 👊

But before we talk about the future, let's run through our latest release which covers 31 updates.  This release went out at the end of last week and is mostly bug fixes, though we did update our Affiliate pages, review templates, and Airbnb amenities!

New Features

See Your Affiliate Referrals, Earnings, and Payouts

We have a great Affiliate Program that pays out money to users based on the referrals that they send to OwnerRez.  Our Affiliate Program has been a great success over the years, and we're happy to see the enthusiasm that users have for this program!  We love our guerilla marketing army! ❤️

For a long time, we've wanted to show our affiliates how well they are doing in the program.  You might get payouts on a regular basis, but you couldn't really see who your referrals are (ie. the people who signed up through you), or their status, nor could you see your running earnings or history of payouts.  Common questions to our help desk are things like "how many referrals do I have" or "has Joe Blow signed up and if so, am I getting credit for his account?".  I'm happy to announce that you can now see all that in OwnerRez!

Go to your Account > Affiliate Program page and take a look.  You'll see some extra fields at the top, showing your total earnings, total payouts, the PayPal email address we send your payouts to, and your W9 status (more on that further down).  Below those fields, you'll see three new tabs: My Payouts, My Affiliates, and Instructions.

The information is pretty self-explanatory, but here are some extra tips about how these tabs work.

The My Payouts tab shows a list of all payments we've sent to your PayPal account going back to the beginning of time.  If the payout isn't listed here, nothing was sent.  If you see a payout in the list but don't recall getting it, look at your PayPal account a few days after the payout date we show in the list.

The My Affiliates tab shows all of the referred users that have signed up using your link.  If you contacted OwnerRez to manually fix an affiliation, that will show in your My Affiliates list as well.  Basically, any account that generates money for you will show in the My Affiliates list, including any account that used to earn you money but no longer does.  The Affiliate Program only generates earnings for a maximum of five (5) years, but no one has affiliates that are that old, so that shouldn't be the case for any affiliate yet.  You'll notice accounts that are closed or still in a trial period as well.  If you're wondering if a friend of yours signed up, or what their status is, go directly to your My Affiliates tab to see.

The last tab, Instructions, is a helpful page of links and images you can use to give out to new prospects.  This page is similar to the links and images we showed before, but the links are slightly new because we recently changes some storage technology.  We encourage all Affiliates to update their links and images (ie. on your website or Facebook pages) to the newest links so that your new referrals continue to work without a hitch.

New W9 Upload Tool in Affiliate Program

Our Affiliate Program has been so successful, we realized that we had to start reporting the payouts to the IRS for any user that is a US citizen or legal resident as most of our affiliates are.  We don't like the requirement any more than you do, but unfortunately, there's nothing we can do except make it easy for users to provide their tax info.  While overhauling the Affiliate screens, we added a new "Tax Info" field and a W9 upload tool.  You'll see it right on the same Affiliate Page that I mentioned above.

Click that Submit button and a little window will open with instructions on what to fill out and upload.

The form is a standard IRS W9 which basically collects your US-based tax ID (either EIN for business or SSN for individuals) with your signature and date attesting to the accuracy.

After completing, simply use that Upload button to find the finished file and then click Submit W9 to send it over.  OwnerRez will automatically mark your tax info as "Pending Review" status and a member of our customer success team will review and confirm it soon.  If anything else is needed, we'll circle back with you directly.  Be sure to sign and date the W9 or we can't accept it.

Here are a couple of common questions about the W9 requirement:

Do I have to do it now, or can it wait?  If you've ever received a payout, we need a W9 as soon as possible.  Even if you don't have pending payouts ready to go out, we still need it to report 2021 numbers to the IRS.  We've modified our policy requirements to note that payouts will not be sent to any affiliate that does not have confirmed W9 info on file.  If you do have pending payouts waiting to be sent, our system will no longer send them if your tax info isn't finished.  If you've never received any payouts in the past, you can take as long as you like to send it.

I'm not a US citizen or resident, so what do I do?  The W9 requirement is only for US citizens and legal residents.  However, for non-US citizens, we still need to confirm your tax status, so we need to see an ID and signed statement stating that you are not subject to US taxes.  This isn't difficult!  Take a sheet of paper, put your photo ID on it, write a note on it that you are not a US citizen or legal resident and do not need to send a W9.  Your photo ID should match this statement by showing a non-US address.  Then sign and date the bottom of the paper, and scan or take a photo of it.  Use the above upload window to send that instead of the W9 and our team will confirm.

I messed up and need to submit a new W9.  No worries. Simply go back to your Account > Affiliate Program and use the "Change" button next to the Tax Info field to submit a new one.  You can do this at any time, even if your previous submission is still in Pending Review status.

I don't have access to a scanner or the ability to sign.  e-Signatures apps and pictures from phones are perfectly fine.  Just make sure to use a signing app so that it's a legit signature, and make sure the photo from your phone is high resolution and clear when you send it.  We want this to be an easy process so that it can be done quickly.

New Airbnb Amenities

The best channel manager for vacation rentals only stays the best if it is constantly monitored and supported!  Thankfully, you use OwnerRez.  Nearly every week, we tweak, change or upgrade some aspect of our channel management engine.

This time around, we worked on Airbnb amenities.  I don't have a definitive list of amenities added, but our team went through the latest additions by Airbnb and made sure to correct differences where we saw them.  We get docs from the Airbnb dev team on a regular basis, and we noticed some new changes.  Do you have a boat slip?  If so, you can now check off that amenity! ⛵ Board games, rain shower, baking sheets, grill utensils, bread maker, mini-fridge, wine glasses, rice maker, piano, record player? Awesome, check them all!  (Also, I might want to rent your house.)

When you get a second, scan through your amenities and see if you want to select, deselect or add notes.  It's good to do on a regular basis anyway.

As part of this, we removed a couple of deprecated amenities as well - ie. amenities that were in there but Airbnb wasn't showing live anymore, so we removed them.  Things like: Cable TV, Lock On Bedroom, Beachfront.  Again, this only applies to Airbnb.

Enhancements & Tweaks

Use Field Codes in Review Templates

In the last release, we rolled out Automatic 5-Star Reviews to much fanfare, and it's been great to watch the reception.  Users have really jumped on it, and we're seeing a lot of review activity.  If you haven't started using it yet, give it a try.  It's a powerful way to build your reputation.

However, there was a lot of push-back on our decision to remove field codes from review templates.  If you recall, we yanked the ability to have field codes because reviews are permanent once submitted, and we foresaw a lot of accidents where field codes either exposed private guest information or contained an error or empty value and looked bad (or robotic) with no way of correcting.  But still, the push-back was strong, and for good reason.  Saying "thanks, you were great, come again" over and over is a bit sterile and obvious.  Around here, we like flexibility and power, not sterile and obvious.

So we put our heads together and came up with a solution.  We identified a bunch of field codes that won't expose sensitive guest information and tend to always have data (ie. won't be empty).  If you're curious, the list of approved field codes is limited to the guest's first name, the property name, the number of nights they stayed, the number of guests in their party, and your name or company name.

So yeah, field codes are back!  Check it out!

You can insert these field codes into any part of the review body.  Here are some quick examples:

Check back in a few days, and you'll see the automatic reviews being written with more of a personalized sound.

Also, if you were one of the ones who had a bunch of review templates hidden from the previous release, you'll be happy to know that they're back!  That's right, take a look at your review templates list, and you'll see the old ones back in there.  Please note, if your old review templates have non-sanctioned field codes for reviews, as shown above, then the Auto 5-Star Review system will skip them when submitting reviews.

Want to use a different field code in reviews? Let us know, and we'll take a look.  I'm sure there are plenty of other bits of information that could be included, but we started small to avoid pitfalls.

Real "Month of Year" Selector for Month Criteria

Triggers, surcharges, and discounts have always supported filtering by the "month of the year" that the booking is created, arrives, or departs. However, the month of year field required a number that tended to stump a lot of users.  In other words, you needed to enter "1" for January.

We've made it easier to manage those types of criteria by making the months a drop-down of month names.

We like to think we have the most powerful filtering and automation options in the industry, but those filters are only good if you understand how to use them!  Hopefully, this makes it easier to target months.

Bug Fixes

Broken links you can't see.  You would have only noticed this bug if you're a web crawler, so if you're a human reading this post, you probably didn't see it!  During our big forum overhaul recently, we added a profile page where you can see your posts and upload an avatar.  However, in the process, we set the "canonical URL" for the forum profile page to a broken link.  Canonical links tell web crawlers what the true link is for any given web page.  It allows a web app to offer different page variations but centralize the metadata for those page variations to a specific URL.  All fixed!  (And if you are a member of the web-crawling undead, I'll find out about that too... 🧟‍♀️)

Render final review body when selecting a template.  When you create review templates, you might use field codes (like {CFIRST}) to personalize the content.  You naturally expect that when the review goes out, those field codes are replaced by the guest's name or other booking information.  In one of the previous releases, we accidentally changed some behavior such that when writing a manual review, the template was not transforming into the final version before you finished.  This was only affecting the manual side of sending reviews; automatic 5-star reviews were fine.  Users writing manual reviews might have expected that the field code would change after they submitted it, but it wasn't.  We fixed this to copy how emails and other things work with field codes.  If manually selecting a template, the system will render the final version before you make your changes so that you can see the transformed field codes before sending.

Send flat tax to Airbnb even if rent is non-taxable.  When we added the taxable categories, we stopped pushing taxes if there were no applicable categories. However, that only makes sense for percent taxes - flat taxes don't need taxable categories.  We fixed this so that we now push flat taxes to Airbnb even if nothing is taxable.

What is the total of an average?  Did you know that we show ADR (average daily rent) and ADG (average daily gross) on some of our booking reports?  Yep, sure do!  You can query a range of dates and see what your nightly average revenue was for those booked nights.  However, we noticed that the "Total" value at the bottom was summing up the averages and showing a large number.  We fixed that to show the total average - ie. the average of all the averages above it.  This is what you really want to see.

False alerts about Auto 5-Star Review being scheduled.  After our new Automatic 5-Star Review feature came out, you may have noticed that you got email alerts telling you that the booking would be skipped but also that a review was scheduled at the same time (two alerts).  Nothing bad actually happened here - the skipped bookings were still skipped - but the extra email alert needed to be removed, so we took care of that.

Vrbo icon for Location Description/Activities.  We show a little channel icon for the prominent channels (Vrbo, Airbnb, B.com, and TA) underneath each of the description fields that those channels support so that users can quickly see which ones need to be filled in for certain channels.  However, we overlooked the "Location Description" and "Location Other Activities" fields - those sync with Vrbo, but there was no icon.  The Vrbo icon is now in place!

Allow deleting all charges even if the last charge is a discount.  We found an issue where a booking couldn't have its charges deleted if it had positive charges followed by negative charges, and you attempted to delete them all and save them. This is now fixed!

Partially released is not fully released.  Even when a security deposit was fully released, the new Automatic 5-Star Review feature was thinking that something was kept because of a bug in the logic that compared the held or refunded amounts.  Fixed!

Watching the topic twice.  We noticed that when writing posts (either first posts or replies) in forum topics, the forum would occasionally subscribe the user multiple times to the same topic.  This is the top "watch this topic" function that sends you emails when there are changes.  We fixed those situations, so it should no longer be happening.

Property URL empty in signed/archived renter agreements.  We noticed that if (a) an email template is triggered while signing and archiving a renter agreement, (b) the user has an active hosted website, (c) the property URL is empty, and (d) the property is included in that active hosted website, the URL is replaced with a blank one instead of the expected hosted website link.  Sound rare?  It is!  But our engineering team monitors a lot of different error reports precisely to find very-rare errors like this.

Skip Vrbo push if the status is erroring.  Previously, we could accidentally deactivate Vrbo listings that were waiting to be integrated if we did a push.  We didn't know if a property was connected, which is why this could happen.  But now that we have the Vrbo status service, we realized we could stop this problem from occurring.  Now, before doing a push, we check if there is a last-synced booking or it's synced successfully in the last five days.  We also check when pushing listing content if there's a 403 or failed status and handle it gracefully so that the listing isn't deactivated.

Global alert about bouncing email sticking around.  When you have a Suppressed Email Address in your account that also happens to be an account email address (eg. your profile or login email address) we show a red global alert warning you that all emails being sent to you are bouncing.  We do this until you either "reactivate" the suppression or change the account email address to something else.  This is necessary because you can't have an account email address that is also actively bouncing.  Account email addresses are really important and need to be valid at all times.  But the global alert was sticking!  Even after you fixed the problem, the global alert would continue to stay.  This is now fixed.

Gear or tag?  When you go to set "accessibility amenities" in the Accommodations tab, for a property, there's an orange warning reminding you that you can also include photos for those items over on the property Photos page.  But the warning mentioned a "gears" button.  The button on the photos has an icon that looks more like a price tag than a gear, so we corrected it.

Icon widths in menus.  Some of the icons we use in some of the menus (like Tools) were using different widths depending on the icon and menu option.  This is has been corrected.

Phones can have magic too.  We host a support article called "CSS Magic" with snippets to tweak your hosted site in ways that the built-in options don't support.  CSS is a web language that controls the style of web pages.  We noticed that some of the snippets on our CSS Magic article didn't work on mobile.  This is because our hosted sites are designed to dynamically change when being viewed on tablets or mobile devices.  So we ran through and updated the CSS Magic snippets to work on mobile.  In some cases, there are multiple CSS lines to use, so make sure to copy the entire snippet.

Reject Vrbo bookings with missing street addresses.  We noticed that sometimes Vrbo sends bookings to our system, via the API integration, but the guest's street address is missing.  We're not sure why Vrbo allows that, but they do and when the missing street address hits our system, it causes problems with credit card processing.  To help make this process more graceful, we now check for missing addresses earlier in the process and immediately report back to Vrbo that we can't take the booking. This should help stop extra emails from flying around between you and the guest asking for a street address later in the process.

Cancel button when reactivating. Previously, the Reactivate Booking page didn't have a "Cancel" button.  We added a Cancel button so that it follows our design pattern.

Alert to request payment when cards fail.  Some users were getting confused if they hit an error when attempting to process a credit card.  They thought that we sent a payment failed email to the guest like we do when automatically processing scheduled payments.  We added some things to help make this clearer.  First, we copied the "send payment request" call-out box so that you can see it (and copy the same options) when the card fails manually.  Then, we updated the "Pending Confirm" page to show the same options.

Fix CFAR rules, again.  Guests can't always purchase CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) travel insurance.  It depends on when they booked, when the arrival date is, what country they are a resident of, and so on.  We noticed a place where our rules were off, so we fixed that.  We also made our CFAR travel insurance documentation a little clearer.  Oh - and while we were in there, we updated it to allow New Hampshire residents to buy CFAR.  New Hampshire is now good to go.

Hosted website file cleanup.  We host a lot of user-generated content.  User-generated content is images, videos, and files that you (the user) upload to our system.  That user-generated content is used all over the place, from email templates to forum posts to guest forms to hosted websites.  We recently upgraded our content storage technology to move to a better system.  Afterward, we noticed that some of the content used by hosted websites was not referencing the newer storage technology, so we fixed that.  To be clear, no downtime or broken images were shown on hosted websites.  This was an under-the-cover fix that no one would have noticed on the surface.

Handle phone number/brand race conditions.  The term "race condition" is a technical thing.  It means that two or more pieces of code are trying to update the same data at the same moment, and bad things happen.  We saw this happening when SMS Brands are submitted based on how our SMS carrier was communicating back to us.

Our security is better than that!  We noticed that the footers of our quote emails and guest forms still said we used "256 bit SSL encryption." While that may have been true many many years ago when those forms were first developed, security moves very fast and we've come a long way from 256-bit encryption. We have always stayed on the cutting edge of security to protect the information of both you and your guests, but this blurb was a bit outdated. We've updated the text to reflect that we currently use "2048-bit TLS encryption."

Duplicate Forum replies.  You might have seen this one too. After the recent forum overhaul, it became possible to create two forum posts when replying to a thread.  Hard to run down, but we found and adjusted a few things that should make it stop happening!

Tighter on mobile.  The new forums overhaul was designed to make our forums look and work well on mobile.  Over the past couple of weeks, we noticed some areas that could still be improved - lines that could be removed or buttons moved around when on mobile screens.  We went ahead and took care of those.

Security Deposit alerts in the wrong place.  We noticed that the system alert for "Booking Security Deposit Failed" was sitting up in the "Bookings" section of system alerts, probably because this alert is pretty old and predated the "Security Deposits" section of the system alerts.  It was time to move this little guy to his proper home, so we went ahead and took care of that.   This alert now sits alongside the other security deposit-related alerts.

Booking.com numbers.  This again, oi vay.  Booking.com's property IDs (aka "hotel IDs", aka "room numbers") are different in format and size depending on how your property is configured.  Recently, those numbers got longer, but only because they added some variations on the end for different rooms or units.  On our channel property mapping pages, we try to help you figure out the right IDs and provide feedback on (or even change) what you enter to make it work with what we know the channel really wants.  Often, users enter room numbers instead of hotel IDs when it comes to Booking.com property mappings, but also... maybe not?  We don't always know. 🤪 To help with this, we now check the hotel ID that is entered.  If the hotel ID is not found, we assume they may have entered a room number by mistake.  Before showing an error message, we try lopping off the last two digits and seeing if that works.  If it does, we update the hotel ID to the lopped-off number.  If it still errors, we change the message to say "should be 6 or 7 digits long" because it could be either.  While we were in there, we changed "Hotel ID" to room number on the "Disconnect" page

Can't remove addresses while channel-integrated.  If you've got our world-class channel management running, you can't change or remove your property addresses.  I mean you could actually, technically, remove the address from OwnerRez before, but the channels would throw a fit or ignore the changes.  To help remind you of this, we now prevent you from removing a property address if the property is actively connected to a channel via API.  There's a nice warning that explains what's going on and tells you what to do.

New Videos

Over the past week, we've put out some new videos about our Verified Email Domains feature.  Verified Email is a cool way of using a custom domain name you already own to send email from OwnerRez to your contacts while maintaining a high sending reputation using OwnerRez's excellent sending speed and email services.  These videos will talk you through it.  Start with the Setup and Configuration video, then watch the video specific to your domain registrar to see how to put DNS records in place.