Tuesday, Aug. 03, 2010

Private Sales: Are You on the List?

Price transparency has also made it harder for the travel industry to fill seats and rooms at rock-bottom prices without everybody knowing it; hotels and (to a lesser degree) airlines don't want to cheapen their image or alienate customers who paid full price. That's why we've been seeing more "private sales," in which a controlled group of people — like on Facebook or Twitter — gets access to a deal.

The Gilt Group, known for its private-sale fashion sites, introduced Jetsetter.com, which offers deals on luxury hotels and vacation rentals; fashion site Ruelala.com has followed suit. Tablet Hotels, a booking site specializing in "noteworthy" hotels, has a private club; to join, you have to book a stay on the site, be invited by a member or fork out $195 for a Plus membership, although the site has been known to post a promo code (see trend No. 2) on its Facebook page. The same goes for Bonvoyou and Vacationist.com, an invitation-only site launched in April by LuxuryLink.com and Travel + Leisure magazine, which offers private sales on rooms at luxury hotels and resorts — follow it on Facebook or Twitter. Kayak also launched what it calls a private sale; its deals are exclusive to Kayak but not exactly private — you merely have to submit your e-mail address. (It plans on adding deals for airfare and hotel packages.) And then there's Spirit Airlines, which has a club that — not surprisingly (see trend No. 6) — you have pay to join. For $40 a year, you get access to certain members-only fares.

Note: Many of the hotel deals are nonrefundable and unchangeable. Which leads us to ...