Since the dawn of the Internet, we’ve praised the transparency and research capabilities it offers travelers. Remember when we had to call an airline telephone reservations agent to book a flight and had no idea what alternatives we had unless we tripped upon an especially kind agent? Or we went during business hours to a travel agent who may or may not have worked hard to find us the least expensive options?
Now, with a plethora of web sites, the consumer has an array of tools to compare prices and, in some cases, even name them. The hotel field, in particular, has suddenly seen a robust new crop of sites delivering hotel rooms, especially high-end ones, at deeply discounted prices.
Here’s my list of sites every traveler should access if savings is a goal.
FareCompare.com: Check out average fares on specific routes per month to learn the least expensive time to fly. Maybe you’ll want to take that vacation in June rather than July? Compare prices on different days to see if time-shifting your travel might be worth it.
Yapta.com: After you’ve booked a flight, let Yapta know, and the site will track prices on your flight and alert you if they drop before you begin travel and might be eligible for a refund. (Normally those refunds come in the form of a future flight credit on the same airline.) Keep in mind, however, many airlines charge change fees–as much as $150 a ticket by some major carriers–so the price drop has to be significant to make it worth your while in those cases. Two airlines that don’t charge change fees: JetBlue and Alaska.
Kayak.com & Momondo.com: Two fare-comparison web sites in hot competition with each other. Denmark-based Momondo is especially good at finding fares on discount European airlines. Remember, however, Southwest Airlines does not permit any third-party site to list its schedule AND fares, so you’ll have to go to the airline’s web site for those.
Flightstats.com: This site gives an historical range of prices on specific flights as well as their on-time and cancellation histories. That makes this site especially helpful in determining when the least expensive time to travel might be on a certain flight or route.
Jetsetter.com: This is a membership-only site that serves up an astounding menu of high-end hotels and resorts around the world at deeply discounted prices. But there’s no fee to join, and membership is easy to obtain–just request it. Or ask a friend who is a member to “nominate” you on the site. At 6 p.m. one recent weekday, I picked up a hotel in Manhattan for that night–The Carlton, a member of Preferred Hotels at Madison and 27th–for $180 a night before taxes. The retail price? A 14-day, advance-purchase reservation runs $305 before taxes. Sales usually last a few days, but you can often book out two, three, or more months.
VoyagePrive.com: This French company recently arrived in the US determined to claim a share of the market. It, too, offers classy hotels at discounted rates and also has a loose “membership” requirement that costs nothing. Its calendar display is clunky compared to Jetsetter’s clear presentation, but it’s worth keeping this site on your radar.
Bloomspot.com: Recently unveiled by a couple of former Yahoo.com executives, this site for now focuses on New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It offers hotels, too, but also restaurants, spas and sports clubs. I recently bought a four-course dinner for about 45% off at Le Cirque in Manhattan. The “discount” which is really simply a code you tell your waiter–is good for a year’s time. Yesterday I paid $75 to buy $145 worth of facial and massage services at the spa at a fancy hotel in Los Angeles as a birthday gift for my girlfriend. More cities will come on line with time–I know this because my son works for the company. No membership required.
Kayak.com: This airfare comparison site has joined the hotel-discount club. Click on “Private Sale” on the left-hand column of Kayak’s home page and join the hunt. Its offerings aren’t as deep as the aforementioned companies, but it’s worth a look-see.
Travelocity.com: The latest entrant is the well-known, third-party travel booking site famous for its television commercials starring a globe-wandering travel gnome. This past week it launched “Travelocity’s Top Secret Hotels,” though obviously Travelocity hopes nothing about it remains top secret. The site is promising up to 45% off hotel room nights. Use your American Express card to book at least a two-night stay right now and get an additional $20 off.
All these discount sites take excess inventory from hotels (or restaurants, spas and health clubs), negotiate a deep discount, add a bit on the top for their profit, and pass the savings along from you. As long as the hotel business is under pressure as it is now, these bargains can be quite impressive. This is one way to take advantage of the economic downturn.
PackLate.com: This terrific site was launched two months ago by the owner of two condos in Park City, Utah. When he and his wife would put them up for rent, they’d lower the price the longer they went unrented. He eventually decided to bring that tactic to the rest of us. PackLate has contracted with property managers at major luxury resorts in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and California to take excess inventory and offer condos for at least 30% off retail. But here’s the good part: The price drops the longer the condo goes unrented, so you can play chicken and watch a few condos and hope no one rents them ’til their prices drop even further. At the moment, individual owners of units can’t post their places as they can on, say, VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner). I really like this site, and you can save a bundle using it. From one-bedroom condos to five-bedroom vacation homes, the menu is large and the photos appealing. For the moment the site focuses on the Western US, but it will expand its reach over time.
CruiseCompete.com & MyBestFareFinder.com: Both of these sites are “reverse auction” sites, which means you enter what kind of cruise YOU want–time of travel, destination, style of cruse line, and so on. Then travel agents and cruise lines send you offers via e-mail that ought to be significantly below retail. Just sit back and let them bid for your business.
RESTAURANTS & OTHERS
GroupOn.com: Daily discounts in many cities on all kinds of restaurants and other services. Register at the site and wait for the offers to tumble into your e-mail box.
BloomSpot.com: As mentioned above, this site offers significant discounts at restaurants, spas, and health clubs as well as hotels.
LastMinuteTravel.com: Need a ticket at the last minute? Don’t pay full fare. Check out this site for deals on airfares, hotels, vacation packages and rental cars at, as the name implies, the last minute.