How does 40 percent off an all-inclusive four-night stay for two at a Jamaican bungalow sound? Or a nine-day Kenyan safari, complete with airfare, slashed to $2,697 from $4,495?
Now consumers looking for a bargain getaway can find impressive discounts by trolling the Web. Last fall, LivingSocial, a daily deal website, rolled out Escapes, a travel site offering overnight stays and vacation packages at 30 to 50 percent below published rates. Groupon, the company that pioneered the social buying phenomenon, recently partnered with Expedia to form Group Getaways with Expedia.
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Here's how the model works: Bargain hunters sign up on a website to receive emails describing the latest deals. These could range from a half-price weekend at a nearby bed and breakfast to international jaunts. Groupon, for example, offered five days at a Cabo San Lucas resort for two with hot stone massages and a swim-with-the-dolphins experience for $1,340, a savings of $671 over the typical seasonal deal.
The popularity of these online travel discounts has spawned a slew of start-up sites that offer new twists on traditional offers. For example, TripAlertz pegs its prices to the number of bookings, and SniqueAway is an invitation-only (you can join only if invited by another member) luxury hotel deal site. Inevitably, aggregators like Dealery and Yipit have also cropped up. These time-saver sites compile deals from a variety of Groupon clones and winnow them according to your preferences.
Many deals may be available for just one day, but carry a booking window of six months to a year. Once you settle on a travel offer, you supply your credit card information and a travel voucher is sent to you for the trip. Some sites offer incentives if you share a deal through social networking: Should you book a trip on LivingSocial, for example, your holiday is free if three of your friends also sign up. Keep in mind that certain deal providers, like Groupon, will cancel an offer if they cannot deliver a minimum number of customers to the vendor. But if that occurs, your credit card will not be charged.
What's in it for the travel industry? Exposure, for one, and luxury hotels, typically loath to lower rates, are able to offload discounted rooms by packaging them with value add-ons, such as spa treatments, without tarnishing their polished images.
For the offers to be a win for you, too, will depend on what drives your vacation decisions. Since deals are doled out randomly, they work best for those with a budget in mind but who aren't stuck on a specific destination. Still, when that all-inclusive deal at an Arizona spa pops up in your inbox in the depths of winter, the most careful travel planner can be tempted.
Paul Lasley, cohost of "Traveling" at OnTravel.com, likens the situation to shoppers considering impulse buys in the supermarket checkout line. "With the time pressure, maybe you're not going to think it through too carefully."
Before you bite, check the hotel's website for rates; some deals may not be as deeply discounted as advertised. A hotel may also offer a similar discount or value-added package directly. Either way, check the terms to make sure the deal is fully refundable and under what circumstances. For example, LivingSocial offers money-back guarantees within five days of your purchase and Groupon will provide refunds if you don't get the dates you want or have a bad experience. Buyer's remorse? You can always turn to sites like Lifesta or CoupRecoup to sell unused coupons for a small fee.