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Will the "flash sale" or "private sale" websites keep coming? Just a bit over a month ago I updated my list, and already I have new ones to add. Maybe someday the marketplace will say, "Enough, already," but it hasn't happened yet.
To start with, I'm switching to the general term "flash sale" rather than the previous "private sale." At this point, the pretense of "private" has pretty much disappeared, and just about anybody can log on to any of these sites. After all, they all want your money.
Although they really aren't private, they're all "flash," at least to a degree. That means relatively short purchase windows to buy the deal—often just one day, and seldom more than a week—even though the deals may cover travel over several months. Thus, they're not the same as "last minute" sides that sell rooms/tours/cruises that are about to depart. Although you have to buy quickly, you can travel at relative leisure.
- The newest entry comes from Viator, the outfit that specializes in city tours, regional tours, and port excursions at rates that are usually below those charged by the tour operators and cruise lines. Viator's "member only" flash deals typically cut up to 50 percent off the prices of city and regional tours. Currently, for example, the site features a Napa and Sonoma wine country tour from San Francisco at 20 percent off the regular rate and 40 percent off a "Best of Brooklyn" sightseeing, food, and culture tour from New York City.
- Added since my last report is Livingsocial, a site that features goods and services from local merchants, including restaurants, and travel packages to nearby destinations. Although the site pitches its "escapes" as weekend trips to nearby destinations, actual postings are for trips that would be a big schlep for a weekend. For example, the posting for Eugene, Oregon, the closest city on Livingsocial's menu to my hometown, lists only two that a Eugene resident would consider for a weekend; most range from Buenos Aires to the Bahamas to Baltimore. Still, prices are good, often at least 50 percent off regular rates. They do not, however, include airfares.
- New to me (but not new) is Florida Vacation Auction, which "auctions" hotel accommodations and timeshare and condo intervals in Florida. It follows the usual online auction model: Each week, bidding starts at a very low level and increases depending on bids, closing at 10 p.m. Eastern time on Sundays. Although the site also posts a "buy direct for" price—still below the posted "retail value" price—as far as I can tell, it imposes no "reserve." As with other online auctions, you can set up automatic bid increments, with a top limit. You don't buy specific occupancy dates; instead, you get vouchers for space-available stays that are valid for a minimum of 90 days. Some accommodations may add supplementary charges for cleaning and such. The site claims average "savings" of 64 percent. This business model shouts "potential scam warning," but I didn't find any consumer complaints.
- Off & Away posts two offer flavors. As in the general pattern, it features "private sale" deals at generally upscale hotels and resorts around the world. As I'm writing this, it posts the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans from $110 per night (regular rate $299) through most of August and various rates up to $179 through most of December and into early January. It also runs one or more auctions, where you bid the same way as you do on Florida Vacation Auctions. The current auction is for a seven-day "AirCruise" around major destinations in the West from Grand Canyon to the Napa Valley wine country, including charter air, hotels, and most meals.
This brings my list of flash sale sites to 14 entries, with no end in sight. As long as the suppliers are willing to offer cut-rate prices, they're places you should look for deals.