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Just about every week, somebody new starts offering flash sale and coupon deals. And the deals can be very good, but be careful: Calling a price a big discount doesn't make it one.
Travelocity is the latest big OTA to get into the flash sale game. Like most such deals, it concentrates on hotel and resort accommodations. But rather than just another "me, too" copy of Jetsetter or SmarterTravel's sister site, SniqueAway, its approach is unique: Every day, it lists a single new "dashing deal," available only on that day, but valid for travel for up to several months. The deal on the day I'm writing this is for a room "plus upgrade" at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, starting at $35 a night. A calendar display shows the dates on which this rate is available, and, in this case, that includes a limited number of Sunday through Thursday arrivals in mid-December, with quite a few more dates available at $40 or $45 during October and November. When I checked, the Hotels.com rate for one of the $35 nights was $59, so the discount promise seems legitimate.
Clearly, no matter how good the price or how popular the destination, a one-off daily deal can serve only a limited market. Accordingly, I assume that dashing deals will focus on only the most popular destinations. And, at least so far, the agency does not offer you an option to ask it to notify you when a deal appears in someplace you want to visit. But if you're shopping around for a good spur-of-the-moment vacation idea, Travelocity's new offering should be on your list.
Another new-to-me coupon site features deals in Europe, and especially in the United Kingdom. As with U.S. agencies, VoucherCodes.com offers a wide range of coupons across the retail spectrum. International visitors will probably be most interested in three categories:
- Restaurant coupons offer the same sorts of deals you get with U.S. coupons and Entertainment books: second-entree "free," percent- or pounds-off, and twofers. Most participating restaurants are large chains, and many are either fast food or mass-market eateries, but a few cover more upscale options. Most vouchers have a short life, so you needn't bother to check what's available until you're about to leave home or even after you arrive.
- Most travel vouchers cover package tours originating in the UK, of little interest to visitors. However, a few cover local hotels, car rentals, and air tickets.
- Ticket vouchers include a mix of twofers and discounts at a wide range of theme parks, cinemas, bowling alleys, and zoos. Not much of this will interest visitors, although you can get small-discount coupons for the London Eye and the Tower of London.
As with any self-styled "discount" operation, watch out for misleading "discount" claims. I checked for what looked like a good hotel or resort deal at seven of the largest flash sale sites. The results can give you pause:
- All seven showed "list" or "regular" prices that were higher than the prices at which anyone could get the accommodations through Hotels.com. SniqueAway's "regular" posting was only a little higher, others ranged up to close to double.
- The "sale" price was, in fact, a substantial discount from Hotels.com's rate at Jetsetter, Off and Away, SniqueAway, and Voyage Prive.
- But the supposed "sale" price was actually higher than Hotels.com's price at Spire and TripAlertz, and essentially the same at Vacationist.
This is not to say that some of the offers at the last three agencies were not good, or that all the deals at the other three were good. Instead, it shows that you absolutely have to check with an independent source—typically one of the big OTAs—before you commit to a purported discount deal.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Hotels.com.)