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New Website Lets You Resell Unused Flights and Hotel Stays

SmarterTravel

If you have a prepaid travel accommodation you find you can’t use, TransferTravel will list it for a possible resale to someone else. Although based in the U.K., TransferTravel is targeting an international market including the U.S. and Canada. The idea sounds great, but the travel industry throws up a lot of roadblocks to any sort of trade.

Trading, or reselling, has been around for a long time for theater and event tickets: You see lots offered on eBay and many specialized websites. While some offers are obviously from ticket scalpers, many are just from ordinary folks who originally wanted to attend but found they couldn’t. Unlike the scalped tickets, these tickets are often offered at below their original price, and represent a win-win: Sellers get at least some return from something they can’t use, and buyers get a good deal.

TransferTravel posits that this idea can and does apply to travel services: air tickets, hotel accommodations, package tours. and such. A few years ago, you could see lots of such offers on eBbay, Craigslist, and such. Although you still see some, however, industry rules get in the way.

Air Tickets

The big barrier to trading and reselling is inability to change the name on a ticket. Most big airlines, including the U.S. giants, prohibit name changes other than to correct obvious misspellings and such. In the “good old days,” nobody checked your ID before you boarded a flight: You could buy a ticket issued in someone else’s name and use it without a problem. Of course, that was a long time ago, and today’s security requirements make it completely impossible. Airline tickets can be traded only in a few limited cases:

  • A few lines, including Norwegian and WOW, allow name changes, with a fee. If you don’t change anything else—the destinations or dates—you needn’t pay anything other than the nominal name change fee.
  • Occasionally, tickets won as prizes allow the winner to designate the names.
  • Some airline vouchers are transferable.
  • Many airlines allow a traveler holding an unusable ticket to cancel the ticket and apply the value of the ticket, less a stiff change fee, towards another ticket. But that value must be applied to a new ticket at the then-current price, not the original fare. Thus, although you can’t change the name on your old ticket, you can sell the remaining cash value, less the change fee, and use the residual value to buy a ticket for another traveler.

Other Travel Services

Hotels have varying rules for name changes on reservations, and much of the inventory currently posted on TransferTravel consists of hotel offers. Ditto a few tour packages.

Cruise lines also vary in their name change policies. Carnival and Royal Caribbean, for example, allow name changes on some bookings as long as one of the original travelers remains on the booking. Otherwise, you have to cancel and rebook—not a feasible trade.

Ready for Prime Time?

The critical issue for potential users is whether the original name can really be changed, either free or for a charge. And even then, if you have to cancel a flight or other booking, the need arises shortly before you’re scheduled to travel. The net result is that, for many potential users, the time window is too short to be practical.

In addition, at least now, TransferTravel’s inventory is scant. And your chances of finding both buyer and seller for any given trip are pretty slim.

Currently, you see a few legitimate trade/sale offers on Craigslist. TransferTraveler says its register-and-join “community” business model provides “secure” transactions, and it may. But some of the claims seem a bit naive. Beyond that, TransferTravel really offers no more than Craigslist—but no less, either.

Thus, at least for now, I conclude that TransferTravel isn’t really ready for prime time. Still, the idea is intriguing, so take a look. If you see something you like, make sure to verify that you can change the name(s) and the applicable fee, if any, to do so. If the answers are positive, give it a try.

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