The skinny on discount sites: when discounts can sometimes equal a premium

Summer travel which is reaching its Labor Day climax continues to bring on a spate of articles on how to get better deals on airlines, hotels and other travel products and services with tech apps leading the charge. Techcrunch has a report on the latest entrant Roomlia which promises to "provide the fastest hotel booking on mobile" while "taking on" established player Hotel Tonight.

Techcrunch notes that Roomlia "offers discounted hotel rooms up to seven days in advance with only a few clicks to complete booking. Unlike Expedia and its counterparts, Roomlia links you directly with your chosen hotel the moment you book, as opposed to negotiating rates and payments through the hotel site and the hotel itself." The seven day horizon is a key distinction that could enable the newbie to muscle its way into a market that Hotel Tonight has virtually owned since its launch some three years ago as both business and leisure travelers who are not quite comfortable with the idea of landing up in a city without a confirmed hotel booking are likely to prefer it.

Others on the do-not-pay-full-price who continue to be on the ascend are YAPTA featured  over six years ago on this blog. The Wall Street Journal's Middle Seat column of August 28th 2014 has a headline "Yapta Alerts You to a Cheaper Airfare in Time to Rebook Your Flight" and notes how "one corporate travel executive saved about $12,000 on a business-class fare to Shanghai, above, from Tampa, Fla., using the Yapta fare-searching tool". Interestingly, the article brings up how some cities are more price inelastic than others as research shows "some cities are a lot more volatile for airline prices than others. Tickets leaving from San Francisco were the most volatile of 15 major airports for business travel, Yapta found, and departures from New York's LaGuardia Airport were the least volatile."  LaGuardia's proximity to Manhattan evidently leave both airlines and the airport authority unbending when it comes to pricing.

The surge in travel intermediary websites that purport to give consumers the upper hand in pricing does not always ensure the consumer comes up trumps.  The UK's Daily Mail notes how some long standing "discount" websites like Cheapoair, eDreams and Ebookers actually end up charging the customer more than what is available on airlines' websites. In one example cited customers paid a whopping 60% more for the same fare on the same day on the airline's (easyjet in this instance) site.

For sheer quirkines few can beat the discount offered by Sounkyo Mount View Hotel in Kamikawa, Hokkaido.  The hotel has recently been offering a 500 yen discount to customers who have either no hair at all or sport buzz cuts.  The Mount View does offer a business rationale for the discount saying that hirsuite customers cause more work for housekeeping by clogging bathroom drains as well as a more thorough cleaning of beds and carpets.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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