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Outside Magazine, May 1999

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Finding bargains on the Web’s auction block

By Nate Hoogeveen

Booking travel over the internet is already big business–1998 saw more than $3 billion in sales. However, online travel auctions, whereby discounted airline tickets, hotel rooms, and outfitted trips are put on the cyberblock, remain mysterious to most. Indeed, the prospect of committing to an unretractable bid can unnerve even the more Web-travel-savvy among us.
But if you arm yourself with patience and flexibility, these sites can provide real savings. Here are our favorites.


Savings: up to 50 percent
Risk: Moderate
What’s on Sale: Outfitted trips’s discounted international and domestic trips go to the highest bidder at the end of a live several-day auction; results come via e-mail. You can save big: Bidding starts at $500 for a $2,200-retail, six-day rafting trip for two on Idaho’s Salmon River. Or you may not save at all: Bidding starts at $2,295 for a five-day bike tour through France’s
Burgundy that normally goes for $2,395. Bottom line: Check prices with outfitters to ensure the deal’s for real.


Savings: 30 percent
Risk: Moderate
What’s on Sale: Air and hotel

You name your maximum outlay and dates for a flight route or hotel stay, and Priceline submits the offer to its affiliated airlines and hotels. Left to fate are such pesky details as departure times, layovers, specific hotel locations–and your card is automatically charged (nonrefundably) the moment your price is accepted. So use your one bid judiciously: Go too
high and you’ll pay. Go absurdly low–$10 for a flight to Bali, say–and you’ll be rejected. Your best bet is to use Priceline for last-minute travel: Find out the lowest published fare for your route, and let that be your offer. Bottom line: If you bid, expect to buy.


Savings: 6 to 12 percent
Risk: Low
What’s on Sale: Air and hotel

Your savings couldn’t be sweeter: They come from airlines’ and hotels’ pockets. First, reserve a flight with an airline and then plop down $5 to post the fare on TravelBids. Travel agents vie for it, and the lowest bidder buys your ticket from the airline. You in turn purchase the ticket from the agent, who later kicks your savings–his commission from the
airline–back to you. You’re guaranteed to save at least 6 percent off your ticket price, or your $5 is returned. Bottom line: If you’re buying directly from an airline anyway, what the heck?

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