Travel Well Without Breaking the Bank

Physician's Money Digest, January31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 2

The travel industry has receiveda hard blow by thedownturn in the economyand the threat of war and terrorism.A reduction in consumer travel hasleft some airlines, hotels, and cruiselines desperate to fill vacancies. Consumerswho are still traveling havediscovered many more discountsavailable to them. Indeed, manyhigh-end companies are offering discountedluxury vacation deals in aneffort to recoup some of their losses.

Industry analysts say the hardtimes that the travel industry is experiencingis the result of a drop inbusiness travel over the past 18months. Business travelers, who traditionallyfrequent luxury hotels, areeither reducing the number of tripsthey take or staying at less expensivehotels. The problem of excess supplyhas been intensified by the fact thatmany upscale lodging and cruisecompanies have added hotels andships in recent years.

LUXURY FOR LESS

New York Times

Discounts are abundant on theInternet, where you'll find severalsites offering luxury vacation deals.Henry Harteveldt, an analyst in SanFrancisco for the technology-specializingfirm Forrester Research, saysexcess inventory explains the proliferationof travel Web sites offeringdiscounts on luxury vacation deals. Arecent article in the details the various sites.

For example, Wanderluxe.com,owned by executives of the WorldTravel Specialists Group, a corporatetravel agency in New York, is a newonline service specializing in discounted,upscale travel. Another site,LuxuryLink.com, has sold discountedhotel packages, cruises, tours, andother vacations, both through auctionsand at fixed prices, since 1998.LuxRes.com, which sells individualhotel rooms and hotel packages, iscontrolled by Leading Hotels of theWorld, a distribution and marketingcompany for 5-star hotels. The broker1st-Air.net, which began in 1997,sells discounted first-and business-classairline tickets.

A similar site is FirstClassFlyer.com. This site does not sell air travel,but it does publish a monthly newsletterwith advice on finding deals onfirst-and business-class fares. Othersites include 2 hotel consolidatorsthat sell discounted 4-and 5-starhotel rooms: the Premier Collectionservice of the privately held Quikbook.com, and AllLuxuryHotels.com, a division of Hotels.com.

CAUTIOUS SHOPPING

New York Times

However, some vacation packagesmay not be a bargain, or even veryluxurious. For example, AllLuxuryHotels sells rooms at 1800 hotelsworldwide, but only 20% of themare rated 4.5 to 5 stars. The remaindersare rated at 4 stars. Shoparound to make sure you really aregetting a bargain. Compare a Website's rates against those offered bytravel agents and other sites, in additionto those offered directly by thehotel, cruise line, or tour operator.According to the article,a 12-night Pacific cruise for 2departing on August 24 on theSeabourn Spirit was $2390 cheaperon Cruise411.com, a site that sellsmany types of discounted cruises,than on LuxuryLink. However, asearch failed to find a price lowerthan the $249-per-night rate availablefrom Quikbook at the Peninsulahotel in Chicago. The nextcheapest rate, $295, was obtainedfrom the hotel's reservations departmentand Web site.

Travelers should exercise carewhen booking a hotel room, cruise,or travel package online. Some sitesmay not include information onweather conditions at destinations.For example, knowing it's hurricaneseason would keep you from bookinga hotel room in the Caribbean.In addition, most sites do notinclude prices of the various componentsof the packages. If you want tofind out how much you are saving,you will have to try to price a comparabletrip on your own. Youshould also make sure that youunderstand a site's booking rulesand policies. For example, Quikbookallows travelers to look, book, andbuy online, while Wanderluxe sellsonly by phone through an agent.Some sites permit cancellations andchanges for a fee; others sell vacationsthat are nonrefundable.

Experts suggest using a creditcard when you purchase from travelWeb sites. If there are problems, or ifa site fails, you may be able to get helpfrom the card issuer. To find out moreabout a site's reputation, talk withother travelers or try travel chatrooms. You can also contact theBetter Business Bureau (703-276-0100; www.bbb.org) to see if a complaintwas filed.