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May 30, 2010

Plan Less, Travel More, Grab a Bargain

Abandon your plans, throw away the brochures and take the flight of fancy. Jump into the swirling pool of last minute travel opportunities and see where you end up.

For many, the family holiday is as meticulously planned as a military operation. Timetables, visas, schedules and check-in/check outs all conspire to make vacation planning as stressful as the life we are attempting to escape from. How about throwing plans out the window and trying some of the many “last minute” travel, holiday and adventure possibilities flourishing on the ‘net?

It’s no secret that hotel and resort bookings can be found on the Internet at rock bottom prices, especially if you seek them out close to your anticipated travel time.

Industry leader in what the trade calls “distressed inventory” is perhaps the website www.wotif.com which currently offers more than 11,000 properties in over 40 countries and books almost 3 million room nights each year – numbers that grow every day.

“Large hotels will always drop their rates if they look like getting stuck with unoccupied rooms,” advises Robbie Cooke, CEO and Managing Director of Wotif.com, “a conference cancellation, for example, can result in a lot of empty rooms at short notice and this is the time to act. The downside, if there is one, is that it might not be the exact hotel in the preferred location, but that’s the fun of it.”

Wood also says to consider slightly out-of-the-way locations, serviced apartments and avoiding peak times.

The other industry leader, lastminute.com.au, operates Secret Hotels, a stealthy plot to offer premium 5-star properties at bargain basement rates.

This scheme is a proactive way for hotels to sell discounted rooms without fear of brand erosion. "The hotel name is not advertised to the public, just the location. Some hotels are now selling in excess of 1000 room nights in a single month which would otherwise have stayed empty," says Angie Bohlmann, spokesperson for lastminute.com.au.

Recent examples from the Secret Hotel menu include rates as low as $165 per room for a 5-star Sydney CBD hotel. Full relaxation or naughty weekend packages are well under $400 per couple per night and can sometimes include such niceties as spa treatments, champagne, chocolates, premium in-room movies, breakfast in bed for two, dinner, late check out and valet parking. Bohlmann was tight-lipped about which properties are participating in their program, but would neither confirm nor deny such landmark Sydney hotels as Marriott, InterContinental, Park Hyatt, Four Seasons or Amora Jamison.

Wotif.com has since countered with a similar service, WotHotel.

“The Wot Hotel feature is a win-win for hotels and consumers. Hotels get to drop their rates without affecting the way people perceive their brand and consumers get even better deals," say Cooke.

Lastminute.com.au is quick to remind us that their array of product extends well beyond crisp linen and comfy pillows. If you’re on a loose end, you could choose from a joyride in an authentic combat fighter, bunk down with the animals at Taronga Zoo, skydive or go rally driving in a fully-tricked Subaru WRX. These spontaneous activities can set you back up to $750pp, but for penny-pinchers, why not take The Rocks Ghost Tour and be scared witless for just $34.

Rising star, www.check-in.com.au has integrated eBay's PayPal on-line payment system into their booking mechanism as well as Google's Street View and Microsoft's Virtual Earth(tm) mapping system, while wego.com (formerly bezurk.com) will search 100 sites simultaneously for hotels, flights and tours.

Fancy a Cruise?

Just like hotel rooms, cruise lines must fill cabins and there are some wild bargains to be had.

Since launching in 2000 with just two staff, on-line cruise agency, www.ecruising.travel, has grown on the back of Australians’ love of the cruise ship product to become one of Australia’s top cruise-only agents with over 30 consultants.

“Even though we are not strictly a ‘last minute’ agent, we have sold thousands of cabins through our ability to reach people quickly and efficiently via the ‘net and through our regular newsletter,” says ecruising.travel MD Brett Dudley. “Cruisers have become used to finding amazing cruise bargains at our site. They can find a cruise and be booked and ticketed, with flights if needed, often in less than an hour and sometimes sail within a few days.”

Dudley advises that it is often the less desirable cabins, low and inside, that cruise lines find harder to sell. If you don’t care for a balcony or an owners’ suite, then all your other shipboard facilities are equal. Savings of up to 65 per cent are possible and Dudley predicts that with P&O’s growing fleet here in Australia, bargains will be easier to find.

Tip: Be careful. Overseas cruise and travel booking sites are not members of the Australian Travel Compensation Fund who protect you against failed businesses.

Timing is Everything

Just as airlines have peak, shoulder and off-peak times, so too have hotels, resorts, cruise lines and experiential products. Needless to say, the holiday crush is the least likely time to yield bargains, but if you can defer to outside peak seasons, your savings will quickly add up.

Tip: Stay flexible with travel times and be ready to pounce on a deal as soon as you see it. If you wanted to travel on Friday but there’s a better deal on Saturday, consider changing your plans slightly.

And don’t give up. Keep checking the sites regularly, maybe even more than once per day, as the dynamic information can, and does, change any time.

Don’t fixate on a destination. You just want a getaway at the right price, yeah? Look in the general regions and states. For example, if you can’t get the deal you want in Surfers Paradise, there may be a better offer from Noosa, Townsville or Cairns. That’s the joy of spontaneity!

Stay Connected

Every travel supplier will want you to stay in touch with them regularly, and why not? Each one has their own bulletin and newsletter packed with opportunities and must conform to stringent e-mail privacy guidelines. You can opt out at any time and just get the information when you want it.

Get a Lesson in Life

It’s a great double header to snare a deal and have great holiday, but to spice the recipe with spontaneity can add an element that might lift your next vacation from routine to truly memorable.
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