Overstock's Travel Site Takes Flight With Heavily Discounted Hotels

Overstock, which has been focused on liquidating unsold inventory for the past 12 years, is branching out into offering discounts on hotels around the world.

Starting today, the additional category takes off, offering steep discounts to hotel rooms around in about 30 locations.

The launch of Overstock’s vacation category–its fifth new category since 1999–marks a substantial investment for the publicly held company.

The decision to pick travel is in line with what Gilt Groupe’s Jetsetter and LivingSocial.com’s Escapes are doing in terms of offering occasional deals to certain locations. With all of them, the focus is on price, not selection.

But rather than Gilt’s high-end affluent niche and LivingSocial’s curated-packaged approach, Overstock’s inventory is more for the masses–something you’d expect from Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline or Travelocity.

On day one, the choices will vary.

Three nights at the Crowne Plaza London at Heathrow costs $207.85 per person during May. In June, the four-star Renaissance New Orleans Marquette Hotel will run $238.14 per person for three nights. A perfectly decent hotel in Honolulu, which is a little drab and is across the street from the beach, will cost $351.25 per person for seven nights.

But how much you are saving is not exactly obvious.

“We’d love to put the rack rates up there, and if you go to other travel sites, you’ll see these are slick deals, but at the moment we aren’t putting up the rack rate,” said Overstock’s CEO Patrick Byrne. “The suppliers would like to make it not so transparent.”

The Vacations tab will be featured prominently at the top of the web site, along with the other categories of Shopping, Cars, Real Estate and Auctions.

The addition follows other recent launches by Overstock, including Eziba.com, which focuses on selling a small number of items, ranging from furniture to jewelry, at heavily discounted prices via a daily email.

As for the Vacations business, Byrne said they’ve hired a dedicated sales team to source the deals. “We have been working on it for about a year, and we believe we can expand the cities and inventory very quickly.”

The deals are colorfully laid out on the page to highlight the scenery in each location. They can sell out, or at least that’s the hope.

“This is the equivalent of a private shopping site. They will sell out and quickly. Or, at least we hope so, and then we’ll go get more,” Byrne said.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work