Very Crowded Discount Travel Market May Fuel Choice and Confusion

For new entrants, jumping into the discount travel market is like grabbing the last ticket on a full flight and being grateful for a chance at a middle seat.

This week, French discount travel powerhouse Voyage Privé extends its presence in the U.S. through a partnership with ideeli, the New York-based flash sales site that raised $41 million in capital in April.

Now, instead of primarily offering discounts on the latest high heels and apparel, the site is offering its four million members savings of up to 75 percent off cruises, vacation packages and airfare. Many offers expire in four to five days and must be booked for the specific dates you want to travel.

For the consumer, more choice is always a good thing, but the market is absolutely flooded with options — all of which have a slightly different approach. While the discounts can often appear deep, it’s also hard to know, since prices can fluctuate so much depending on when you travel.

Ideeli appears to be making its proposition simple by offering a flexible cancellation policy, which includes “cancel for any reason” travel insurance. It also offers live agent support to assist with your purchase before or after it is made, but a potential downside is that you have to pinpoint the exact day you want to travel.

Examples of current offers are a round-trip business class flight to Paris for $1,519 (normally $2,702), or a seven-night Caribbean cruise for $1,369 (normally $2,395). The flight leaves from Newark or Washington, D.C., and the Caribbean cruise is only available for three weeks in November.

In June, Groupon and Expedia announced at the D9 conference a partnership that added a little more spontaneity to the offers.

The partnership, which is expected to go live this summer, allows you to purchase a voucher that will be redeemable over the next year based on availability — with few to no blackout dates.

The list of other providers is mind-boggling. If you were overwhelmed by the number of places to travel in the world, you can now be crippled by the choices of where to book. Ideeli’s close competitor, Gilt Groupe, operates Jetsetter; publicly held Overstock recently launched a discount travel category; Exclusively.In, an Indian-inspired flash sales site, sells discounted travel to Asian locations; Groupon’s main competitor, LivingSocial, also has its Escapes business, and many, many more.

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik