Where people once had to deal directly with airlines and travel agents for vacation planning, the Internet has become a source for airline and hotel discount shopping.
A few keystrokes and a click of the mouse can help college students or families strapped for cash find affordable travel accommodations.
According to the Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown/Yankelovich Partners National Leisure Travel Monitor, 75 percent of travelers would alter travel plans if they could find quality airline tickets at discount prices.
“Customers can get cheaper airfare now than they could before the advent of the Internet,” said Will Wellons, Account Supervisor for Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown.
Priceline.com serves as the most well known Internet site for travel discounts. Allowing travelers to “Name Their Own Price” for airline tickets, Priceline requires its users to state their destination; the dates they wish to use the tickets; the number of tickets needed; and the desired price they wish to pay. Within an hour, the website locates an airline that will provide consumers with tickets and automatically charges these tickets to a traveler’s credit card. Booking hotel reservations on the site works in a similar manner.
The service offered by Priceline.com has its drawbacks, however. Once Priceline orders the tickets, travelers cannot change, cancel, or transfer them. Also, they must fly between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. for domestic flights and midnight to midnight for international flights.
All travel sites on the web are not created equal. “Many sites offer the public travel fares, but consumers must do research to find travel discounts on sites,” said Cathy Moore, director of electronic marketing for 800 Travel Systems Inc.
At another online site, LowAirfare.com, users can book discounted flights independently by typing in their travel dates, destination and number of passengers.
“The site secures tickets from airlines in blocks, and it passes this discount on to customers,” said Wellons.
Also, LowAirfare.com offers consumers the chance to receive assistance from an actual travel agent. “Having the option of questioning a live travel agent can increase the users’ level of comfort,” Moore said.
Other sites on the web give their users travel discounts. Cheaptickets.com offers more than 500,000 discount airfares from almost 40 airlines, and Lowestfare.com provides published fares from over 400 airlines.
One particular site, TravelDiscounters.com, allows consumers to purchase tickets at wholesale prices and request particular seating or special needs. In addition, travelers do not need to give their credit card numbers when ordering, and they can return or exchange tickets, with a small penalty from the airline.
TravelDiscounters.com does not provide wholesale tickets for international flights, but it does offer discounted airline tickets for flights from the U.S. to the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Canada and every state in the United States excluding Alaska.
Several online travel sites contact travelers directly about discounts. “Online subscribers receive e-mails about different specials and fares,” said Abbie Wagner, account executive for Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown.
Online travel sites also offer other discounted services for travelers. Sites such as Priceline.com, CheapTickets.com, Travelocity.com, and Lowestfare.com allow users to rent cars and book cruise packages from home.
Statistics gathered by one website, Travelocity.com, show that people do indeed take advantage of online travel discounts. The site averages over 166 million page views per month, and over 6.4 million new users visited the site during the month of September.
Although few demographic studies exist to determine the exact age of most online consumers, most believe that the young most often utilize these websites. “I have a gut feeling that such sites are mostly used by the 35 and under crowd,” said Moore.
“Younger people were raised with technology, so it’s easier for them to use it, and they are more apt to do so,” Wagner said.
Older people, however, also make use of the Internet for their travel needs, according to Wellons.
Discount travel websites gives those who often cannot afford flights and hotels, such as families and students, the chance to broaden their horizons using this advanced technology.
“Anything that saves money and opens up travel to more people is great,” Wellons said.