There was a time when travelers needed only to speak with a travel agent to schedule a trip. The agent would find the best airfare, hotel rate, and rental car price; then, they’d add their fee and sell the package to a customer. To the detriment of the travel agency industry, the Internet has provided several services which search for deals on travel.
Often, these deals are extraordinary, as they are last-minute bookings of unsold travel inventory. Some of these providers’ services are “opaque”. These are called opaque because the person booking the deal doesn’t know with whom they’re booking until after payment has been made.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Travelers who use these services are likely very price sensitive. As such, they’re willing to be more flexible with exact locations and providers. This flexibility grants travelers discounts of up to 60% – or more. The downside, especially for those who are already price conscious, is the purchases are generally non-refundable and unalterable.
Some of the more popular sources for online travel booking are Hotwire.com, Priceline.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, and Kayak.com, with nearly all providing opaque options. The most well-known among opaque booking options is Priceline, who’s “Name your own price” campaign has earned them the trust of the public.
A new type of travel website has started to appear in response to opaque pricing. These “decoder” sites use feedback from travelers to create a profile of the providers. The hope is that the profile will give travelers some insight and indication as to what provider they may be booking with based on previous experiences.