it’s due to an illness or a similar unexpected event, travellers sometimes have
to cancel trips on short notice – a truth that can be financially painful if the
flight, hotel room or vacation rental is non-refundable.
year, travellers worldwide throw away about $10 billion in pre-paid hotel bookings,
and $7 billion in unused flights. Thankfully, in the past 12 months, three
secondary market websites – similar to Craigslist,
eBay and StubHub
-- have debuted services that take some of the risk out of purchasing.
sites aren’t just places for people hoping to recover some of the costs of trips
they can’t take. Vacationers looking for travel deals will also find the sites
useful because the sites typically offer dramatic discounts off other people’s flights
or hotel reservations.
instance, a two-night stay at the Sheraton
Chicago Hotel and Towers was recently listed on the secondary market Cancelon for $216 a night, a 31% discount
off the original pre-paid price of $316 a night. A savvy shopper could even bid
less than $216 a night and possibly have the seller accept that lower rate. The
name on the hotel reservation would then be transferred to the buyer, and Cancelon
would hold the payment in escrow until the hotel stay was completed.
second life for secondary markets
concept of using online exchanges to resell non-refundable travel isn’t new. For
about a decade, US listings sites Red Week
and Timeshare Users Group have enabled
timeshare owners to rent out their properties during weeks when they would
otherwise remain vacant.
recently, sites like Airbnb, HouseTrip and Travelmob have encouraged ordinary people to rent
their homes – and sometimes merely single rooms within their homes – by the
selling unused flights and hotels is new – and a tad trickier. Because few people
know about these young sites, they can sometimes feel like empty street markets.
They’ve yet to attract a large number of buyers and sellers, a dynamic that can
It’s best to think of them as outlet stores for vacations and
to dip into them for occasional bargain finds.
hotels and airlines issue reservations that are “non-transferable”, which means
you can’t change the name on the reservation after purchase – a restriction
that, in turn, limits the unused trips that can be put up for sale.
So before you
sell, you’ll have to call the place that sold your hotel reservation or plane
ticket to make sure it permits you to transfer the name on the booking.
Here’s a look
at the pros and cons of this new crop of sites, which will soon be joined by
the Israeli start-up Roomer.
Spanish start-up Hall St, which enables
travellers to sell hotel bookings bought anywhere, is free for both buyers and
sellers to post or view listings. Buyers who bid on a room will know if their
bid has been accepted within 24 hours, and can also
cancel their bids up to the point that
the seller responds. The seven-month-old
company takes care of transferring the name on the booking and if the front
desk doesn’t accept the reservation, Hall St will refund the buyer’s money.
If the bid is successful, the site charges buyers a service fee
depending on the type of hotel, such as three euro per night for a three-star
hotel and four euro for a four-star. The seller pays a fee to Cancelon of 10%
of the rate sold, unless he or she sold a room that was purchased from Hall
St’s booking engine, in which case there’s no fee.
As of last
week, most of Hall St’s listings were for European hotels, mainly in Barcelona
and London, though the site is open to postings worldwide. Rates are per room,
with a maximum occupancy of two people, so it’s not a site for group-travel
When using this
Israeli start-up, buyers search listings of unused hotel reservations around
the world that are usually 50% off their original rate. In a unique twist, users
can sign up for free email alerts when reservations are posted for their favourite
destinations. The year-old company has the seller contact the travel agency or
hotel to switch the name on the reservation, then the start-up forwards those
updated details to the buyer. Like Hall St, it guarantees the reservation is
Rates can be
for multiple nights or for large rooms, adding variety to the inventory but
also complexity in shopping. The site is also free to join. Sellers pay a service
fee of 10% of what the buyer pays, and there’s no fee for buyers.
The Spanish start-up
travellers to make requests for partial refunds of plane tickets they know they
are not going to use via a free, three-step process. Travellers simply enter
the booking details for the journey they can’t use, request a refund and then
wait to receive a voucher from the airline redeemable toward a future plane
ticket. In other words, the company sells back a customer’s ticket to the
airline, and the airline gives the customer a credit – typically worth half the
original value of the ticket – without any charge. (There’s no market for
downside, Air One, Alitalia’s low-cost
subsidiary, is the only airline to work with the start-up so far to automate
the refund delivery process, and merely a few hundred passengers have received
refunds in the site’s seven-month history. The start-up is eager to add more
European airlines, but other carriers worldwide may be too fond of their existing
high fees for cancelling tickets to consider partnering with ChangeYourFlight.
You could, of
course, contact an airline directly to receive your money back,
usually incurring a hefty cancellation fee. You can’t, however, generally get
money back on non-refundable tickets. ChangeYourFlight provides an alternative for
these non-refundable tickets, with airlines providing a partial refund without any
change fee. The start-up collects a fee from the airline for creating a fresh
market out of non-refundable tickets, which would otherwise be thrown away.
is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel