Clem Bason is the president of Hotwire.com, the discount travel Web site. I asked him about the outlook for bargains in the second half of the summer, and to address some of the consumer complaints about so-called “opaque” travel sites.
Q: Can you give me an idea of the kinds of rates you’ve seen, compared with summers past?
Bason: It’s truly an amazing time to travel if you’re a bargain-hunter. Hotel occupancy rates have plummeted along with the economy – more than 55 percent of the hotel rooms across the US were empty on any given night in July. And this translates into deep discounts for consumers. Opaque rates in New York City have dropped 32 percent. San Diego is down by 29 percent and Orlando is off by 22 percent compared to last summer, just to name a few.
Airfares are a similar story. Over the Fourth of July weekend, our bookings were off by 25 percent versus last year. That’s even with retail prices that were down by 10 percent.
It’s a very different story for rental cars, however. Published rates are 15 percent more expensive on average this summer. Why? There’s less inventory because cash-strapped vendors aren’t adding to their fleets.
Q: Yes, we had an executive from Enterprise talk about that last week. What do you expect to see during the second half of the summer? Will the bargains continue?
Bason: Hotels will continue to struggle with occupancy and the deals should remain great, especially in hard hit markets like Las Vegas, Arizona and Florida. We’ll also continue to see lower airfares through summer’s end, but I don’t expect these prices to last. With capacity cuts planned for the Fall, now is a good time to book.
The car rental market will spike in July (above $40 on average), retreat in late August, then fall back to more normalized levels in September. The good news is that opaque inventory should still stay strong through that time and beyond.
Q: On average, how much can people save when they work with an opaque site like Hotwire?
Bason: It’s really no exaggeration when we say you can find four-star hotels at two-star prices at Hotwire. Our hotel savings go as high as 55 percent off other leading travel sites.
People can also trust us for deep discounts on airfares, with up to 35 percent off last-minute Hot Rate airfares. And of course, no booking fees! Rental cars are available on our site from $13.95 per day, and we often represent some of the lowest going rates on the market.
Q: Can you briefly describe what’s happening behind the scenes when I’m making a reservation through a site like Hotwire? How are you deciding which airline, car rental company, or hotel I’m going to be using?
Bason: Hotwire has relationships with brand-name hotels, airlines, and rental car companies. When they have unsold inventory, they use us to fill it so our customers can buy it at substantial discounts. The inventory provided on our site is dependent upon suppliers, and we have partners that number in the thousands.