Original Article

A growing number of online travel sites are offering members exclusive and time-limited access to deep discounts—adapting the business model of many online sellers of designer fashions.

On Thursday, travel site Kayak.com launches a private-sale program offering users exclusive discounts of up to 50% on hotels. Initial deals include stays at the Mondrian in Los Angeles and the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino in St. Martin. The company plans to add deals on air travel and packages.

Kayak is negotiating discounts at in-demand hotels, which it identifies using its search data. The company will post deals every Thursday at kayak.com/privatesale; the deals will be available for up to one week or until sold out.

Gilt Groupe, an online retailer offering invitation-only access to sales of designer fashion brands, operates Jetsetter.com, a Web site selling upscale travel packages to members at discounts of up to 60% off. One recent sale offered a $360-per-night discount for a garden-view one-bedroom suite at the Veranda at Grace Bay, in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Revenue for the site, launched in September with Gilt Group members, grew by more than 30% from November to December, says Drew Patterson, chief executive and founder of Jetsetter.com.

Tablethotels.com has a private-sale program that announces discounted hotel rates on Tuesdays. "Tablet Plus" members, who pay an annual $195 membership fee for upgrades and other perks, get priority access to the discounts on Monday mornings. Sales end at 5 p.m. Thursdays.

Travel Crackdown

The Department of Homeland Security recently said it will increase enforcement of a rule requiring certain U.S.-bound travelers who don't need a visa to register online.

Under the Visa Waiver Program, travelers from certain countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, may visit the U.S. for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa. Since January last year, however, they have been required to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a free automated system used to determine eligibility of visitors to the U.S. Starting March 20, Homeland Security will fine airlines $3,300 for each traveler boarding a plane who is in the Visa Waiver Program but who hasn't registered with the online system.

With an estimated 10% of Visa Waiver Program travelers lacking a valid ESTA registration, the U.S. Travel Association says it is concerned the new fine could put a dent in U.S.-bound travel. The association is asking for an extension of the grace period for airlines and recommending that Congress provide Internet kiosks at international airport terminals to improve enrollment (travelers must register online).

Joanne Ferreira, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman, says the department has been advertising the requirement. Enrollment has increased slightly since the Jan. 20 announcement of the airline fine, she says.


Amtrak is offering a special $85 roundtrip weekend fare for travel between New York City and Montreal. Tickets, valid Thursdays through Mondays, are on sale now through April 19, for travel through April 26. Visit Amtrak.com, or call 1-800-872-7245, and refer to Special Fare Code X 403. Reservations must be made at least three days in advance; blackout dates apply.

Liftopia.com has a list of Super Bowl weekend savings at ski resorts. Burke Mountain in Vermont is offering 48% off lift tickets; Copper Mountain in Colorado has 55% off lift tickets. See the whole list at liftopia.com/super-bowl-ski-ticket-sale.page.