Whether 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.
Every 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.
These 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.
For 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.
A second life for secondary markets
The 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
More 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 night.
But 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 be self-perpetuating.