Bid for the best

Reverse auction portals allow you to set your own price for flights and hotel rooms, but be ready to be flexible and for a compromise on transparency.

Sushmita Choudhury        Print Edition: May, 2010

Site surfing for travel is old news. The evolved vacationer has begun experimenting with metasearch engines, where portals trawl for best rates on your behalf (see Spread the Net for a Wider Choice, April 2010). Taking the initiative a step further, a few bold players are now promising freedom from the price tag.

You read that right. You can ask the once unthinkable question— how much do I want to pay for a flight or a hotel room? Termed reverse auction, these portals require you to key in the dates for travel along with your price. You then wait for the service providers to accept your offer. Given that travel products are time-sensitive and some revenue is preferable to the prospect of an empty seat or room, chances are that your quoted price will be accepted. This can be up to 60 per cent cheaper than the published rate or that offered by other travel sites. Sounds good? Check out the recent portals such as AtYourPrice.in and Bid2Travel.com. Of course, the underlying assumption is that you do not make utopian bids, say, Re 1. Also, by their very nature, these portals push last-minute deals. Bid2Travel, for one, allows bookings up to 28 days in advance. You have to register with these portals before you can start bidding. But don't worry, the registration is free.

The freedom to be your own barcode, however, comes at a price. The above mentioned Websites demand unparalleled flexibility from customers since they follow the opaque bidding model. While you choose your price, you won't know which airline you'll fly, the timing, exact date of travel or routing, the hotel's name or its exact location in the destination that you've chosen. Once the site accepts your bid, your credit or debit card will be automatically charged. No modifications. No transfers if you are unable to travel. No refunds for any reason.

To minimise the risk involved, AtYourPrice clearly lists out the participating airlines and takes bids for only economy class seats, the rates being inclusive of all taxes and fees. On the other hand, Bid2Travel has partnered with only branded three- to five-star Indian hotels. Moreover, all bids include breakfast and applicable taxes, so there aren't any nasty surprises later.

Remember, the word 'bid' is used loosely—you are not competing with other people. It's a one-on-one deal between you and the partnering service provider. The airline or hotel in question will, at its discretion, accept your offer. To increase your chances of making a successful bid, both these portals offer a handy comparison tool. AtYourPrice not only lets you know when your bid is too low to be feasible, it also shows the current fares as a reference point. Bid2Travel, which also allows open bidding (where you can bid for a particular hotel on a fixed date, but lose the deep discounts in the opaque model), helpfully mentions a past successful bid amount.

Says an AtYourPrice employee: "You will know if your bid has been accepted within 24 hours. Otherwise, you can make a fresh bid anytime after that." For Bid2Travel, a bid is active for just three hours.

So, it boils down to a choice between discounts and transparency. But be careful; hasty decisions come at a price, however low.

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