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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, May 23, 2014

Beware Of The Dangers Of Flash Sale Sites

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By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


After taking over the world of women's fashion, flash sales sites are now making inroads into the travel arena. But you've got to know something about those deals before you buy…

Flash sales sites originally cropped up offering high-end designer goods on sale for short periods of time. The short window to buy -- which can be so many minutes or so many hours -- creates a sense of urgency. It's resulted in a hugely successful sub-industry with multi-billion dollar sales.

Now the travel industry wants a piece of the action.

After Carnival's troubles, this started in the cruise industry. And then it moved to the hotel business. And now to a lesser extent, I'm seeing it in the airline industry.

Flash sale sites are not all they're cracked up to be

I'm now getting deluged with "deals" from travel flash sites. But here's the thing. By and large, they are not a deal. Anecdotally, I'd say more than half the time, the travel bargains that pop up are no bargain at all.

When you see a deal pretending to be extraordinary, get online and check those prices. If the flash sale price really is below those price points you're finding, then you can buy. But until you know it's a real deal, hit the pause button, and go shop elsewhere first.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a getaway on a budget, see our 5 Cheap Vacation Ideas story.

Check out these legit flash sale sites

An example of a flash sale is a site I've talked about previously called QuikBook.com. QuikBook started principally to offer small businesses and individuals access to corporate-type rates on hotel bookings. They're a big player in a handful of markets, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, Miami and Orlando.

With QuikBook, they tell you the level of hotel (similar to a star rating) and the price. After you book, just like Hotwire, then they tell you where you're staying…and you're stuck with that booking because it's non-refundable.

Another site I like is SniqueAway.com, a free invite-only site that gives you access to private sales on a rotating cycle. When you're on their site, you simply go to a calendar for the property you're interested in. As you mouse over dates on the calendar, the site tells you a price range for the night you're hovering over.

Not to be outdone, there are still others are getting into the action with packages or special deals. Even a site like Overstock.com is getting into travel as it looks for ways to expand.

A final warning about flash sale sites

I want to return full circle to the origin of flash sales in the fashion world. It should probably come as no surprise now that flash sales sites offering high-end designer goods on sale for short periods of time don't always deliver the amazing savings they promise.

The New York Times  compared prices on a number of designer offerings and found that flash sales sites are generally more expensive than other shopping destinations on the web. Typically, you might pay 20% to 40% more on a given item at a flash sale site.

Here are just three examples:

  • A Kate Spade cabana-stripe medium tote bag was recently $169 (plus $5.95 shipping) on flash sale site Gilt.com. But KateSpade.com had it for $130 with free shipping that same day.
  • A navy dress by Decode 1.8 was $75 (plus $7.95 shipping) on HauteLook.com. But Overstock.com had it for $55.99 and shipping was free.
  • Leather ballet flats by Born were $49.90 (plus $9.95 shipping) on RueLaLa.com. But buying them on 6pm.com would have saved you about $21.


In addition, as the Times notes, "flash sale sites generally charge for shipping, have limited return policies (that often include 'restocking' fees) and take more time than other shopping sites to deliver an order."

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