Expedia introduced flash sales for hotels, but the vibe is far different from that at competitors Jetsetter, VoyagePrive, RueLaLa.com, Off&Away or even Expedia's own SniqueAway.
As a general rule, these sites are members-only sites emphasizing upscale properties at discounted rates and the hotels mostly are curated for quality. The members-only nature of most of these sites offers hoteliers a buffer against brand dilution as they make their upscale properties available for more reasonable rates.
However, Expedia last week began its ASAP (A Sudden Amazing Price), where it offers property deals to the general public. The deals go up once each weekday for 12 hours and customers can save up to 50% off Expedia's regular rates, the company says.
Sometimes you catch Expedia between flash sales.
Price -- rather than quality -- seems to be the watchword in Expedia ASAP.
After all, Expedia's TripAdvisor unit already runs private-sales site SniqueAway, where members can book deals for $189 per night at The Restoration on King in Charleston, S.C., or a stay for $249 per night at the Cap Maison Resort & Spa in St. Lucia.
The thinking at Expedia Inc. headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., must be: Let's run an experiment involving this hot, new flash sales category and there is no need to make it a clone of sister site SniqueAway.
Expedia says ASAP offers, which will run through Dec. 17, have the following requirements: The hotels must have a 3.5 star rating and a minimum 4.0 traveler rating score, "or were just offered at a super low discount too good to pass up."
So, price seems to be very much a driver in Expedia ASAP and that distinguishes it from members-only sites running flash sales, but also seems to dumb down the offerings.
For example, on Dec. 7 Expedia was running a flash sale for the Palace Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas with some of the rooms going for $14.99 per night.
The resort makes it into Expedia's ASAP flash sale on price alone because it doesn't meet the other minimum requirements. Expedia gives the property three stars (below the 3.5 star minimum) and a traveler rating score of 3.8 (lower than the 4.0 traveler rating score minimum).
The TripAdvisor Popularity Index ranks the Palace Station Hotel and Casino as 130th out of 285 Las Vegas hotels, so the Expedia ASAP sale, in this instance, at least, was all about price.
Meanwhile, one day later on Dec. 8, Expedia's regular hotel pages -- not the ASAP pages -- were offering the same hotel "from $14 per night."
Expedia Inc. spokeswoman Katie Deines Fourcin says the Expedia.com team works with members of the parent company's Partner Services Group to handpick properties for ASAP.
"The offers are designed to appeal to travelers by having a long travel window of 90 days, minimal blackouts of less than 5% and highly rated properties (4.0 score or better) in our top markets," Deines Fourcin says. "In other words, these are deals that are easy to book in places people want to stay at huge savings."
Despite Expedia's girth, an employee at one of the private sales sites says the company is not overly concerned about Expedia's possible entry into the market.
"The problem with your Kayaks, TripAdvisors and Expedia's getting into 'private sales' is what's private about Expedia or Kayak?" the competitor says.
"Like every other deal, it makes the hotel a commodity and emphasizes price only," the competitor adds.
Henry Harteveldt, Forrester Research's principal travel analyst, says the launch Expedia flash sales -- if it decides to expand them beyond Dec. 17 -- would mark the company's late entry into an already crowded field.
"It's not like you had hotel managers holding their breath and wondering when Expedia would join in," Harteveldt says.
Expedia ASAP will only work if Expedia offers better business terms to hotels than its competitors do and "if Expedia brings something unique for both travelers and hotels," Harteveldt says.