Site helps travellers cut to the chase

Published On Sat Apr 21 2007

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By Heather Greenwood Davis Homes and Travel Reporter

It used to be that if you needed to fly somewhere you simply called up your travel agent, asked for the cheapest flight and headed out.

These days, anyone who tells you they haven’t checked for cheaper flights online is either computer-phobic or has their head in the sand.

But even online there can be issues: Were you really getting the best deal? And exactly how long would you have to be searching all those sites to be sure?

When a new online travel deal portal based in Toronto began offering Canadians an opportunity to get the deals without the hassles, they quickly made a lot of new friends.

Travelzoo.ca launched 10 months ago after noticing an interest among Canadian subscribers to their U.S. site (travelzoo.com).

“There was definitely demand for us to be in this market,” says Mandy Gresh, country manager for Canada.

“We decided we would come up here and answer the subscriber requests and start a newsletter that would be specific to Canadians with Canadian employees that could actually speak to the local market.”

Today, the group boasts a database of more than 400,000 subscribers for its weekly signature email blasts of Top 20 travel deals.

Competitor TravelAlerts.ca, which is based in Montreal and launched in 2004, claims just over half that many subscribers.

Gresh believes it’s a testament to Travelzoo’s success in providing consumers with deals that satisfy.

“A lot of it has been just word of mouth,” she says of the site’s viral-like spread among deal-starved travel enthusiasts.

A review of recent newsletters demonstrates the deals that have tongues wagging: A $94 flight from Calgary to Jamaica, $39 flights from Buffalo to New York City, a seven-night, all-inclusive Toronto-Puerto Plata vacation for $467 and a seven-night Caribbean Cruise for $398 U.S. Could you find these deals yourself? Not without a lot of connections and time, says Gresh.

“If you see a package on the Travelzoo site we actually took the time to research how much the hotel would cost on its own, the airfare, the transfers. We made sure that this deal was actually available.

“We scoured a bunch of other sites to make sure that no other packager had it cheaper. We really did the work for you,” she explains.

Nothing is guaranteed, mind you, and deals are often swept up within hours or days of the alert going out, but the site does provide all subscribers with an equal opportunity to catch a bargain.

While there is no cost to subscribe to the service, companies whose deals are featured pay for the privilege of being included, but Gresh stresses that fee payment alone will not guarantee a deal is included.

“The offer has to be so compelling that it’s worth it to them to pay the fee but also a great deal for our consumers,” she says.

“We actually turn down a lot of fees, which the sales people don’t love, but it has to happen sometimes.”

You cannot book the deals through the site, but it will link you directly to the sale provider.

There is also information on why the deal was chosen (that is, what makes it a top-20 choice) and alerts when the deal has either sold out or expired.

The latter was one of the pet peeves that originally led to the creation of Travelzoo.com, Gresh explains.

“The CEO would see these great deals in the newspaper and then he’d call and they wouldn’t be available,” she says adding he was determined to spare consumers the “bait and switch.”

“We have a test-booking centre, that is constantly test-booking the deal to make sure it’s still available.”

Does she expect the company to grow to a level competitive with her American counterparts? You’d better believe it.

“We’re just trying to answer our users’ hunger to get away and to find a great deal to be able to travel.”


Heather Greenwood Davis is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Reach her at heather@greenwooddavis.com
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