Newspaper article International New York Times

Sites Trade 'Secret Stays' for Deals on Luxury Hotels ; Travelers Start Taking Calculated Risks on Focused, Upscale Venues

Newspaper article International New York Times

Sites Trade 'Secret Stays' for Deals on Luxury Hotels ; Travelers Start Taking Calculated Risks on Focused, Upscale Venues

Article excerpt

A growing number of secret-sale travel sites are focusing on upscale properties, where travelers do not know the name of the property they are booking.

To usher in 2015, Tim Ratliff booked a four-star hotel in Boston for half its typical price. He did not, however, know which one it was.

Mr. Ratliff, an air traffic controller from Ann Arbor, Mich., paid in full for a three-night stay at an unspecified hotel, advertised as having Frette bathrobes, an indoor pool, a private balcony off his suite and proximity to Boston Common. He bought it through Jetsetter, a travel site that sells so-called secret stays at high-end hotels, introduced with clues about their location, amenities and design.

While blind bookings have been around since the late 1990s -- when Priceline pioneered them by encouraging consumers to "name your own price" -- Jetsetter is among a growing number of sites that have focused exclusively on high-end properties.

With sales that include tantalizing hints about the mystery venues, consumers are increasingly willing to take what they see as a limited risk in return for a lower price.

For hotels, the sites offer the chance to recruit new potentially loyal customers while increasing occupancy rates -- without broadcasting discounts to travelers accustomed to paying full price.

"Hoteliers have been very suspicious of these new channels," said Patrick Bosworth, co-founder of Duetto, a hospitality revenue strategy firm in San Francisco. "But, these days, it's very difficult for them to justify not participating."

Brands including Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and selective boutique properties ranging from the Standard in New York to the Ventana Inn in Big Sur, Calif., have sold rooms at discounted rates -- sometimes listed anonymously, sometimes identified to registered users of shopping communities -- through sites like Jetsetter, Secret Escapes and Tablet Hotels. …

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