Off & Away: Travel Auction Sites—Why Am I Not Surprised?

I discovered the auction site, “Off & Away”, after reading a New York Times article in June.  Off & Away has what seems like an ingenious business model: bidding on hotel suites for what could be pennies on the dollar. I thought I would give it a try.

Being susceptible to becoming obsessed over the idea of bidding in an auction –one of my favorite things to do– but I rationalize that my bidding is usually going to a good cause such as a school fundraiser or a nonprofit charity—I had some fear and trepidation about getting my feet wet in an anonymous free-for-all public “penny” auction online. So, I first researched the website:  www.offandaway.com.  Two former executives from Amazon.com and Amazon’s venture capital firm invested in it.  Not too shabby so maybe it was legitimate, not a scam.  Each day at least two or three  hotels are listed as well as upcoming auctions for planning ahead.  Almost all of the hotels featured are in the U.S. with the vast majority in three cities:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  All three happen to be some of my favorite destinations so I was hooked.

With each bid you cast, the price of the suite goes up by $0.10 and up to 20 seconds is added to the timer.  There is a “hot zone”: usually about thirty minutes before the auction is scheduled to end.  Depending on how many other bidders decide to hop on board and start bidding during the “hot zone”, the auction time can be extended for hours.  I have watched it extend over five hours with the so-called  “last minute” rush of bidding.  This jacks up the price considerably.

Being the addictive personality type that the Internet further enables, I researched the site, looking for trends in time and day when traffic was heaviest. No trends were spotted, with the exception that perhaps the three cities I was looking at were the most popular and had the largest swings in final bids, anywhere from a low of $30 to a high of over $1000.  I was undaunted and jumped in.

My first and only bidding pitted me against at most four other bidders. My heart kept pumping.  I would read my name on the screen, after placing more than $50 in bids on the desired target suite.  The message was something like:  “Don’t give up.  Hang in there.  You’re the top bidder so far.”  It was hard for me not to be carried away by the excitement and emotion of the moment.  I didn’t win.  The suite went for way over the final price I was willing to pay.

Are you still with me?  I can see travel auctions becoming addicting.  I started wondering if there were software programs that helped some bidders place their bids more successfully.  Things called “bid bots”, automated bidding programs that help either the bidder or “sniping programs” which help the seller place bogus bids to inch up the bidding war.  Perhaps when the host computer sees a frenzy of bids from one bidder (let’s say me), the auction site plants a bid, jacking up the price by ten cents, so I won’t walk away.

The upside of all of this bidding is that the bids you have spent can be applied to any of over 100,000 hotels in Off & Away’s inventory.  I checked out the hotel rates.  Off & Away definitely matches hotels.com so there is nothing to lose in terms of booking a reservation using up your bids, within seven days of the auction closing.          Wondering… is hotels.com far behind in acquiring this formidable competitor?  Hmm…. that wouldn’t surprise me one bit!

One comment on “Off & Away: Travel Auction Sites—Why Am I Not Surprised?

  1. Too bad it didn’t work out for you. I bet someone you know said “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” and I guess you did’nt listen to them. Have you used all you losing bid money to make hotel reservations?

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