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TO LUXURY LODGINGS


By Michael Matthews

April 1, 2004 -- Want to stay at a luxury five-star hotel for half the price rather than slumming it at your regular on-the-road abode?

Forget Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and the like when booking anything more than a three-star hotel. Certainly forget them if you are looking for bargains from the major hotel groups at the luxury end like St. Regis, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton. The major hotel groups have rebelled against paying high commissions of 20 percent or more to the likes of Expedia. Now they have guarantees on their own sites saying they "won't be undersold." The mammoth Starwood chain (which numbers St. Regis and the Luxury Collection under its corporate roof) has taken it a step further and said that you won't even get your Starpoints if you book at any site but theirs. I applaud them.

But there is certainly a way to beat the system at the luxury lodging level. In fact, I'm amazed that anyone pays top rate for any hotel at the four- or five-star level when accommodations are available at 50 percent off with a bundle of goodies thrown in.

So what's this luxury-lodging miracle?

It's actually been around for eight years, it has survived the dot.com bust and it is now the largest of its type on the Web. It's called Luxury Link. Begun by a former Rosewood Hotel employee--and Rosewood is certainly at the luxury end of the pyramid--there is hardly a deluxe hotel that doesn't promote on this auction site.

Luxury Link's auction process is simple: You select the month you want to travel, enter the continent where you're headed and hit the Go button. Up will pop all the various 4- and 5 star hotels that are available for you to bid on. Bidding usually starts at 50 percent (or sometimes less) of the retail cost of the hotel. If yours is the winning bid, the price is usually valid for six months. You are not bound to set travel dates before you bid.

In other words, you're participating in an auction--but a very sophisticated auction that's easy to use and win. It costs nothing to bid and, if you win, the handling charge is just $15.

In the course of a year, LuxuryLink.com conducts about 60,000 auctions. About 600 hotel bids a week are accepted. The average winning bid comes in at about 40 percent off the rack rate and the majority of the packages sell at the opening bid. In most cases, there are a bundle of goodies thrown in by each hotel at no extra cost. These might include Champagne, breakfast and even an extra night free.

My faithful assistant, "Rommel," recently took a look at New York lodgings on LuxuryLink.com. There were a host of luxury hotels, including the St. Regis and the Lowell. The extremely well-located Le Parker Meridien was offering a superior room for four nights (including hotel and city tax) and other goodies. The opening bid: $845. The retail value of the package: $1,995. There were some minor date restrictions, but it seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

With the ever-decreasing value of the U.S. dollar, the idea of going to Europe may be on the back burner. If you are headed over there, however, there are terrific airline deals to be found. The problem is a finding a good price on a great hotel across the pond.

But using LuxuryLink.com, Rommel found that the world-famous Savoy in London was offering a three-night package that included lodging in a superior, king-bedded room, English breakfast daily for two and all taxes and service charges. The opening bid on the package--which had no restrictions--was $925. The retail value is over $3,000. I make that a nearly 70 percent saving if the package goes at the opening bid. How can you lose?

Diane McDavitt is LuxuryLink's majority shareholder and Gannett, the publisher of USA Today, is another shareholder. McDavitt told me recently that more and more business travelers were using the site for hotel reservations and that she is now expanding into air travel and cruises, too.

Take a look. It couldn't hurt to stay in a luxury hotel for a change. And tell them that Michael sent you.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.