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October 1, 2007

'He had stumbled upon a little-known trick that many online travel companies would rather keep quiet'


The details appeared in Michelle Higgins's article in yesterday's New York Times Travel section about finding the best deals.

Read the first four paragraphs of the article below for details on how to use the trick; reading the rest of it, you'll learn even more cool stuff about how to save a euro — or a thousand of them.

    When the Best Deals Don’t End in .Com

    For a trip to Barcelona, Jorge Cuadros, a lawyer from Alexandria, Va., turned to the Internet to book a rental car. On Hertz.com, Mr. Cuadros was quoted a price of 626.12 euros for an automatic Mercedes for five days in October. At $1.42 to the euro, that amounted to about $890.

    Out of curiosity, Mr. Cuadros switched to his native Spanish tongue and checked Hertz’s Spanish Web site, www.hertz.es, where the same car was offered for 263.92 euros — about 58 percent less. He had stumbled upon a little-known trick that many online travel companies would rather keep quiet.

    “It seems that the car rental companies are in some cases even charging twice the price to residents of the U.S. than to Europeans,” said Mr. Cuadros, who compares the practice to how some pharmaceutical companies charge more in the United States than they do overseas. “This is abusive behavior.”

    Some of the best travel deals on the Web these days don’t end in .com but can be found on a travel company’s foreign offshoot, which usually ends with the country’s domain name, like .fr (France), and .de (Germany). Though the travel companies don’t advertise it, they often charge different prices based on the country of origin.

    In an effort to expand their global reach, online travel agencies based in the United States like Expedia and Travelocity, as well as individual airlines and car rental agencies, are creating Web sites geared to foreign counties. Travelocity, for example, just started Travelocity.com.mx for customers in Mexico. It also has Travelocity.co.uk for Britain; www.Travelocity.de for Germany; and Travelocity.ca for Canada. Expedia has 13 foreign sites including Expedia.dk (Denmark), Expedia.it (Italy) and Expedia.fr (France).

    The savings can be considerable. An Expedia.com search for a round-trip flight from Melbourne to Sydney in August yielded a $350 airfare on Qantas as the lowest available, including taxes and fees. The same flight was listed on Expedia’s Australian Web site, Expedia.com.au, for 224.34 Australian dollars, or about $187 at 1.20 Australian dollars to the U.S. dollar. Expedia.com.au also listed a lower fare (about 200 Australian dollars) on Virgin Blue, an Australian low-cost carrier; the United States site did not search that airline.

    On Budget.com, a recent search for a six-day rental in Dublin pulled up a two-door, economy car for 109 euros a day. The same search on Budget.ie, the company’s Irish offshoot, offered the same category of car for 82 euros.

    Travel companies defend the multitiered pricing structure, saying that they set prices according to what each market will bear. “For decades, the market where goods and services are purchased has been a pricing factor in the travel industry, car rental included,” Paula R. Rivera, a public affairs manager at Hertz, wrote in an e-mail message. “Costs and competitive conditions in individual markets are among the considerations that affect pricing.”

    Expedia said its travel suppliers dictate prices, but added that it negotiated different agreements in each country. “Our Australian point-of-sale accesses domestic fares within Australia through a consolidator, giving the Australia site access to Virgin Blue, which we do not sell on Expedia.com in the U.S.,” Katie Deines, a spokeswoman for Expedia, said in an e-mail message. But customers in the United States, she added, can’t complete purchases on Expedia’s Australian Web site unless their credit card billing address is based in that country. (Budget and Hertz do not have that restriction.)

    “The requirement is among the measures we take to ensure the validity and security of bookings made on our points-of-sale,” Ms. Deines said.

    Some airlines do the same thing, and restrict purchases on their foreign Web sites to customers in those countries, said Keith Melnick, executive vice president of corporate development at Kayak.com and a former revenue manager at American Airlines. “In airline speak,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “the airlines differentiate their pricing based on the point-of-sale (P.O.S.). However, it is generally not a good idea to start searching the site in these other countries since the ones that do differentiate pricing by P.O.S. don’t want you to do this and will prevent you from purchasing by requiring a local credit card.”

    When this is the case, there are few work-arounds. If you are visiting friends in a foreign country, see if they can make a reservation for you. Likewise if you’re traveling on business abroad, perhaps your company’s foreign office can arrange your travel. You also might try contacting a travel agent in the area you’re planning to visit and ask them to make the purchase for you. The savings may outweigh any fees charged by the agent for processing the transaction.

    While country-domain hopping may uncover deals for rental cars and domestic flights in those countries, it doesn’t seem to work as well for hotel chains. “The large chains like Marriott have implemented a single image inventory to ensure rate parity across all channels,” said Ram Badrinathan, a Mumbai-based senior analyst at PhoCusWright, a travel consulting and research company.

    Bargain hunters should also watch out for hidden fees. Car rental agencies may charge foreign customers more for liability coverage. Web sites often assume that you are a resident of that country when you book online, so the additional cost may not appear until you pick up the car.

    Also, the foreign spinoffs of airline travel sites may require that the trip originate from that country, making round-trip searches of little use to American travelers. Still, those sites may be useful if you’re planning to travel within that country. A recent search on Kayak.com for the lowest airfare between Paris and Nice found a $171 fare on Air France. The same search on Kayak.fr turned up a 100-euro ticket on easyJet.

    Those sites might also come in handy for finding a cheap side trip. A recent glance at Travelocity.co.uk highlighted four-star hotel offers in Rome starting at 48 euros a night and vacation packages in Krakow, Poland. Meanwhile, Travelocity.com was advertising deals in Florida, New York and Mexico.

    So while searching the foreign version of a travel Web site might not always lead to the lowest price, it might just lead you to a destination you never would have thought to visit.

October 1, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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I'm sorry to say this, but they're probably just getting their own back for all the overcharging we get from the US. For example, Windows is (roughly) the same price in UK pounds as it is in US dollars. This is generally true of most imports - no matter what the exchange rate, cross out the $ and replace with £.

Posted by: Skipweasel | Oct 2, 2007 5:09:56 PM

I discovered this a few years back. I was going to Amsterdam and then on to Copenhagen, then back to Amsterdam and the US. My original plan was to take a train from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, so I just booked the US-Netherlands flight. After I learned there are no convenient trains between Amsterdam and Copenhagen I went looking for a cheap flight. I found all sorts of low fares on European sites, from $40 to $90, compared to $200 from Expedia/Travelocity. Since Mexico is one of my favorite places, I'll have to check out Travelocity.com.mx.

Posted by: Al Christensen | Oct 1, 2007 4:56:35 PM

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