Try a private sale travel site.
These new style of websites are doing for luxury travel what Hotels.com and Priceline.com did for the mass market – creating efficiency and pricing unsold inventory at substantial savings to help the supply and demand curves intersect.
Basically the idea behind private sale sites is this: they contract with luxury hotels, resorts, cruise ships and travel packagers worldwide, get access to blocks of unsold rooms for particular dates and either sell the rooms or entire packages at heavy discounts, typically 40-70% off list. Even though hotel list prices, or “rack rates,” are pretty high to begin with and usually more than you would ever pay, these sites offer real bargains – I’ve checked it out.
There are three major players right now: Jetsetter.com, Voyage Prive and the newest, Sniqueaway, from TripAdvisor.com. Jetsetter has been around for a while, has hotels here and abroad, and recently added a lot of active trips (trekking, bike trips, etc) with high end companies like Ciclismo Classico, and also has a lot of far flung eco and adventure lodges in less visited locales. But then again, they just added Florida golf powerhouse Innisbrook resort to their list, so it is pretty varied. I haven’t had chance to check out Sniqueaway, but Voyage Prive has been doing business in Europe for years, where it has 5 million members, and just expanded to the US.
Here is how they all work: you join, usually through an “exclusive” invitation from an existing member, but they all want members and if you poke around the websites you can usually find an offer to join. Then you either get email updates or check back with the site and they put particular properties on sale for particular dates. These are not auctions, the details, prices and availability are very clear, but usually the booking windows are short, like the sale might last only 5 days, though the dates for which you can book are much greater. I just checked Voyage Prive and was able to find available dates at a top NYC hotel during fashion week, when everything in the city is sold out, for less than anything I could find on conventional sites like Kayak, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc, or through actual travel agents like Amex Platinum. I am pretty web savvy with travel, and this was quite literally the best deal I could find.
Right now, hotels are on sale in such diverse places as Disney World, Tahiti, Vegas, London, Barcelona, Milan, Venice and Aspen. There are cruises too, and safaris, and yes, even golf resorts. Voyage Prive currently has package at the Renaissance Palm Springs for 60-74% off list, one night for $85, 6 nights for $339, and it is hard to beat that deal.
The sites cost nothing to join, you just have to join.