But as with so much else, the pandemic and the post-vaccine recovery have changed travel’s relationship to the traditional sales season that kicks off around Thanksgiving. After previewing hundreds of sales encompassing Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Travel Tuesday and beyond, I can safely say this year: Don’t expect much.
Hotels, in particular, are back in the driver’s seat, often recording pre-pandemic-level bookings driven by leisure travel and the return of international visitors. In San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, Acre resort is officially post-recovery; 2021 bookings there have doubled 2019 figures. In addition, labor shortages have helped prop up room rates by preventing some hotels from operating at capacity. New York City is still short thousands of hotel rooms that haven’t reopened, causing rates to swell.
“Except for very specific markets and regions like the Caribbean offering discounts for sales in the low season, I don’t see any reason hotels would rely on sales and discounts,” said Nicolas Graf, the associate dean of the New York University School of Professional Studies in the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality.
The pandemic also forged shorter booking windows, throwing traditional revenue management systems out the window and making it “hard to decide on a sales strategy ahead of time,” Graf added. “You’re going to see very short-term, last-minute deals, but I don’t see them in the long term.”
Indeed, my survey turned up many immediate deals in December for the first quarter of 2022. There are also longer minimum stays in many places, matching the trend toward lengthier visits and requiring fewer deep cleanings between guests.
Permanent sale sites have also somewhat eroded Black Friday’s power. Redweek, for example, offers time shares averaging 30%-50% off weeklong stays year-round in resort destinations like Aruba and Hawaii.
If hotels are the remainder rack with few choice offerings, other travel companies that are slower to recover — namely cruises and group tours — are often putting whole stores on sale. And the entire industry is springboarding off supply-chain frustration, encouraging travelers to “buy experiences” that don’t rely on shipping backlogs, such as virtual seminars or in-person tours with Context Travel, priced 15% off Nov 26-29.
The following are guidelines on what to expect of — and how to exploit — tepid Black Friday travel savings. Be aware that deals change frequently and may sell out before you get there.
‘NOT GIVING AWAY THE SHOP’
With travel resuming and occupancy rising, shoppers can expect to see bargains on less-desirable midweek nights, off-peak seasons and longer stays.
As Sanovnik Destang, executive director of Bay Gardens Resorts on St Lucia, which is offering 40% off some nights compared with half off last year during its seasonal sale, put it, “We wanted to make sure we’re not giving away the shop.”
For example, there’s a four-night minimum at the new all-inclusive O2 Beach Club & Spa on Barbados to get 50% off when booking Nov 23-30 for travel through Dec 20, 2022. Normal rates start at $608 a night.
It will be the offseason in Bermuda when the Grotto Bay Beach Resort offers half-off rates, December through March, starting at roughly $140 after the discount on bookings made Nov 26-30.
Remember, sales stated as “up to X%” means the steepest discounts are usually at slow periods. The Hotel Effie on Florida’s panhandle has rates up to 40% off during its seasonal sale for travel Dec. 1 through year-end 2022, but it reserves the lowest discounts for quieter times in January, February, November and December (rooms start at $229 before the sale).
As always, beware risky terms. In Sonoma, California, MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa is offering 50% off rooms booked Nov 25-29 for travel Nov 28 to April 28, but the deal requires prepayment and is not refundable or changeable.
SHOP WITH A TRAVEL LIST
Because many deals cover just the first quarter of 2022, I recommend travelers consider where they want to go — to see a sister in Denver, take your student on a college tour or do business in Silicon Valley — and shop with that list.
In Northern California, for example, the new Ameswell Hotel in Mountain View will offer 25% off rates booked between Nov. 25-29 for travel Jan. 1 to April 30 (use the code BLACKFRIDAY). For Denver, check the Rally Hotel sale, Nov. 26-29, for 52.80% off rooms (a play on the city’s 5,280-foot elevation). At Graduate Hotels, college towns across the country, rates normally start from about $160 to $500, but from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3, they will be discounted up to 50% for travel through March 31.
If you can’t find a sale in a target city, try one of the larger hotel chains. Accor, for example, plans to offer 30% off rooms booked Nov 22-29 in properties across North and Central America for stays Nov 22 to March 31.
Expect plenty of blackout dates and penalties. Kimpton’s brand-wide sale, Nov. 23 to Dec. 6, offers up to 20% off (up to 25% if you join the free loyalty program) but the bookings are only fully cancelable seven days in advance.
CAN YOU LEAVE TOMORROW?
As you might expect, Black Friday rewards the most flexible travellers.
Some of the best deals are for travel in the next few weeks, which effectively dilutes their value. The high-end Uniworld Boutique River Cruises is offering guests who have a cruise booked now through Dec 31 the opportunity to book a future cruise — also departing in 2021 — for 50% off.
The new Alaia Belize Autograph Collection on Ambergris Caye in Belize is offering 20% off rooms booked Nov. 22-30 for travel Dec. 1- 22 and Jan 3-31, 2022. Nightly rates before the discount start at $399.
Near Scottsdale, Arizona, Hermosa Inn will offer 15% off rooms, plus two welcome cocktails, for stays Nov 19 to Jan 9. December rates start at $509 before the discount.
The Archer Hotel group, which has seven locations, including New York City where rates normally start at $168, is offering 20% off bookings made Nov 24-28 for stays Nov 27 to Jan 2.
TOURS WANT YOU BACK
During the pandemic, with international travel stifled and travelers seeking to avoid strangers, group tours suffered. It’s no surprise their substantial incentives are seasonal bait.
“If you don’t come to the plate with a good offer, you will potentially lose some customers,” said Christian Wolters, the chief marketing officer at TourRadar, a small group tour operator that will offer discounts up to 70% off, compared to 60% last year.
G Adventures will put more trips on sale — 515 compared with 450 last year — and more of them will be steeply discounted, including nearly 100 trips at 30% off. After the discount, and excluding airfare, a nine-day trip in Colombia comes in at $1,434 and eight days in Morocco at $679.
“There has been so much positive news in the world of travel over the past few weeks as more countries open up, and the sale provides that extra incentive for people who have been waiting to book,” said Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of G Adventures.
Abercrombie & Kent is putting many of its private journeys that depart in the first half of 2022 on sale, most at 40%-50% off, Nov 29 to Dec 3, including an eight-day trip to Botswana that normally starts around $6,000 priced near $3,000.
Adventure travel itineraries include $500 savings on most 2022 co-branded trips costing $3,500 or more from Austin Adventures and Active Adventures, Nov 26-29. Sea Kayak Adventures will offer 15% off paddling trips in Baja, Mexico, through April 2022 with deposits made by Dec 6. Normal trips run three to 10 days and start from $890 to $2,600.
SEEK SAVINGS ABROAD
As tour sales indicate, depressed demand for international trips means you may find sales there.
For example, while you won’t find a huge deal at The Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp wilderness property near Colorado Springs — which, on the heels of a very busy year, is offering a Cyber Monday sale of 10% off select 2022 stays that normally start at $1,055 — you will find deals in Chile. There, Tierra Hotels, which operates remote lodges in Patagonia, Chiloe and the Atacama Desert, is offering its first seasonal sale at 40% off stays booked Nov 29 for travel through April 30, 2022 and 30% off stays beyond that, through April 2023 (two nights minimum). Rates, which include meals and guided excursions, normally start at $800 a person a day.
Sales on big-ticket, far-flung places include a few small ships in the Galápagos. Metropolitan Touring will add a two-night stay at Quito’s boutique Casa Gangotena, valued at $1,120, on Black Friday for most 2022 Galápagos bookings, which start at $4,052 for five days on a 40-guest yacht.
Ecoventura will offer 15% off its 20-person-yacht Galápagos cruises, which start at $8,950 a person before the discount on select 2022 departures January to March booked Nov 25-30 (email email@example.com to book).
The year-old Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf on St Bart in the Caribbean will hold its first Black Friday sale from Nov 26-29, with 15% off suites, which normally start at $990, plus daily breakfast, a yoga or Pilates class, two massages, airport transfers and a $50 food-and-beverage credit. Blackout dates include the first week of January and March 16 to 20.
Cruises discounted now, and later
While you will see Black Friday cruise deals from lines like Royal Caribbean and Holland America, you may also see them during “wave season,” a sales period that runs roughly from mid-January to March when the majority of bookings take place, encouraged by incentives.
“Wave season is kind of considered our Black Friday, but pre-pandemic, wave season started earlier and earlier,” sometimes in November, said Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of Cruise Planners, a travel agency.
Still, she recommends booking early as a risk-free way to get what you want — such as the exact dates, ships and cabins — since most cruise lines will re-price your deal should the fares drop before your final payment is due.
Some deals to come include 20% off and a $1,000 shipboard credit on select sailings Nov. 21 through May 5, 2023, with the boutique cruise line Azamara during its sale Nov. 19 to Dec. 3. A seven-night cruise for two in Greece in June starts around $5,100 before the sale.
From Nov 22-30, the expedition line Hurtigruten will have deals up to half off specific sailings, including a nine-day trip to Iceland (normally around $5,700).
The deals may not last. Assuming the return to cruising continues on an even keel, Fee foresees itineraries in places like Alaska and the Mediterranean, where people largely haven’t been able to cruise for two summers, selling out. The agency’s overall sales are 24% ahead of where bookings were in 2019 for the coming year.
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