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Travel and You

When a Discount Is Not a Bargain

June 15, 1986|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles

What do peanut butter, cameras and bank deposits have in common?

In a travel context, they've all been elements of recent promotions between travel suppliers such as airlines and hotels and other non-travel companies involving some sort of discounts for travelers. Such tie-ins are a frequent refrain today, with several variations on the theme.

Sometimes you have to buy the travel to get merchandise, gift certificates and discounts on products. In other cases you need to obtain the non-travel product first to reap the travel benefits.

Through a tie-in with Skippy Peanut Butter, American Airlines and Sheraton Corp. offered consumers half-price discounts on coach seats and off rack (regular) rates in return for a certain number of peanut butter purchases.

Sheraton was involved, along with Avis Rent-A-Car, in a promotion with Polaroid (which had previously teamed up with TWA); travelers could receive discount certificates redeemable at various Sheraton hotels and Avis locations after the purchase of certain Polaroid products. Participants in this promotion were also able to get into a sweepstakes with travel prizes.

Bank Deposits

By making certain deposits at Security Pacific National Bank, you were able to get discount certificates on American Airlines flights. And if you bought some TWA Getaway packages to Europe at JWR Travel Agencies at Robinson's department stores, you could get a gift certificate for use at the stores.

Such promotions can also be targeted for specific parts of the market. For example, if you spent a mere $10,000 at a Fred Joaillier jewelry store you could get a free round-trip flight to Paris or Monte Carlo aboard Air France, plus six nights' accommodations and other amenities.

Some travel agencies may also offer their clients merchandise, or other travel benefits, in return for booking with them. These rewards may be based on a sort of point system, with so many points allocated per type of travel booked.

In evaluating such promotions, there are a number of values to consider. To start, determine if you're being drawn into eventually spending more money than you would otherwise. This can easily happen, for instance when the discount involved is for a second airline ticket. Do you have to first buy a ticket before you can get a discount on other air tickets?

Similarly, are there any limitations on what kind of tickets can be obtained? Many discounted air fares are available, but you may not be able to take advantage of them under provisions of the promotion. The general rule is that you can't combine discounts.

Careful Reading

You should, of course, be thoroughly familiar with all of the conditions and restrictions of the promotion. This usually necessitates a careful reading of the small print in the ads, and asking questions about details. Are there any blackout periods, and can you and whomever you obtained a second ticket for travel separately? What is the cut-off point for the use of such tickets?

With hotels, discounts are generally off rack rates. But are the discounted rooms off all price levels? And because promotions are usually with chains, are all of the chain's hotels participating, especially those at destinations that appeal to you? For how many nights is the discount good, and is there a minimum number of nights that you have to stay?

You are not getting something for nothing in promotions, so you have to measure what you're shelling out for the value received. If you're planning to go to a destination where the discount is usable, great; otherwise, you may not be able to use it in the pertinent time frame. If you're interested in a particular product, fine, but if not, is it worth the expenditure for the discounts involved?

What are the time and convenience factors involved? Will you have to adjust dates of planned travel to take advantage of discounts? How far in advance do you have to commit yourself for dates and reservations? Can you change travel dates once plans are made?

The Main Question

A simple test to apply is does the promotion provide a product, travel or otherwise, that you really have a use for and can use in a reasonable amount of time? Are they of good quality? Even more important, do they suit your needs? And what are the real costs, once you figure out what you would have to pay to take advantage of the offers?

Do some comparison shopping before plunging into promotions. Determine as much as possible what discounts might be available during the time you have to travel under a particular promotion, both for the mode of travel as well as hotels and car rental locations at any destinations that interest you.

In this fashion, you'll be able to make a more informed decision.

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