Glenn Counts doesn't worry about airfare when he travels -- after all, he's a Continental Express pilot and can often hitch a ride. Hotels are a different story, though, so Counts is among a growing number of travelers jumping on the latest trend in discount hotel stays: private sales. A handful of Web sites offer registered members (registration is typically free) bargain-priced lodging that's often luxurious.
Counts most recently vacationed in Prague after a deal from Jetsetter lured him, he says, to "a really great luxury hotel that was actually in my price range." SniqueAway customer Lisa Litwiller, who will soon visit Williamsburg, Va., figures she'll save $350 on a two-night stay for two, compared with rates the same hotel recently listed on its Web site.
Private sales offer hotels a way to unload excess inventory for a brief time to a limited audience -- without having to slash prices for the general public, or for an extended period. The deals may undercut traditional online travel bargains, especially for high-end accommodations. And private sales may appeal to your sense of serendipity -- presenting opportunities in places you never knew you wanted to visit. In addition to Jetsetter and SniqueAway, check out Tablet-Hotels.com, Bonvoyou.com and Where I've Been. Mega travel site Kayak.com plans to offer a private-sale search feature in early 2011.