Save Money With Below-the-Radar Travel Sites Ctrip and LMT Club
Frequent flyers often visit online travel agents (or OTAs, in the parlance of the biz) such as Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and Hotels.com for their travel bookings. While we wish that finding great deals could be as easy as a single click, it isn't always. Plus, not everyone knows about some of the more obscure websites that could help you secure substantial savings.
So instead of always relying on the best-known OTAs, try giving some lesser-known websites a spin, specifically Ctrip, when traveling in Asia, and Last Minute Travel Club (aka LMT Club) particularly for hotels worldwide.
One of China’s largest travel websites Ctrip has been helping tourists save money on flights and hotels all over Asia for many years. You can think of Ctrip as a Chinese version of Expedia.
The first time you go to its website, you'll be prompted to set your language and which version of the website you want to use. If you select the Hong Kong version of the website, you may even see lower rates, as we saw in the case of Norwegian Airlines.
Once you've familiarized yourself with the site, search for flights and hotels within Asia for the best chances of maximizing your savings. If you have any questions regarding your booking, you can visit the 24/7 online chatroom with customer-service representatives. In my interactions with them, they were professional, helpful and quick to assist with reservation questions. The app is also extremely easy to navigate and, it's simple to complete bookings.
Below, we'll walk through a few scenarios to show the savings you can find when using Ctrip.
Flights Within China
When looking for domestic flights within China, there are a couple of things to expect: First, flight delays are frequent, so be mindful of separate tickets for connecting flights. Second, if you're booking on some popular US sites, your price could be higher than if booked on a China-based OTA. On the popular route between Shenzhen and Shanghai, for example, Ctrip offers the two-and-a-half-hour flight for just $94 for a one-way trip in December.
If you booked using Expedia instead, you'd be paying $218.50, or nearly $125 more. So, by using Ctrip for this flight inside China, you could be securing yourself a whopping savings of 57%.
Hotels in Singapore
Ctrip also offers great hotel deals in Asia — but don't expect to see such great savings for hotel bookings in the US. One deal we found was for a two-night stay at the Resorts World Sentosa - Hard Rock Hotel in Singapore in the middle of January. By booking with Ctrip, your total would be 2,792 CNY (or about $420), including taxes and fees, compared to the $602 you'd have to pay if you'd booked with Orbitz.
Since Ctrip publicly shows fares and hotel rates and is not a membership website (like LMT Club, which is discussed below), many airlines and hotels will likely accept your best-rate-guarantee claim, which can save you even more — as much as 25% off the lower nightly rate. And remember to pay with a card that doesn't charge transaction fees. Still, even if you can avoid foreign transaction fees by using the right card, note that you'll be hit with a 3% fee for using an international credit card.
In 2016, Ctrip, which is publicly traded in the US on the NASDAQ, purchased the Scottish company Skyscanner.net for $1.7 billion in an effort to expand internationally. In 2014, Ctrip also received an investment of $500 million from Priceline Group, which means we can expect further cooperation between these large international OTAs. This could mean you'll be seeing Ctrip savings outside of Asia at some point.
LMT Club (short for Last-Minute Travel Club) is a great resource when you're searching for hotels in the United States, Asia, Europe and elsewhere. Even to travel experts and frequent flyers, LMT Club is under the radar. It's distinct from its affiliated website Lastminutetravel.com, which doesn't require a membership (and doesn't offer such significant savings).
LMT Club is a members-only OTA, but don't let that scare you away. Membership fees vary from nothing (when signing up with a promotion code) to the standard rate of $50 annually. LMT wholesales hotel rooms to resellers, meaning that its rates are often below that of other OTAs. Because it's not a "public" website, the major hotel chains will not accept LMT Club rates when you file a claim for a best-rate guarantee. Also keep in mind that you usually don't receive elite status benefits when you book a hotel stay through a third party, so you'll want to weigh your options and decide if the cash savings are worth forgoing perks like late checkout and extra points.
You'll have to sign up for a membership, which takes only a few minutes, before you can begin browsing through thousands of potential hotels to start saving on.
Once you've secured your membership, it's time to browse for a hotel. Let's look at some examples I found when searching for upcoming stays.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sin City is known for great opportunities for hotel redemptions and luxurious properties, but sometimes you may just be looking to secure a good deal for a quick trip, like at the Venetian Hotel and Casino in the middle of the week. LMT can reserve you this three-night stay in February for a total of $386, with taxes and fees. Hotels.com offers the same room type on the same dates for $889 — making for a savings of 56% with LMT.
LMT Club offers some great deals on hotels across Asia — like at the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers. Keep in mind Ctrip may also have great deals in Asia, so it would be wise to give both sites a look before booking.
For two nights in January, you can reserve a standard room at The Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers for a total of $218 on LMT, compared to the $256 that Hotels.com would charge. Here, you would score a savings of upwards of 14%.
For Frankfurt, we searched for a two-night stay at the Radisson Blu Hotel Frankfurt in January. Instead of paying $378 on Orbitz, you'd pay only $268 with LMT Club — this time, a savings of 29%.
To sum up, we've saved $503 in Las Vegas, $37 in Hong Kong and $110 in Frankfurt with LMT Club. The annual membership fee can more than pay for itself with a single booking.
When booking your domestic and international trips, or when looking to save on your air and hotel expenses, remember sites like Ctrip and LMT Club. Although you won't be able to enjoy elite benefits at hotels with either site (and you forgo the ability to file a best-rate-guarantee claim with LMT Club), it can still be worth it if you believe the savings outweigh the benefits you'd receive, or if you aren't an elite member yet. On the other hand, booking flights within China with Ctrip is a no-brainer, since you very often see significant savings and enjoy elite benefits if you have them.