And no, they're not "staying with friends instead" or "sleeping on trains" (though both of those do work, and work quite well).
The first, LivingSocial is a major "group buying site", which originally was more likely to trade in laser hair removal treatments and ballroom dancing classes than hotels. But according to a piece in yesterday's USA Today the company's "Escapes" section, launched a little over four months ago, is growing at a rapid clip by specializing in "near-cations". What does that new bit of slang mean? Hotel deals within easy driving distance of the user's home. Considering that American's are taking shorter and shorter vacations, concentrating on drive-to destinations seems like a savvy strategy to me. Many deals attach amenities such as spa visits, meals or activities. As an example, USA Today cites a 50% off deal at a hotel in Gaitlinburg, TN which also throws in a hiking guide, hiking canes and a lunch for two.
To get the new program off the ground, the company is promising that if you purchase an "escape" and get three friends to also bite, you'll get a free escape in the future.
One of the biggest names on the web, Overstock.com made its mark by selling mass market, department-store items that had been remaindered. It will take the same approach with hotels on its Overstock Vacations site eschewing the boutique properties (which it will leave that to Jetsetter, Vacationist and the other luxe players in this already crowded field) and instead concentrating on big name brands such as Marriott and Crowne Plaza.
Are the deals here good? Frankly, it's hard to tell. Nowhere is the published rate listed on the site, nor does Overstock deign to say what percentage its rates are off the usual rate. As well, prices are listed per person rather than per room, a move that will confuse many users.
Of the two, LivingSocial seems to be offering the better service of the two, but both are quite new and will evolve. I'll keep my eye on them both.