New Travel Auction Site Is Off & Away

How much would you be willing to pay for two nights in the Tata Presidential Suite at The Pierre, a Taj hotel, in New York City? Rack rates put the regal rental at $20,000—per night. But using the new online travel auction site Off & Away—which officially launched yesterday—the place can be yours for a mere fraction of the price. In fact, as I started to write this, the going bid was $440 (an hour ago it was $350).

Here’s how it works:

  • Sign up: basic registration process.
  • Buy bids: packages available for $10, $25, $50, $100, $250.
  • Start bidding: each $1 bid adds $0.25 to the going price. If no one else bids on the item within 30 seconds, the high bidder gets the prize, and you have 24 hours to make your reservation.

Besides the Tata Suite at The Pierre, the other live auction at the moment is for two nights at the Parlor Suite at the Wynn Las Vegas (at $97 currently). Auctions starting later today: three nights in a one-bedroom suite at the Intercontinental San Francisco, and two nights in a view suite at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas.

The auction can go on for quite a while. There is a clock counting down the time remaining, but it goes back up 30 seconds each time a new bid comes in. Indefinitely it seems. Current bidders quickly learned that the best idea is to wait until there’s just a few seconds left on the clock, then jump in with their $0.25. You’ll see the same names trying to duke it out back and forth then they’ll give up and others will get back into the game. (Current Tata Suite price: $490.)

What if you get tired and need to get on with work, or you’ve spent all your bought bids, don’t want to spend any more and still don’t win? You can apply up to 110 percent of your bids toward another room from Off & Away’s partner inventory. You have up to seven days to make a purchase—note that bids from different auctions cannot be combined. Otherwise, the money you already bid is gone. Unused bids remain in your account for participation in future auctions.

(Tata is up to $510; Wynn $115.)

Off & Away was founded by and is run by a group of executives with plenty of product marketing and development experience behind them, along with some heavy-hitting companies on their resumes, including Amazon, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Expedia and Travelocity. It also has the big venture capital company Madrona behind it, which happens to be funding another cool new company, Animoto, which uses technology to automatically create videos for people from their images—great for snap-happy travelers.

It’s an interesting idea and definitely fun dreaming about the possibility of living like modern royalty for a couple days while you keep hitting the “Bid” button. But fair warning: It’s sort of addictive once you start. Yep, just like gambling. So if you see a place for auction that you’ve desired to stay in or a destination you know you’ll be heading to soon and have lots of personal control, go for it. If not, be prepared to transfer those bids to purchase hotel rooms for a future stay somewhere, or just let go of that money as a pay-to-play cost.

Me? I was in it for a minute, bidding just 10 times for the Tata Suite before I realized I was wasting away my day and my money that I should instead be putting toward my upcoming honeymoon.

By the way, The Pierre’s Tata Suite deal is now up to $546.50; the Wynn $154 … and counting.

(Update: The two nights at the Wynn suite auction just closed for $212.50. Two nights at the Tata Presidential Suite at The Pierre closed at $938.25. A steal compared to $40K, not that anyone really pays rack rates.)

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