When is a deal actually a deal? How to avoid being caught out this Black Friday

Nov 23, 2021

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This week you will see plenty of travel deals for the annual Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales this week and next. Virtually every airline, hotel and travel provider will be offering some sort of offer to entice you to book travel. Especially for any long overdue trips you may have delayed for the past two years because of the pandemic.

Related: The best Black Friday and Cyber Monday travel deals for 2021

But are these all true deals and are you actually saving money?

Here’s what to look out for to make sure you are getting a great deal.

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In This Post

1. Understand the wording

Many offers will be for varying discounts and may not apply to all products, for example, a hotel group may only offer discounts on selected properties within a certain country.

‘Up to 30% off selected items” could mean you are saving 30% on your selected purchase, or it could mean you are only saving 10 or 20%, or there could be no discount at all because your purchase is not one of the selected items the discounts apply to.

Good retailers will clearly indicate if the item is discounted, and what the discount is.

If it is not clearly labelled, don’t assume it’s discounted. If you are happy with the price by all means purchase, but you may not actually be saving money on the regular price just because something is marketed as a Black Friday deal.

2. Shop around

Plenty of hotel groups are offering big discounts on hotel stays via their Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers. Hotel consolidation platforms like Hotels.com and Booking.com are also offering various discounts on these same hotels. You might see one site offering 20% off, while another offers 30% off. Don’t assume that the 30% off on one site will give you a better price than the 20%-off on another as discounts may not be applied from the same starting point.

Related: How to Save 14% on Every Hotel Stay With the Hotels.com Rewards Programme

For hotels, you can use a comparison site like Trivago which will show you the price of a particular property across various different platforms. These sites tend to be very good at matching each other in real-time, so you might see the exact same price on different sites despite their promises of different levels of discounts.

3. Know what is a good price

If you’ve had your eye on a brand new iPhone 13 for a few months and have been hoping for a good Black Friday deal before pulling the trigger on a big purchase like this, you likely know what the normal price is, and what is, therefore, a good deal.

For example, your favourite retailer offering this item at the same price but also offering a £100 Amazon gift card if you purchase during Black Friday is a great deal as you’ll easily use the gift card. It’s a significant offer despite not being an obvious ‘money-off’ discount on the iPhone.

With travel, it’s harder to monitor. Flights and hotel prices fluctuate regularly – Ryanair for example regularly puts certain flights on and off sale for as low as £5 each way – you don’t have to wait around for a once per year sale for these prices.

Related: Ryanair flash sale: UK cities to Greek Islands, Berlin, Dublin, Milan and more from £5 one-way

Some airlines are notorious for simply raising their fares, say, 30% during this period and then offering 30% off by the time Black Friday rolls around. You pay the same regardless of Black Friday or not, you just think you’re getting a great deal because the airline has told you that you are. Sneaky, huh?

I noticed Virgin Experiences offering a Black Friday deal this week with 77% off unlimited sushi. This sounds like an incredible deal but when I looked at the original price of £173.50 for two people (£86.75 each) I couldn’t help but think this seemed incredibly expensive for 90 minutes of sushi with no drinks included.

A quick check of the restaurants own website shows they also offer this directly for just £29.95 meaning the 77% discount is completely false – it doesn’t cost anywhere near that before the discount. Sure, you can save some money on the normal price via the Black Friday deal, but you won’t be saving 77%.

That said, occasionally airlines will offer truly crazy deals – Virgin Atlantic in 2019 offered £1 Golden Tickets for Cyber Monday. We will let you know about any of these truly amazing offers here at TPG as and when they come up.

Otherwise, an offer of, say 10% off all fares may be slightly cheaper than normal, or it may be about the price you would normally pay otherwise.

If you’re happy with the price, then go ahead and book whether it’s advertised as a deal or not.

4. Make sure the discount is applied properly

If you are expecting, say, a buy-one-get-one-free deal based on an advertisement you have seen, make sure the discount is actually applied when you get to the booking page.

Cathay Pacific for Black Friday is offering up to 50% off the base fare for the second passenger when two people travel to selected destinations, or up to 25% off when three or moretravel together in economy class.

With Australia’s reopening in the news, I decided to check flights from London (LHR) to Sydney (SYD) within the travel offer period. One passenger is charged at £764.97 return including fees and taxes. Note that the base fare (which receives the discount for multiple passengers) only makes up around a third of the total fare.

When I search for three passengers on the same flight to get the 25% discount the total price drops very slightly to £731.97 per person, but certainly not 25% – only around 5%.

Remembering the 25% off is only a discount on the base fare, you won’t see a 25% discount per person on the total price, but the 25% discount on the base fare hasn’t been applied properly. 25% off a £283 base are is £212.2, whereas Cathay is charging £250 base fare per person.

This means for three passengers travelling together you are getting nowhere near a 25% discount on the base fare, more like a 10% discount. If in doubt, bust out the calculator.

Bottom line

Travel is one of my largest discretionary expenses each year – I spend many thousands of pounds of my own money, so Black Friday should be the time when I can save the most money and get the most deals.

But this year, like last year I find myself sceptical of many of the offers. Many offers appear to operate under the Black Friday banner while being very vague on the actual details in order to drive sales. “Up to” or off “selected” can mean no discount at all, or a much smaller discount than you were expecting.

If you’re careful, however, there are genuine bargains to be found, especially as travel providers try and lure people back to travel after almost two years of the pandemic. Do your homework, read the small print and do your sums to make sure your Black Friday deal is actually a deal.

Featured image by JT Genter / The Points Guy

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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