This new Ebay-style site could transform the way we book holidays

Stuck with travel plans you can no longer make? New online marketplace TransferTravel.com could be the solution, says Sarah Marshall.

Few couples booking a romantic holiday ponder what will happen if they break-up before they step on the plane. But when relationships fail, dream trips can suddenly become a nightmare.

That was certainly the case for Simon Powell, who was left with a £3,000 break in Dubai after his own relationship ended.

“When I asked to move it, I couldn’t, because it was pre-paid, so the agent suggested I get someone else to go in my place,” he explains.

The quandary spurred Powell to launch TransferTravel.com, a peer-to-peer marketplace enabling customers to recoup the cost of unwanted, non-refundable travel not covered by insurance.

“When we looked into it, we found there was in excess of US$40 billion a year worldwide wasted on pre-booked, unused travel. Booking.com says 75% of their customers will book the non-refundable option, because they don’t feel their plans will ever change and, on average, its 10-15% cheaper.”

Eager to find a solution to the problem, Powell set up his site two years ago, and with several major partnerships planned in the coming months, it’s growing rapidly.

Intrigued? Here’s how it works…

What can you buy and sell on the site?

Flights, holidays and accommodation are all available on the site, which currently has about 50,000 hits per month.

“Around 80% of travel is transferable,” explains Powell. “Some airlines – such as BA, Quantas and Virgin – don’t let you change the name on a reservation, but many low-cost airlines do allow it.

“Nearly all accommodation is transferable. We’ve done a lot with Airbnb – even with the owners who’ve received a last-minute cancellation. I’m not really interested if they’ve just got random dates available – that’s not what we’re here for – but we do genuinely want to help people.

“According to EU travel regulations, you are legally entitled to change a package if someone pays the name-change fee.”

Can you recoup all your costs for a holiday?

“We monitor all the listings on our site,” explains Powell. “We automatically discount 30% from a price, but if you want to sell it quickly, we recommend you discount much more. If the listing’s not been sold after three days, then we recommend dropping the price even further. We only take a final 15% fee once the listing has sold.

“At the end of the day, most people aren’t going to get their money back if they don’t sell it. We tell people, ‘Don’t be greedy. Just try and get something’.

“It comes back to being realistic,” says Powell. “If consumers only get a 10-15% saving, why would they use us?”

How much actually sells?

“On our old site, about 12% of the holidays sold; as of yesterday 29% had sold. We are still growing and opening up our networks.

What mechanisms are in place to protect both parties?

“Ultimately, we are just a platform, but we do vet the buyer and seller as much as we can.

We give the seller 72 hours to transfer a reservation into the buyer’s name. If they don’t, we cancel the booking. We then still hold onto the money until the trip’s taken. We try to protect both parties.”

Are there some bargains on the site?

Although Powell never set out to create a last-minute, holiday discount site, there are some excellent savings available. In the case of low-cost flights, which may since have risen in price, there’s also an opportunity for the seller to make money.

While Powell, doesn’t encourage people to profit from the site, saying, “That’s not what we’re about”, he does see opportunities for both buyer and seller to benefit.

“We had a great deal on some Norwegian flights last week,” he explains. “The guy had paid £250 for them, and sold them for £400. It would have cost the buyer much more to buy them direct as the seats had gone up in price.

“Because we discount, no-one can beat us on price.”

To find out more, visit www.TransferTravel.com.