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It’s Monday morning as I write this and, according to Sky Scanner, it’s coming up to the 12pm to 2pm window where I’m most likely to book a holiday.
The fact that 70% of that traffic is coming from a desktop computer clearly indicates how vulnerable one feels during those first few hours back at the office after the weekend.
So it’s with a blatantly ulterior motive that I present this comparison guide to the more ubiquitous ‘exclusive’ holiday websites, as if it’s a justification for furtively booking a holiday when I should be doing some work.
The ‘exclusive’ sites in question, Secret Escapes and Voyage Privé, offer last minute sojourns to exotic, otherwise privileged locales. Membership is required if you wish to take a trip with either company. So what does this membership entail? What is their definition of ‘exclusive’?
Upon arrival at Secret Escapes you are immediately presented with a sign-up screen. Let there be no doubt that you will not be able to browse these holidays before you sign-up. There’s no window-shopping here.
On most sites this would be a very bad idea indeed (Playmobil is one such culprit) but this site is supposed to be exclusive...
So, this barrier to entry is intended to keep out the casual shopper. The sign-up itself is entirely straightforward though, and includes a Facebook sign-in.
Offering a Facebook login has its pros and cons, but it's worth providing this, as long as users have an alternative option.
The sign-up page is also incredibly enticing. Nice bright images that fairly representative the breaks on offer. The claim that Secret Escapes can save you up to 70% on your holiday is repeated five times.
On sign up, you’re presented immediately with a temporary password, another screen that asks for your postcode and country of origin, then a further screen that asks you to invite your friends with cash incentives. This may seem a little tiresome, but you can close the pop-up at any point if you want to get to the offers sooner.
The home page is clear and functional, presenting you with the three best deals and an editor’s pick.
Search options are again clear, with distinct opt-in and opt-out functions, transforming the breaks you’re presented with immediately on the home page.
When selecting your break, and here I’m apparently going to Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights, you’re taken to a further page that presents you with at least 10 enticing images on a slideshow, some nicely written copy (“Start work on your bucket list” is quite the dramatic statement) and the lowest rate available (here £319) is proposed.
Call me cynical, but I was happy to find this price does indeed exist as an option. It’s also a pleasant surprise to find the functionality of booking is effectively straightforward: just a handful of options in a couple of drop-down menus, and a neatly designed calendar denoting the different prices on each day.
This makes for a better user experience than some sites, where users need to search again to see prices and availability on different days.
The final booking screen is similarly light and easy to use. In fact this dangerously feels like the easiest and quickest holiday I’ve ever booked. Almost designed to be completed within a minute or two during a break at work, or hidden in an incognito window.
The offers have a time limit of between 7 and 14 days, with new deals appearing every week.
You will also be treated to a daily email, either featuring a handful of their top-picks, or on a Monday you get a sneak preview of the deals to come.
In terms of exclusivity, the destinations and hotels on offer are of course accessible to non Secret Escapes members via other travel agents, however it is true that the deals themselves only exist on Secret Escapes.
A quick comparison on Booking.com shows a genuine saving of up to 70% on most breaks.
Membership to Secret Escapes comes at a cost of your email address (and a £15 booking fee slipped in at the end there).
The offers also do not appear on other ‘exclusive’ holiday websites either. So let’s do a comparison with the biggest competitor…
Voyage Privé’s sign up screen is more refined than Secret Escapes, choosing a single image of tranquil escape, over a choice of four different excursions. It also only feels the need to trumpet the 70% off claim once on the page.
Just like Secret Escapes there is absolutely no browsing the holidays until you get signed up.
The sign-up process is slightly more involved/annoying than Secret Escapes. The first screen requires email, name and password as standard.
This site makes a common postcode validation mistake, producing an error message if users don't enter their postcode with a space in the middle. It's unnecessary and is likely to deter some visitors.
The second screen asks ‘How did you hear about us?’ If you write ‘friend’ you’re asked to input their email address for an undisclosed referral bonus. Thankfully that isn’t mandatory. Then you have to input your postal address, and date of birth.
This is awfully fussy for an ecommerce site that you’ve yet to have any access to. It’s a leap of faith, and is questionable whether some people would bother going any further.
There is a fine line between garnering enough information when customers sign up (to personalise emails, target more effectively etc) and asking so much that visitors lose the will to complete the form.
Maybe that’s the point. It’s a filter. Maybe those that can’t be bothered to commit aren’t regarded as ‘wanted’ by this member’s only club.
Once you’re in, you have access to approximately 25 flash sales each lasting up to seven days. The search box on the left is far more refined than Secret Escapes, offering fewer options other than the all important destination and departure dates in drop down menus.
This refined design doesn’t continue once you’ve made your choice of destination. The flight/length of stay options are all presented as separate boxes on the right of the screen.
It’s up to the user to negotiate the many options and oft-repeated details within each box.
The drop-down menus contained within, each listing a date and price option for up to four months into the future, are guilty of information overload. They are far clunkier than Secret Escapes’ simple calendar function.
Upon booking the holiday, you are taken through three separate confirmation screens, compared to Secret Escape’s single page, with a quotation page, containing various optional extras, a payment page and finally a confirmation page.
Aesthetically it would seem Voyage Privé’s is trying to appear more sophisticated than their rival, however when it comes to functionality and ease of use, Secret Escapes provides the best user experience.
According to Voyage Privé’s tag-line, it is ‘the world’s leading member’s only travel club’, again this 'member’s only' device sounds like more of a commitment than it really is.
Membership comes at a price of an email address, some scant personal information, and a daily email offering handpicked deals, delivered direct to you. Again there’s no joining fee or subscription rate.
Plenty of other holiday websites offer flash sales: Groupon, Lastminute.com and even Teletext holidays. However, Secret Escapes and Voyage Privé are trying to offer something different: handpicked getaways of a more upmarket nature than their competitors.
Membership does have its privileges, and those privileges are genuine discounts on quality breaks for the price of an email address.
What at first might seem like a gimmick may actually be an effective marketing tool. In each case, the breaks have been curated by a team of editors, who not only create a breadth of quality throughout the destinations on offer but these breaks also encourage other quality hoteliers to align their destinations with the respective website.
Of the two sites, Secret Escapes provides the better user experience. A smoother sign up and booking process giving it the edge over Voyage Prive.