Another day, another dollar supposedly saved by the latest and greatest travel booking service. But this one — we like this one.
It's called Upside, and it's run by Jay Walker, founder of Priceline. Here's how it works: Book your plane and hotel together. Get a gift card, from some very decent retailers, including Amazon. That's it.
We tested out the beta experience with a three-night trip to San Francisco from Newark. The flight-booking part was super straightforward; we ended up with two non-stops on United. The hotel booking experience was slightly rockier: According to Upside, there wasn't a single four-star hotel available in S.F. the three nights we would be in town. (Not so, according to booking.com.) Also, you can't search for, say, "three stars and up" — you're locked into your star selection. (If otherwise, we couldn't figure it out.) We did find a hotel for three stars. This isn't old-school Priceline; you know the exact airline and hotel before you commit.
Here's where the Upside magic came into the deal. We were offered the opportunity to switch to a different, same-class hotel for a slight reduction in overall cost and a significant jump in the amount of our gift card. Overall, our total for the hotel and flight was just over $1,100 — plus a $180 gift card. (Moving hotels raised the value of the gift card by about $100.)
We made separate bookings via United and the same hotel for the same dates — booking on Upside saved about $30 — and came with that $180 gift card, which we could either redeem for a retailer or apply immediately to the total due for our travel costs.
Sure, problems could crop up down the road — but our initial experience, even on the beta site, was very positive. Check out an L.A. Times story, which records a similar appraisal. Recommended.