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Opaque inventory is a term used to describe the market of selling unsold travel inventory at a discounted price. The inventory is called "opaque" because the specific supplier (i.e. hotel, airline, etc) remain hidden until after the purchase has been completed. This is done to prevent sales of unsold inventory from cannibalizing full-price retail sales.

The primary consumer of opaque inventory is very price conscious and is less concerned with the specifics of their travel plans. Buying opaque travel inventory is best for price-conscious travelers whose primary aim is the cheapest travel possible. Hotel discounts of 30-60% are typical, and bargains are stronger at a higher star hotel. While one has control over the dates and times of a travel itinerary, the downside is these purchases are absolutely non-refundable and non-changeable, and as noted above, the specific hotel or airline is not revealed until after purchase.

The main sources of opaque inventory are Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. Priceline functions with a bidding model, while Hotwire has a fixed pricing model, meaning it sells at a fixed price and travelers do not bid for inventory. Typically hotel deals are greater than airline discounts on opaque travel sites, namely because airlines have limited seating and also take monetary cuts when publishing discounted fares, whereas a hotel sells to opaque sites to fill empty rooms.


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