Genie Traveler is the new way to travel the world at wholesale rates.
If you’re like me and have a passion – or rather obsession – for traveling then you’ll know that the biggest pain point is the costs involved. Searching for hotel deals, cheap flights and various travel hacks becomes a bit of an obsession. We all have limited funds and we want to maximize the travel opportunities we can get for them. I am so hopeless at saving when traveling that I even wrote a post calling myself “an unsuccessful backpacker.”
There are various sites that promise travel deals, cheap airline tickets and discounted hotels but the reality is that these deals just don’t exist. Trust me. I’ve been doing this a long time and while the big sites might seem like they’re offering you deals, the prices they offer are mostly just marketing spin, enticing you in, while not really exposing the limit of their pricing strategy.
The travel industry, specifically the Online Travel Agents (known in the business as OTAs), are a duopoly – there are just two companies that control the market. You might have heard of lots of different brands but 80% of this online travel space is controlled by just two companies – Expedia and Priceline.
You might think when you’re booking flights, hotels, car rentals and more that you can compare the prices and get the best deals by going to a few different sites. But all they do is compete against themselves with small price differences to make you feel like you’re getting a deal.
In fact, because they’re so powerful they enforce something called rate parity and ensure the public rates they offer can’t be undercut. Well, at least in public.
That public part is important. There are also wholesale rates that aren’t available to the general public. These rates can be significantly lower than you can find elsewhere. This is often how your high street travel agency access their inventory and makes bookings on your behalf. There can be a huge difference between the retail rates you and I pay and the actual wholesale rates that are available behind closed doors.
Travel deals do exist. Just not for you. Until now…
Wholesale rates aren’t meant for the likes of you or I. They’re aimed at businesses. Those that buy in bulk. I’m talking about Fortune 500 companies or travel agents. These businesses pay a premium to access these rates, often $50,000 to $250,000. But, because of their scale, it’s worth it for them. The rates are normally 30% to 70% cheaper than the rest of us can get. Sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less but, even so, that’s some pretty significant savings.
Businesses either sell the products (travel agents), use them to book their own corporate travel and/or as an employee benefit which they can use for their own (and family) personal travel. Access to these wholesale rates are restricted and behind a password protected firewall preventing us from accessing them.
These wholesale feeds are only allowed to be accessed by authorized personnel. The people that can access them must be members or a group, known as a Closed User Group (CUG). If you’re not in a CUG you can’t access these secret rates.
And you can’t get into a CUG. Until now…
How You Can Save With Genie Traveler
I recently teamed up with a company called Genie Traveler that is breaking open these travel myths and exposing the travel industry’s Dirty Little Secret. They’re bringing these wholesale rates straight to the general public and disrupting the OTAs.
They’ve created their own CUG and they’re letting anyone join. Instead of marking up their rates 30% to 70% like the OTAs might do they are making their money in a really ingenious way; they’re charging a small monthly fee for you to access these incredible deals. Rates start at just $3.99 a month (when you pay annually). You can easily save more than the cost of a years membership in just one booking through them.
These guys are fairly new to the marketplace but are already making waves and upsetting the more traditional OTAs.
Of course, I had to check them out for myself.
Travel Savings With Genie Traveler
I wouldn’t have teamed up with Genie Traveler if I hadn’t checked it all out properly myself.
First I had a look at their flights. I didn’t think the deals would be that great. The margins on flights are so small that I really didn’t think they’d be able to do much.
I picked some dates and decided I’d look at a flight from JFK in New York to London Heathrow. Here’s a screenshot:
Genie Traveler’s best deal was $697.17 with British Airways (all inclusive of taxes too).
I then went to the British Airways website to see what I could get it for:
British Airways (including taxes) was $983.01.
That’s a $285.84 saving at Genie Traveler or a 41% saving. Now that’s impressive.
I searched a long haul flight on purpose. Savings on short haul flights are not as likely to be so good (unless you’re flying Business Class). If you’re a short haul traveler then the flight savings might not be for you.
Next I went on to look at hotels. I was hoping for some good savings here as I know the margins can be quite good.
I also wanted to check in a few different countries to see how the rates stood up.
First stop, Washington DC.
As this was the first place I was checking out I decided to test their top two best deals, especially given that they were at very different price points as well.
The Mayflower Hotel is a beautiful hotel. Genie Traveler shows an incredible 80% saving (note you can only get savings above 70% on their All Travel Elite annual plans which work out at $4.99 a month) from $2,975.60 down to $610.94.
I checked Expedia first:
They have it listed at $3,000.
Orbitz also list it for $3,000:
Note on the bottom of the Orbitz listing they show prices as well at Hotels.com, Hotwire and Travelocity also all at $3,000.
Genie Traveler are offering incredible value here with their huge 80% savings. If you stayed for one night you’d save $2,364.66. You could buy 40 years of membership at Genie Traveler with that saving (even more if you use a coupon code – more on that soon)!
I then checked the second hotel in Washington DC, Courtyard by Marriott which is showing a 54% discount down from $647.08 to $302.42.
I went to Hotels.com and found this:
They’re selling it at $659.
I’ll save you from too many screenshots but Expedia and Travelocity also have it at $659.
Genie Traveler again save you $344.66 on this hotel.
With that done I went to check Europe. I settled on Venice, Italy:
The savings weren’t as high for Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal at 39% off but that’s still pretty impressive.
Booking.com lists it at $356 (including breakfast, but Genie Traveler includes breakfast as well):
Hotels.com does a little better at $323:
But even at the Hotels.com rate it’s still a 38% saving at Genie Traveler.
I went on to check Prague, in the Czech Republic, which has an incredible 86% saving:
Although, I found that the best comparison savings I could find worked out at 83% and not 86%. I’ll happily take the 83% though.
See again on the Orbitz listing you get prices at Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire and Hotels.com all at $441 compared to the Genie Traveler price of $77.67.
How To Use Genie Traveler
There are a couple of ways to use their service. You can either save massively on your travel budget – that’s probably the option that most people will take. But the other way is to upgrade how you travel. For example, if you normally stay in a 3 star hotel then you can often find a 5 star hotel for the price you would normally pay for a 3 star hotel. In fact, Genie Traveler will even let you search by star rating too (and they use TripAdvisor’s rating system so you know it’s valid).
I’ve given my examples in dollars but there’s an option to switch your currency too, so don’t worry too much if you’re not from the US. Membership though for Genie Traveler is only currently in US dollars though – they’re rolling out more currencies later this year though.
There are no packages (currently) so you would need to book your hotel and your flight separately. They also don’t have car rental although they expect to add that to their site soon.
Is Genie Traveler Worth It?
Is this worth it? Well that’s up to you and what fits for your personal travel needs. Personally, with savings like this, I’m hooked.
But, here’s the best bit. Genie Traveler offer a 7 day free trial. That means you can sign up and check out the deals yourself, all for free. In fact, it’s even better than that – you can book as much as you want during that period and, even if you cancel your free trial, all of those bookings will still be honored.
But wait, it gets even better.
I said earlier that I’d teamed up with them. Well in doing so I’ve negotiated an exclusive discount code just for readers of my blog.
If you sign up before 28 March 2018 on an annual plan then you’ll receive 18% off membership for life. Most promotions give you a deal to sign up but then boost you back up to their normal rate later on. I had a long talk with the team at Genie Traveler and persuaded them that you guys deserve the best. They agreed and made the discount code last for life.
If you want to check them out, and huge savings then make sure you use code CLAUDIA18 for a significant discount. Prices start at just $3.99 if you pay annually. That’s less than a cup of coffee a month or a Netflix subscription yet giving you incredible savings. Go here to sign up (and don’t forget to use your code).
I don’t get anything from you using this code but I just wanted to pass the value on to you. They’ve got 800,000 hotels, a Best Rate Guarantee and 15,000 destinations.
130 million people have been using this technology for the last 20 years. Genie Traveler have now opened this up to the general public to allow us all to get these incredible savings.
Why pay retail like everyone else when you don’t have to?
Legal Disclaimer: this post is written in cooperation with Genie Traveler.
Pin It For Later
Colombia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, second only to Brazil. The quality of the coffee beans is excellent – after all, the climate and altitude are perfect for growing coffee. I thus expected coffee boutiques everywhere, millions of ways to prepare coffee, coffee shops and tastings. But this was not necessarily the case: more often than not, I had to make do with Juan Valdez, which is pretty much like the Starbucks of Colombia, or with the “taza sucia” (literally, dirty cup) that I could have at the many stands in the street.
The best coffee beans are exported and what is left to the locals is a lower quality coffee, which incredibly is imported from Ecuador. Thus, interestingly, when I travelled to Colombia I wasn’t be able to really have anything more than just decent coffee and often had to make do with tinto (a small cup of weak black coffee) or other coffee based drinks. I am a coffee puritan, I like my coffee with no milk and most importantly with no sugar, so to me the most horrifying coffee I tried was the one made with agua de panela, unrefined sugar melted in hot water – which gives coffee a tremendously sweet taste. One may like it if having a seriously sweet tooth though.
Things to do in Colombia
Having this in mind, one of the things to do in Colombia is visiting the Eje Cafetero. This is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia and will allow visitors to see at least one of the many coffee fincas in the country, where they will be able to experience the full process of coffee production, from picking to toasting and sipping.
Places to visit in Colombia: Eje Cafetero, or else the Colombian version of Switzerland
The best starting point for a visit of the Eje Cafetero is Salento, located at 1800 meters above sea level and one of Colombia tourist attractions in itself. This is a picturesque village, where colonial architecture meets the paisà style. It is a lovely, small and colourful colonial town surrounded by hills and forest, with a main street full of artesania shops, many relaxing bars, a chilled atmosphere, making it one of the places to visit in Colombia. From here, it is possible to visit a number of fincas.
Salento is also very close to the gorgeous Valle de Cocora, perhaps the very best of Colombia attractions. One of the top things to do in Colombia is hiking the Valle de Cocora. This is a lush, tropical valley surrounded by high peaks and cloud forest. Jeeps leave several times a day from the main square of Salento to take intrepid travelers to the valley. Arriving well early before departure, may ensure getting a seat. I leave things last minute so my I had to stand: getting to the valley thus turned into yet another adventure.
Things to do in Colombia: ride on the back of a jeep
Once in Cocora, most people rent wellies. I surely did and I highly recommend it, along with carrying a good rain jacket as it does rain a lot there! Visitors then embark on a difficult, muddy hike that offers gorgeous views of the spectacular palma de cera (wax palms), some of which are as tall as 70 meters.
Things to do in Colombia: renting wellies to go on a hike in Valle de Cocora
What I loved the most about it was that it really looked like a tropical kind of Switzerland – weird and amazing at the same time. Everything is green – many different shades of green. There are cows happily chewing grass everywhere. And there is a thick fog that covers the palm trees and the mountains, giving it a mysterious aura. It just is magical. A tiring hike (imagine getting deep in the mud!), but definitely one of the most amazing things to do in Colombia.
Valle de Cocora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia
There is one main path that takes hikers to the beautiful hummingbird reserve (there is an admission fee of about 2 dollars which includes a drink), where it is possible to spot thousands of hummingbirds zipping by. On the way back, it is possible to also take an alternative path that takes visitors closer to the palm trees and to the Finca de la Montaña, where Don Luis Alberto and his family will give them a warm welcome and a good cup of coffee and from where the entire valley can be admired.
How to get to Salento
From Bogota, it is possible to take a bus to Pereira or Armenia. It takes about 9 hours to drive the 350 km, as the road cuts through the mountains and thus it is curvy; there is also lot of traffic. However the views are spectacular. It is best to carry some motion sickness tablets. I definitely needed them. Once in Armenia or Pereira, a local bus will take about an hour to reach Salento.
Where to sleep, eat and drink
There are many hostels in town, some better than others. I enjoyed my stay at Hotel Las Palmas, a family run guesthouse whose owner is a lovely, caring lady. Breakfast is included in the price and all rooms have a private bathroom with good hot showers. There are also two lovely cats in the house, which to me is always a bonus.
During the weekend, I ate in one of the many stalls in the main square. Otherwise, a good option is La Funda de los Arreiros. The local specialty is trout, which can be prepared in many ways and is usually served with a huge patacon (fried plantain, which here is pressed to make it thin and crispy). The local trout gave me a good break from the otherwise slightly monotonous food I ended up having while traveling.
For a drink, I went to Billar Danubio Hall. It really can’t be missed: located on the main shopping street, this is a huge bar with many pool tables, and is packed with locals playing pool, sipping beer or aguardiente and singing famous Colombian traditional songs. At some point while there I was the only woman in the entire bar. But everybody was so friendly that it never was a problem.
Colombia tourist attractions: Salento
Looking for more places to visit in Colombia? Click here.
Click for a more detailed Colombia Travel Guide.
Colombia is a huge country, and it is much more than the old cliches of narco-trafficking and kidnapping. As the Lonely Planet describes it, it is a great cocktail consisting of caribbean atmosphere, the great mountains and glaciars of the Andes, the Amazon, the unique Tatacoa desert, cloud forest, colonial cities, indigenous, Afro-descendants and European cultures, and colourful and friendly people. Top all of this with a great, relaxed atmosphere and here is the perfect place. One could spend months travelling around the country, and still feel unfinished and wanting to explore more. Furthermore, some of the places to visit in Colombia are so isolated that no roads get there. Leticia – the main starting point for a visit of the Amazon basin – can only be reached by plane.
Why San Gil is among the places to visit in Colombia
By all means, I know I am an adventure seeker, and I know I have a choice of about a million places to visit in Colombia. But, since I was looking for some of the great Colombia tourist attractions combined with fun sports, I headed to San Gil. This is definitely THE place for extreme sports and I could easily fill up my days there with all sorts of activities, from rafting to rappelling, torrentismo (rappelling down a waterfall), horse riding, paragliding, caving, mountain biking, and so much more.
The best thing to do for me, since I didn’t want to burn all my energies was to alternate any of these extreme activities with quieter ones such as swimming in natural pools (such as the Pozo Azul), visiting the nearby waterfalls (Cascadas de Juan Curi) and going on easy, nearby hikes. Although San Gill is small city, it gave me a pleasant and authentic Colombian feel and it is not crowded with travelers. I could enjoy its atmosphere fully during the day, at the local market, or after sunset, when the locals meet for evening drinks in the main square, children happily run around, and everybody is up for a chat.
Things to do in Colombia: go mountain biking with Colombian Bike Junkies
Among the things to do in Colombia, there is some great rafting. Many companies in San Gil organise whitewater rafting excursions. Unexperienced rafters may prefer opting for the easier Rio Fonce – with rafts of grades 1 to 3.
I was in the mood for something more challenging, so I opted for the Rio Suarez: around 30 dollars for a full day (about 6 hours in total and snacks included, consisting of fresh fruit, local cheese, crisps and drinks). Colombia Rafting Expeditions is the most reliable company in town. I was picked up from my hostel and driven (about one hour drive) to the starting point.
The English speaking guides are very experienced, and did everything to make my day memorable. After a briefing on safety measures, we started rafting down the river. We all got soaking wet, we got the chance to swim in the river carried away by the current, and we even had to get to shore to hike up for a while, and even jumping off cliffs. The only low point is that there is nobody taking pictures for the rafters, so I would advise to carry a waterproof camera.
Things to do in Colombia: go rafting with Colombia Rafting Expeditions
Another one of the things to do in Colombia is mountain biking. Mountain bike tours near San Gil go through the Chicamocha Canyon and they allowed me to visit the beautiful Barichara, an immaculately renovated city of white-washed buildings and stone streets, with a beautiful cathedral and a gorgeous and airy main plaza, which is definitely one of the places to visit in Colombia.
Places to visit in Colombia: Barichara
The best company running the tour is Colombian Bike Junkies. It is based out of the restaurant Gringo Mike’s, which is also the meeting point. The trip lasts all day (by which I mean ALL day – do not expect to be back before dark!), it costs around 60 dollars. Ok, that is not cheap but it possibly is the best and most fun among the things to do in Colombia and it is worth saving on other things to embark on this adventure.
Colombia Bike Junkies is reliable, the bikes are in excellent state, and it is organised to the point that when I booked the tour, I was even asked where I wanted to have the front and back breaks, and even a meal preference (yes: a delicious lunch, snacks such as fresh fruit and home baked cookies and water are all included, as well as a “well done” beer after finishing) and my size, as at the end of the day I was given a t-shirt that will always remind me of this great adventure.
There was a very good guide at the front, ready to help with any problems and to give instructions and advice on the technicalities of the path; as well as a guide at the back, driving a jeep and carrying any equipment that may needed to fix bikes on the road, including flat tires. And, to top things off, I didn’t have to worry about taking pictures as the two guides took plenty of shots in key points and moments and shared them with participants. Look at me in full motion:
Things to do in Colombia: mountain biking!
The 50 km trip will be tiring: going downhill is challenging for non-expert mountain bikers, yet it is a lot of fun. After the lunch break, the path is an easier (in technical terms!), slightly uphill 16 km road.
By the time I got to the finishing point, I was dusty, sweaty, dirty and, most importantly, happy and accomplished and that beer tasted oh so good!
What do to in Colombia: become a Colombian Bike Junkie
Where to sleep and eat in San Gil:
Open House Hostel in San Gil is an excellent option for backpackers. It is very close to the main plaza: it is clean, quiet, and it has nice, comfortable beds, an airy common area and very well equipped kitchen and a nice backyard. My humble advice is to cook at the hostel, as, other than Gringo Mike’s, there aren’t many good options to eat in town and the market sells lovely fresh vegetables and fruit.
How to get to San Gil:
San Gil can be reached by bus from pretty much anywhere in Colombia. There are night buses from Cartagena (the trip lasts 17 hours and goes through Barranquilla); there are regular buses to and from Bogotà (8 hours, around 17 dollars), Medellin (11 hours, around 30 dollars) and Bucaramanga (2 hours), which is the closest airport.
Looking for more things to do in Colombia?
My first stop in Argentina was its incredible capital Buenos Aires. I loved walking around, visiting its museums and galleries, its parks, the area of Puerto Madero with its Calatrava bridge, Recoleta, Caminito and San Telmo. I tasted the great food – in particular the asado – in the many good restaurants; and I enjoyed a day trip at Delta del Tigre. I then flew to Trelew, from which I reached Puerto Madryn, a good place to start visits of Peninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo – where I saw the incredible wildlife.
A long bus journey from Puerto Madryn took me to El Calafate. There, I froze while awing and the spectacular glaciar Perito Moreno, I hiked the Estancia Cristina from which I saw the Uppsala glacier, and from which I reached the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in Chile.
I then flew to Iguazu, from which I visited the magnificent Iguazu waterfalls, from both the Brasilian side and the Argentinian side. My next stop was Salta, from which I went to spend an incredible adventure day rafting and ziplining. I then rented a car and drove to the Quebrada de Humahuaca, stopping at Salinas Grandes, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and the lively Tilcara. This was my last stop before heading back to Buenos Aires and flying back to Italy.
For more posts about Argentina, click here.
Unfortunately, I could only spend 10 days in Ecuador and I was sick while I was there, so could not travel around too much. I think this is a country that deserves more than 10 days, as it has many attractions.
My first stop was Otavalo, where I eagerly shopped at its famous market and enjoyed seeing people dressed in traditional clothes, men wearing hats and trisas, and everybody proudly displayed his identity. I also went to the nearby city of Cotacachi, which is only a 30 minutes bus ride away.
My only other stop was Quito, the capital, whose hystorical centre I found really well preserved and where I visited the Plaza Grande, the Palacio del Gobierno, the Cathedral and the Monasterio de San Francisco and Museo Franciscano.
I then took a 10 hours bus ride to Guayaquil, where I stopped for one night en route to Peru. I was glad I was not spending more time in Guayaquil. It was terribly hot (and a shock, coming from the chilly and rainy Otavalo and Quito), and the entire city was infested with cockroaches – I am really afraid of them, as you can read on this post.
Here you can find more posts about Ecuador.