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8 steps to run a successful flash sale

8 steps to run a successful flash sale

Posted by Jon Fauver
Aug 5, 2015
6 min read

This article has been updated in 2023 to include more updated examples and references.

A well-executed flash sale is a great technique for tourism-related companies to increase direct bookings, build brand reputation, and reach new customers. Why should you run a flash sale? The simple answer is because flash sales work! 

They are a time-tested method of driving more people to your business and getting them to purchase your product. What is the best marketed flash sale in the world?  Hands down it's the North American tradition of “Black Friday.” 

Many of you might (rightfully) scoff at the consumer driven mobs crashing through security, breaking down doors and scrambling for the chance to buy the next “must have” material object. Scoff all you want, but let’s be honest, you would love to see that kind of purchasing frenzy on your own website.

Flash sales work just as well for travel as they do for toys and electronic gadgets. A well-run flash sale is a great way for tour and activity companies to Kick-Off the beginning of the season and boost their brand, attract new customers, build customer loyalty, launch a new trip or product, or fill up empty trips during the off-season.

Giving large discounts is a way to pay it forward to your customers and earn their love. When you get people in the buying mood, they are more likely to book more than just the discounted trips. Most people don’t travel alone, so if someone scores a discounted seat on your trip, there is a good chance they will bring a friend who will book at full price.


What does it take to run a successful flash sale?

1. What is the goal of your flash sale?

Start with clearly defining what you want to accomplish with your Flash Sale. We all want more bookings, but it is important to decide what kind of bookings you want to generate.

Is this a season start sale? If so you probably want to get as many people booked on trips in the immediate future who will then become return customers and/or brand ambassadors that will spread the word (boost your TripAdvisor ranking).

  • Did you just launch a new trip and want to get the word out?
  • Do you want to move guests from busy days of the week and give them an incentive to book on days you are not busy?
  • Is your goal to build business during your low season?

Decide on one goal, and run one sale, with one message to achieve that goal. Stay focused.


2. Keep it simple

Don’t over complicate your sale, your goal is to get bums on seats. Sales that make the customers jump through hoops and perform complicated tasks to earn a discount have their place, but they won’t generate the hype that you are trying to achieve with a flash sale. But feel free to add a simple fun factor or game to keep people engaged.


3. Define your target group

Be very clear which customers you want to target. There is no right or wrong way here, but the better you understand who the sale is targeted to, the better you can focus messaging. This will depend on your existing customer base. The more focused the target group, the easier it will be to develop the message and the hype.

Discover who your customers are with these articles:


4. Choose the right time and date

Learn and research a specific time that your target group is ready to spend money. It can be anything from a holiday to the start of football season. Try timing it right before a big event happening in your area that is popular amongst tourists. Piggyback on major players who are already marketed your destination for multi-day events, then target to capture some of their guests for day trips.

For example: offer a limited discount for anyone attending conference X, sporting event Y, or concert Z. This lets you take advantage of other keywords to boost your message. Look for times when other companies are also making a large hype OR look for times when NO other company is making any hype. Both will work depending on your target group and message.

Keep the time window short and concise. Don't run a 3-day sale. Your goal is to create a sense of urgency and "I can't miss out.” Another very important rule when running flash sales - keep them special! Don’t run a new sale every single week, keep each sale unique, time them to boost your brand at the right moments to ensure customers don’t get bored of a repetitive message.


5. Offer significant savings

The discounts you are offering should be something people will want to “stand in line overnight for”. Flash sales work because you are giving something back to your customers. 10-20% discounts are boring and blaaah. You want to offer enough that if everyone booked at that price you would go bankrupt, however, limit the availability. You will find that as the hype is rolling, you will generate as many or even more full-price bookings during a flash sale than you do for discounted seats.

Don’t underestimate the power of FOMO.



6. Build the hype - cultivate a team of ambassadors and invest in an SEM boost

Hold off on announcements until the last minute. You will need to fine tune this depending on your target market and the message of your flash sale. Your goal is to announce it early enough for you to advertise the sale and build the hype, but not so early that you start cutting into your normal bookings because people are waiting for the sale. When it comes time to announce the sale, go hard and don’t hold back.

Hopefully, you've cultivated a team of ambassadors and agents who can help you organically spread the word. Announce it on every social media channel you have and via emails. Invest in a short term, well targeted SEM campaign. Make sure your plan and budget to market your flash sale is in place early. Saving money and time here will kill your sale and waste the effort you put into building it. Social media should be a key focus of your sale as it is the ideal place to announce and engage with your customers.


7. Actively monitor your sales and engage with your customers

Make sure you have a team on deck during the sale that is well briefed about the sale itself, the deals available and are able to answer questions about all your trips. Use Facebook and Twitter to actively engage with customers during the sale. Keep the conversation going, respond to questions, and problems. The team handling your sale needs to be able to relate to the target customer group on their level and engage with them accordingly.




8. Be clear in your terms of service and the rules of the sale

Make sure you update your Terms of Service to include how you want to handle sale bookings. Are they refundable or transferable? Are there any limitations? Be clear and transparent to ensure everyone who books a trip at a discounted price understands the limitations. You should also be prepared to handle some complaints due to buyer's remorse in the days following the sale. “I booked a trip for Wednesday but I thought I was booking a trip for Saturday” is not uncommon. Have a plan in mind on how your team will deal with the complaints and requests to change times or dates.

A flash sale is a deal between you and the customer, you are offering a significantly reduced ticket and they are agreeing to buy it with the limitations attached. Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns and stand behind your TOS, but always try to keep the customer happy.


How can TrekkSoft help you run a great flash sale?

TrekkSoft has a number of tools and features that will help you run a successful flash sale.

Variable pricing and yield management (special prices)

How do budget airlines sell €10 tickets? They use variable pricing and yield management to sell different seats on different dates, optimising the distribution of their bookings.

TrekkSoft gives you a simple to use set of tools to do the same thing. Using the scheduling, price categories and special prices tools you can create a trip calendar that offers different prices on different seats on different trips. This is a great way of offering a limited number of discounted seats on specific trips.


Discount codes and agent codes

TrekkSoft makes it simple for you to create discount codes to offer discounts on trips. When customers enter it during the booking process, they receive a discount on the cost of their trip. You can create an unlimited number of discount codes, and these codes can be limited to specific tours and/or limited to a number of uses.

Discount codes can also be assigned to an agent or promoter as a way to incentivise these brand ambassadors help you spread the word about your sale. The detailed reporting let’s you track how many times each gift code was used and on what bookings. If a gift code is attached to an ambassador, the reporting tool allows both you and the agent to track bookings and commission owed.


Gift Cards

Gift Cards have a fixed cash value and are used as a type of payment during the checkout process. Vouchers are great as rewards for flash sales that involve an element of gamification. For example "earn €50 off any trip" could be a great reward for a contest style flash sale, and is easily managed with the TrekkSoft Voucher system. 


Running a Flash Sale can be an easy way for your company to get a boost of bookings and is a great tool to add to your Marketing Toolbox. Don’t get discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t generate the Black Friday mob, like all things with social media and developing your brand, you need to build it over time. Our recommendation, plan one, try one, evaluate the results and then try again. Each time will result in an increase in bookings, and an increase in your fanbase.

When you do get it right, the results of a Flash Sale can be amazing. Some companies using TrekkSoft have had sales that generated well over 1000 passengers and €150,000 in bookings in just 12 hours. And since it’s online, no one got trampled during the stampede. Good luck and have fun with it!


Jon Fauver
Posted by Jon Fauver
Jon is Co-founder of TrekkSoft. He is also Co-founder of Outdoor Interlaken AG and Co-owner of Bus2Alps, Europe's leading student travel provider. Before this, Jon was a trip leader for Equator Expeditions.
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