Caitlin Richelson was looking to save on a plane ticket to Puerto Rico for spring break. Richelson, a senior at Leslie University in Massachusetts, perused a handful of travel web sites and found StudentUniverse.com, which verified her student status and saved her $40 on a $300 roundtrip ticket.
"Most students spend a lot of time looking around [on the internet] for a deal, but [StudentUniverse] is definitely one you have to look at," said Richelson, 21. "It’s important to students to find some kind of deal … so it’s worth it to look around this site."
StudentUniverse, a Massachusetts-based site launched in 2000, offers deals on airfare and vacation packages for college students and faculty members. The web site verifies that users are, in fact, students or professors–using a college-based eMail address–and offers access to travel prices StudentUniverse officials have negotiated with major airlines.
Atle Skalleberg, head of research and marketing for StudentUniverse, said the site has drawn more students and faculty members in the past year, as personal and school budgets have tightened in a slumping economy.
StudentUniverse is not only designed for students booking their spring break or summer getaway trips, but also the many back-and-forth trips students make every year to visit family for holidays, birthdays, and other events, Skalleberg said. It also could save schools money on faculty trips to conferences and speaking appearances.
"It is a solid resource for them to save some money," he said, adding that the average student saves 14 percent on airfare. "We’re not pretending to always be cheaper, but we’re a resource people should be aware of."
A 2007 survey underwritten by StudentUniverse showed that, although student spending on travel eclipses $20 billion every year, the costs are usually an "unplanned expense," meaning airfare, gas money, and bus tickets are not taken into account. The study surveyed 896 students on campuses across the country and found the average student spends $1,200 on travel annually.
Fifty-six percent of college students surveyed said their travel costs were for traveling from home to school and back, 47 percent said spring break, and 40 percent said travel costs included trips during Thanksgiving break.
"With that much travel, the costs can quickly add up," said Anand Rajaratnam, head of research and marketing for StudentUniverse.
More than half of students in the survey–57 percent–said they paid travel expenses without assistance from their parents. Fifteen percent of students said they had studied abroad, and 25 percent of respondents said they would travel more if they had more money for travel expenses.
StudentUniverse officials said the service differs from other travel sites offering special deals for college students, because a user must prove he or she is a current student. Deals on most other sites are available to anyone with an internet connection.
"Other companies jump on that wagon," Skalleberg said, "but a lot of students see through it."
StudentUniverse announced this month that students and faculty will have a new search option this summer with the launch of FarePlay, which allows visitors to scan discounted airfares according to the kind of trip they’re planning for. For instance, if a student or professor wants to search for plane tickets to the most popular European destinations, FarePlay filters those options. Other FarePlay searches include cheap destinations, popular Asian cities, backpacking, and study abroad.
"Where most other travel sites assume that people know exactly where they want to travel, we realize that students know what they want to do but do not necessarily know where to find it," Skalleberg said.