Friday, November 8, 2013

Secrets to Save on Travel

Yahoo! Finance asked industry insiders and travel web site editors to weigh in with their top tips and smartest strategies for getting good deals on airfares, cruises, hotels and vacation packages. See their responses below.

Currently I am on the watch for some cheap flights back to Houston from Chicago. When we booked our flight to Europe using our rewards miles we were able to get a free flight in first class TO Chicago but not back (go figure, but it’s because they want you to use this on your actual trip not as a bonus trip). Let me know if you have any tips!


AIRFARES
1) Fly when no one else wants to. Fares rise and fall with air traffic -- so says the law of supply and demand. In general, plan to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday afternoon to bag a cheaper plane ticket. If you're taking a week long domestic trip, depart on a Saturday and return on a Monday and you'll score a 16% discount on your airfare, according to Kayak.com. For week long international trips, departing on Tuesday and returning on Wednesday of the following week saves 21%, on average.

We do this all the time since we don’t have kids yet and don’t have to worry about their school schedules. And my friend visiting from Norway did exactly what is said above; she arrived on a Thursday and is leaving on a Wednesday.

2) Be flexible about where you go. You can use Kayak's Explore tool to pinpoint on a world map all the destinations you can visit within your airfare budget.

I did not know this but its SUPER awesome!

3) Use Kayak.com to quickly scan hundreds of travel web sites for the cheapest airfares. Check fares on Southwest.com separately because Kayak doesn't include fares for the budget airline.

4) Sign up for airlines' free e-mail alerts to get sale notifications and coupon codes delivered straight to your in-box. Or follow airlines and alert sites, such as Airfarewatchdog, on Twitter. Not only do you get first dibs on flash sales, but you also develop a point of reference to recognize good deals.

5) Make sure you're buying at the right time with Bing Travel's "price predictor." Just enter your itinerary, and the site will return a list of fares with a recommendation to either buy now -- because it expects the fare to rise -- or wait for a soon-to-come fare drop. And note that domestic airfares are cheapest seven weeks before departure, according to CheapAir, an airfare booking site. 

6) If you're booking a last-minute flight, consider buying a vacation package. Online travel agencies lock in lower fares early and combine them with cheap hotel stays. At the eleventh hour, when fares may spike elsewhere, these bundles may cost less than purchasing the flight alone.

When booking trips to Hawaii we have learned that it’s best to book through a travel agent. We use AAA and we always get a $50 voucher to use for activities or excursions.

7) Get a deal on extras. Several airlines have introduced new ways of bundling fees. For example, Delta's $21 "Ascend" package includes in-flight Wi-Fi and priority boarding. American Airlines' $68 "Choice Essential" package includes a checked bag, a reservation change and Group 1 boarding.

8) Keep an eye on fares, even after you book. You have the right to change or cancel your flight plans for free within 24 hours of booking, thanks to rules introduced by the Department of Transportation in 2012. So if you find a better fare within that window, you can snatch the savings with no penalty. After 24 hours, if you find your booked fare has dropped, some airlines may be willing to refund you the difference. Use Yapta.com to track any price changes on nine major airlines and score any cash back you deserve. 

9) Avoid the extra baggage fees that most airlines charge. Southwest continues to allow two free checked bags; JetBlue permits one.

We have the MileagePlus credit card with Chase; it allows us each one free bag, priority boarding and access into the United Club.

HOTELS
10) Go off-season -- an especially savvy strategy if you select a destination that's designed for large peak-season crowds. Desperate to fill rooms, hotels will slash rates or throw in perks, such as free Wi-Fi or spa credits. For example, consider business or convention hotels after the suits have departed for the weekend and beach resorts in the spring (after spring break) or fall.

11) Book directly through a hotel's web site. Many places offer lower rates for online booking. You can also sign up to get hotels' e-mails about special promotions and discounts. Just remember the lowest rates are usually prepaid and non-refundable. If you think your plans might change, you'll have to pay the higher, more flexible rates.

12) Double down on tip number five and be flexible to save on a high-class stay. Private-sale sites, such as JetSetter.com, offer deep discounts on luxury hotels for a limited time. But the destinations are random and most sites only offer a few deals at a time. 

13) Book blind for rock-bottom rates. The "Priceline Negotiator" and Hotwire.com's "Hot Rates" can cut up to 50% off regular hotel rates. With either site, you specify your length of stay, preferred neighborhood and a guaranteed minimum star class. But you won't know the exact hotel or location until after you pay -- an especially big risk when visiting unfamiliar areas, particularly overseas. (Blind booking works fine for car rentals, too; a sedan is a sedan is a sedan. But it's a bigger gamble for flights because you won't know exact departure times or airlines.)

14) Keep an eye on lodging rates, even after you book. If you see a lower rate on the same type of room at your hotel, call the front desk and see if they'll match it. Tingo.com specializes in this kind of cash-back courtesy -- if you book a "Money Back" room through the site, it will track the hotel's rates and automatically refund you if the price drops.

15) Fight the fees. Call your hotel to confirm an online reservation -- especially if you booked at the last minute -- and check to see whether you're being charged additional fees. Hotels may be willing to waive fees, especially for frequent visitors or rewards-program members. Also, request a copy of your bill the night before you check out so that you have time to dispute any extra charges.

I agree with getting your bill the night before, on our first trip to Hawaii I should have asked to have some charges removed because they were a bit ridiculous but I was ready to go home and didn’t want to deal with it.

16) Switch hotels mid stay. Say you're booking a hotel for a five-night stay starting on Saturday night. If Saturday and Sunday are more expensive than Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you'll typically pay for all five nights at the highest price. Consider switching hotels midway through your trip if you can find a comparable hotel for a cheaper weekday rate.

17) Visit the concierge. You'll get the inside scoop on discount theater tickets, two-for-one restaurant deals and other entertainment. Or get help before you check in. Travelocity offers free concierge service if you book vacation packages through its site. Expedia offers "Local Experts" to give advice on popular vacation destinations. And Room 77, a hotel aggregator start-up, offers concierge service to help you locate the right room at three- to five-star hotels. 

VACATION PACKAGES
18) Online travel agencies Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz are well known for their bundled bargains. But don't forget to check packages offered by airlines, such as United Vacations and Southwest Vacations. And some smaller travel operators can pack in big savings. For example, Apple Vacations often offers some of the sweetest deals, and Gate 1 Travel sends a regular e-mail newsletter with its latest vacation packages.

19) Use your frequent-flier miles. You can book bundles directly through air carriers, such as American Airlines and Delta, and use frequent-flier miles to pay. Even AAA offers its own member-exclusive travel packages. Or check out packages on daily deal sites at Groupon and LivingSocial. Their offerings range from weekend trips to guided tours.

We did this for our upcoming trip to Europe!

20) Seek all-inclusive deals to pay just once for your whole vacation -- including lodging, food, drinks and activities (making it easier to stay within your budget, especially if you're traveling with children).

21) Price it a la carte. To see if a package makes sense, research prices for all of the elements before you commit. For example, a cruise package typically charges per person for hotel rooms at the port of departure. See whether you would save by reserving a double-occupancy room outside of the package. If you can, consider dumping the package or opting out of the hotel portion.





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