Five tips for finding
cheap travel deals
With a flood of travel offers out there, folks looking
for deals may end up slogging through an information quagmire. Here
are five short cuts to the best bargains online and off.
Having a few travel days and times in mind can
mean a big difference in savings. For instance, many airlines' Web
sites post last-minute Internet-only air fares every Wednesday. These
dirt-cheap deals typically require you to book by Saturday and return
the next Tuesday.
"Being flexible -- that is one of the absolute keys
to getting available seats. You're assuring yourself better seats
and better flights," says Bette LaGow, managing editor of special
publications at Consumer
Get a heads-up on deals
The second biggest tip is to watch for air fare
sales, explains Daniel Saul, president and editor of SmarterLiving.com,
a consumer travel-deal site based in Cambridge, Mass. "Every month
there's a large fare sale, and almost every day there's a minor
SmarterLiving.com's newsletter notifies subscribers
of travel sales weekly. When these hot fares come out, jump on them
because tickets are limited.
Even if fare-war bargains are gone, you still may
be able to snag a cheap ticket. During an air fare war the unconfirmed,
unpaid reservations are cleared out of an airline's reservation
system at midnight and no longer show up on computer terminals,
LaGow says. Call the airline's headquarters, and ask if there are
any sale fares left.
To keep you informed about the latest deals, many
airlines and travel Web sites offer weekly notifications of deals.
Some sites offer as much as a 10 percent discount on Internet-only
These e-savers offer great savings, but don't use
them if you need to travel on a particular weekend because the routes
change every week and the number of seats is limited, Saul says.
If you must get there on a certain day, book in advance instead
of getting burned when your route doesn't appear that week in the
last-minute deal newsletter.
Several travel sites, including Travelocity.com
with its Fare Watcher and Expedia.com
with its Fare Tracker, notify users of air fare deals. LastMinuteTravel.com
Inc., with its My Travel Minder, gives you e-mail updates on
deals on items you request, such as air fare, hotels, packages and
Travel on the shoulder
The two-to-four-week period that falls before
or after the peak season is called the "shoulder season." It is
a time when you will be able to avoid the crowds in popular vacation
spots, but still enjoy the local flavor and weather. Consumer Reports'
LaGow says you can save 25 percent to 30 percent if you vacation
during this time.
"When looking at the shoulder season you should look
at the hotel rates and car rental rates. This is where you're going
to have the savings," she says.
Ask for a bargain
Call the airline directly to get a benchmark
price. But LaGow warns that if something sounds good, it may have
Charlie Leocha, author of Travel Rights, says
he found the lowest fare to Spain for his family by calling the
airline. He finds the Web a tedious place to look for low fares.
Once you're on a site, he says, all the competition
"They present to you what they have available," Leocha says. He
maintains that talking to a travel agent is still one of the best
ways to find a bargain. Now that airlines have capped travel agents'
commissions, some agents charge a fee. So LaGow recommends asking
travel agents upfront about their fees and their alliances with
hotel chains or airlines.
"The basic rule is if you have an airline reservation
ask point-blank, 'What is the lower air fare for this market?'" Leocha
says. "Then ask them, "What's the closest we can come to that for
my given travel days?'" The reservations agent may tell you that
you can save more money by going on a different day or time.
Know the restrictions and fees
Find out what strings are attached before you
bite at a tempting travel offer.
"Know what you're buying. It sounds obvious, but it's
often not," Saul says. Taxes could raise the price of your ticket
by 50 percent. He suggests asking what the fees are, and whether
tax is included, and whether you can change your ticket if you need
There may be restrictions on discount tickets bought
through consolidators who buy airline tickets in bulk and sell them
at a discount.
The problem with consolidator tickets is that, if
you miss a flight, you might have to wait for the next consolidator
flight. And some consolidators may not allow you to use frequent
LaGow says the Web is a quick and easy way to see
what's out there, but some travel sites need to do a better job
of disclosing charges. It is difficult to find the fees on some
sites. For instance, buying an e-ticket, which leaves you with only
a confirmation number to present upon check-in, may be convenient,
but it can cost $7 to $30 more than a comparable hard-copy ticket.
-- Updated: Feb. 12, 2003