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12 secrets to getting the best travel deal -- Page 2

4. Be flexible with travel dates and times
"By changing your travel dates even a day or two, you can save hundreds of dollars on your ticket," advises Douglas.

And, it's easy to compare deals online. "Orbitz, an online travel agency, America West, a low-fare carrier based in Phoenix, Song, the low-cost Delta subsidiary and Southwest Airlines each offer flexible search options," explains Douglas. "With these new features you can streamline your search to more quickly find the cheapest fares."

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Flying on less-traveled days like Tuesdays and Wednesdays may be less expensive than flying Saturday or Sunday. Traveling at off-hours may save you money. The less-filled 6 a.m. flight can be a bargain.

5. No frill flying
Smaller airlines can often mean lower fares. You don't need to book with the "legacy carriers" -- Delta, American, United, US Airways, Continental and Northwest -- to guarantee safety or comfort.

"Small airlines don't necessarily fly small planes," says Douglas. "There's no reason to shy away from them because of concerns over comfort or safety."

JetBlue, AirTran and Spirit are just three of the smaller low-fare carriers whose fortunes soared in 2003. Added this year are Song, Ted -- United's entry into the field -- and Independence Air, based in Washington, D.C.

For travel in Europe, consider checking with Ryan Air, Europe by Air and Easyjet.

6. Choose an alternative airport close to your destination
Planning a trip to Miami's South Beach? The fares to nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport are often cheaper than Miami International Airport, suggests McNaull.

If San Francisco is your destination, Oakland is a good option. To Chicago, check out Midway. If you're going to Boston, compare costs to Providence, R.I., or Manchester, N.H. If you're on your way to Hollywood, Calif., Long Beach or Burbank might offer better fares.

The savings may surprise you and be well worth the little extra driving time, say the experts.

7. Plan ahead
Whether you're booking a rental car or buying airline tickets, the further in advance you book your trip, the better the deal you'll find. Booking a trip three weeks out is cheaper than two weeks out which is cheaper than seven days out. Book six weeks or more in advance if you're headed to a popular destination during a busy time of year, adds McNaull.

Conversely, last-minute bargains can be found, too. Most of the major airlines publish bargain fares on Wednesdays for travel the coming weekend. publishes a last-minute air fare newsletter for 81 different cities around the country that goes out to its registered users on Wednesdays. It publishes a general travel alert on Thursdays and also has specific newsletters that cater to different demographic groups such as seniors, students and frequent fliers.

8. Travel agents know the cruise business
"Travel agents that specialize in cruises get generous commissions from the cruise lines," says Brian Major, director of public relations for Cruise Line International Association, a trade organization representing 90 percent of the world's cruise lines.

"Cruising is a different kind of vacation. A travel agent can best fit the right cruise to the consumer," he says.

The agent is aware of the type of foods served, the kind of people who travel a line, where the ship stops and what activities are available. All of these variables can make or break the cruising experience.

"If the travel agency sells a high volume for a particular cruise line, they often are rewarded with more perks for their customers. Upgraded cabins, shore excursions, even cruise insurance can sometimes be part of a package without additional cost to the consumer.

"Working with a travel agent who is a cruise expert can often make the difference between a satisfying cruise experience and an unsatisfying one -- as well as save you money," adds Major.

9. Trip insurance is a good bet
"Buying trip insurance is a smart investment," says Jim Sweat, managing director of travel agency services for the AAA's Auto Club South.

"You want to tailor the insurance to your personal needs," he says. Travel insurance can cover trip cancellation, trip interruptions or delays, medical emergencies, lost luggage, accidental death, financial default of tour operators, airlines or cruise lines and terrorist incidents. But not all policies cover all situations. As a consumer, you need to know what the insurance covers and read the fine print.

For instance, some policies allow you to cancel a trip for any reason, but have a 48- to 72-hour blackout period just before a trip starts. That may be just the time when you have to make the decision on whether to cancel. Be sure to check the policy to see if it covers cancellation for any emergency reason, not just an illness to you. A close relative or a co-worker may get sick, forcing you to cancel your vacation.

If you are cruising, insurance can be especially helpful. "What if airline delays cause you to miss your cruise departure? Insurance would cover the cost of getting to the next port to pick up your cruise ship," says Sweat.

The cost of insurance usually adds between 3 percent and 10 percent to the cost of the trip, depending on the coverage.

10. Tricks for saving on car rental
Don't dismiss purchasing insurance from the rental company. Check with your auto insurer to make certain your coverage is sufficient. If you have an accident, it may be more than a dent that you're paying for, says Sweat. "You could get hit with lost-use costs," he says. Some auto insurance companies and credit card companies will not pay for the down time of a rental car.

Rent the smallest car practical for your use. Not only will you save on the rental, but on gas, too. Plus, you could be upgraded to the next level without additional costs, says McNaull.

"Rental car companies want customers to be happy. They're in the business of making money and they know a satisfied customer is more likely to be a repeat customer. The small cost of putting you into a bigger car is more than made up for by brand affinity. It's even worth asking for when you're at the rental counter," McNaull says.

Compare costs at an off-airport rental location. Offices in the city or suburbs near the airport may be several dollars per day less because they may not need to tack on franchise and concession fees charged at airport terminals.

Fill the rental car up yourself before returning it. But don't fill up at the gas station nearest the car rental return lot, cautions McNaull. You're a captive audience there, and you'll pay more than at a station a couple of miles away.

If you need special equipment such as a car seat or a bike or ski rack, you're best dealing with the individual rental company's Web site or phone reservations line. Be wary that prices on extra equipment and additional drivers vary greatly among rental companies. For some equipment, being a member of an organization can save you money. Hertz offers free car seats for AAA members.

11. Never stop bargaining
Always explore the possibility of lower hotel rates. And, once you arrive at your hotel, inquire about upgrades or special offers. If you are a member of any organization such as AARP or AAA, ask about discounts for members. Once you've booked a reservation you can still check around for a better deal with the security of a confirmed reservation. Be sure to check the individual hotel's cancellation policies in case you find that better deal. Some hotels allow you to cancel up to 4 p.m. or even 6 p.m. on the day of arrival, others require 24-hour notice. You can use or to compare your options.

12. Sign up for hotel and airlines awards programs
For some hotel chains, as little as 10 days' stay in the course of a year will get you an upgrade. You earn perks such as a free night's stay, free continental breakfast or access to the concierge lounge for a wine and cheese reception.

Always participate in airline frequent-flier programs. You'd be surprised how quickly the frequent-flier miles can add up to a free ticket, especially when paired with many nonairline partners such as long distance carriers, car rental companies and credit cards.

"It's a lot of fun to find the great deals," notes Douglas. "You just have to look for them."


-- Posted: May 7, 2004




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