12 secrets to getting
the best travel deal -- Page 2
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.
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
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.
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.
Choose an alternative airport close to your destination
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.
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.
last-minute bargains can be found, too. Most of the major airlines publish bargain
fares on Wednesdays for travel the coming weekend. SmarterLiving.com
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.
Travel agents know the cruise business
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.
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
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,"
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.
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 SideStep.com or BookingBuddy.com to
compare your options.
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.
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."