Although summer prices are higher than ever, with flight fares averaging more than 13 percent higher than last summer, don’t give up on your summer vacation just yet. Now is the time to try harder and use every trick in the book to search for your summer savings. You can salvage that summer trip yet.
First of all, allow me to clarify, packages do not mean prepackaged tours that force an itinerary on you. On the contrary, the kind of packages I’m talking about allow you to choose every component along the way. You select your airline and flight times, your hotel and even the room type, you select your car, and can even add in things like theme park tickets. So what’s the benefit of shopping this way, aside from the freedom of total choice? Packages grant access to discounted pricing that you simply cannot get when you’re buying these items on your own, or as I say, a la carte. A family of four can save a few hundred dollars on these kinds of packages, sometimes even more.
Another thing I like to explain about packages is that they’re good for every level of traveler. Just because you like luxury doesn’t mean you don’t like to save. You can find four- and five-star hotels in these packages, too. There should never be any guesswork in a good package. Go for what you want and compare the package against the individual items.
Here’s an example: Fly from Dallas to Maui, buying now and traveling at the end of the summer or in the fall, and you can get a package price for seven nights air plus hotel totaling $3,325 for two people. I know that sounds like a lot, but compare it to the a la carte total for air and hotel separately, where the air portion alone costs over $3,000. The average savings per person in this case is $1,190.
You’re smart enough to look at alternative airports and you’re probably willing to leave at a different time of day if that means savings. But I’m talking about thinking even more widely. Rather than leaving on Friday night after work for your vacation, instead, leave on the first flight out Saturday morning and maximize your time in a destination. Likewise, on the day of your departure, rather than leaving early, request a late check-out and leave your bags with the bellhop and then utilize the day and take the last flight out. This way you’ve basically squeezed two extra days into your vacation without paying for those nights at your hotel. According to Smith Travel Research, the average hotel room in the U.S. tops $100 a night, which means more savings for you.
With the advance of technology there are other things to look for when you’re shopping an online travel agency; ways of getting cheaper fares may come in the form of a split ticket (where you fly one carrier out and a different carrier back). But there’s another way that sometimes can make sense, something called an “interline” ticket, which means you fly two different airlines to get to your destination. Twenty or 30 years ago they were commonplace, but as airline networks grew they became obsolete. Now, with technology searching, they’re making a comeback and can sometimes be a way of saving. For example: Fly from Atlanta to Portland, Ore., via Denver on Frontier and Alaska Airlines for $617 versus Atlanta to Portland on USAir the whole way (with a stop in Charlotte), which costs $644.
In this case they take just about the same amount of time, but sometimes there’s a longer layover. You'll have to weigh your time vs. the convenience factor, but only you can be the judge of that!
Avoid excess fees
Pack light. Ship heavy items instead of taking them with you. On three major airlines there are new bag fees in place charging $15 for the first checked bag. Nearly all the airlines will charge a $25 fee for the second checked bag. Overweight and oversize bags will also cost you upward of $100. With airlines paying extra attention to costs, it’s possible that if your carry-on bag exceeds 40 pounds or 45 linear inches the airline could force you to check it. The airlines will add a few billion to their bottom line with these changes, so you bet they’re cracking down on the baggage policies.
Allow me to illustrate how this could cost you hundreds. Let’s take a family of four people that has six bags (or items) to check. Say one of those items is oversize. The four bags cost $30 each roundtrip, totaling $120. The fifth bag costs $50 roundtrip, bringing the baggage total to $170. The oversize bag costs $200 roundtrip. Suddenly your bag fees totaling $370 just smashed your vacation budget.
But the fees extend beyond baggage this summer. It’s also going to cost you more to make a change to a nonrefundable ticket; the price has gone from $100 to $150, so be sure when you book and do not alter your plans.
We’re also seeing fees at some airlines for premium seats, snacks, beverages, even stand-by guarantees (they do change from airline to airline though, so you will want to check with your carrier). For example, I changed my standby ticket on JetBlue two weeks ago and I could have paid a $40 fee to guarantee it 24 hours in advance but I didn’t and instead I went to the airport early and made sure I was first on the list and ready to go. I got on the flight without paying the fee.
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Take a long weekend
This is what the Brits call a “mini-break” and it can be a terrific way to get a change of scenery. I suggest visiting a city where you can use mass transportation and keep prices down buy buying smart. For example, stay slightly off the tourist path at a business hotel. You’ll still be able to experience all the city has to offer, but business hotels tend to drop their rates for weekenders when they have less business.
For example, the Jury’s Boston in the heart of the Back Bay area, which is packed with charming restaurants and shops, costs $325 a night for a weekend in July. Whereas the Omni Parker House, on School Street, which just underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation updating the property, is located in the “downtown” area of Boston and has rooms for $215 per night for the same weekend. The Hilton Boston Financial hotel is only $198 per night. Both of those are considered “business hotels.” Boston is a terrific example for an option like this because it’s a very walkable city. The T (the Boston subway) has stops close by. But if you’re up for it, you can access all of Boston’s best sites on foot. You’re near enough to the Boston Commons (one of my favorite city parks!), the Back Bay, Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail and the North End.
Go like a local
The trendy term for this behavior is to call yourself a “locovore.” Use mass transit rather than taxis, buy from the supermarket and save on expensive hotel meals, and frequent local locales as opposed to the common tourist spots, which are often more crowded and higher priced.
To get legit local ideas use a good review site as your guide; I like www.IgoUgo.com or www.Yelp.com. True locovores only eat things that were grown relatively nearby. A farmers market is the perfect place to get snacks and items for a picnic lunch or dinner. A good resource for them is the Web site localharvest.org, which lists farmers markets found all around the country and you can search by your destination.
In a city like San Francisco there is no shortage of amazing food, but I try not to miss going to the Ferry Plaza farmers market. I can spend under $5 on a fantastic meal of fresh tamales and seasonal fruit for dessert.
Remember that staying in a room with a fridge or a kitchenette will help you cut down your costs. For some families a suite with a kitchen may make sense, too.
Cash in by putting all these tips together on your summer vacation. If you’re lucky, you may have a little extra left over that can offset the rise in your gasoline bill this summer.
For more travel tips visit: www.windowseatblog.com
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