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Finding Travel Deals

Everyone likes a “deal”. Especially when traveling, discounts and specials can make a big impact on affordability. I admit to being a compulsive shopper when planning travel. Here are a few of the tactics and resources that I have found to lower the price tag and increase the value of our vacations.

Traveling in shoulder season: Vacationing in “prime time” or high season might offer the best chance for ideal weather, but it is also the most expensive. Often aligned with festivals and school vacations, it is also the most crowded. I find shoulder season travel is the best value. Usually the weather is not much different than the beginning or end of high season, yet there are fewer crowds, and most of all, it’s often a great bargain. Along with significant discounts on lodging, attractions and even transportation, I find shoulder season travel to be more relaxing and offer more opportunity to meet locals and explore a new culture. High seasons vary depending on location and are usually outlined in guidebooks and destination websites. Pick from the weeks right before and after and you can land a great deal. A cautionary note about low season: while deeply discounted, off-season rates can be tempting, there are usually good reasons these times are less desirable. Even a cheap vacation can be ruined if the weather is horrible or attractions closed.

Package deals – International: Preferring more independent travel, the all-in-one escorted tour is not our style. But there are a number of agencies and companies that can give travelers the savings of a package while maintaining independence. When looking at package options, I look for ones with the greatest number of options to book flights, hotels and ground transportation together. Some packagers only give two or three hotel options in a destination city, but others, such as europeandestinations.com, allow travelers to choose from hundreds of hotels and ground transportation services, allowing significant customization of your itinerary. Once I identify potential hotels, I use TripAdvisor to read reviews and compare hotel options. A good packager can also offer substantial benefits for booking flights. If you plan to spend a few days each in a number of cities, the “open jaw” flight option available with flexible packages can save both time and money. Open jaw refers to flying into one city and flying home from another. Buying open jaw tickets on your own can be extremely expensive, and the alternative may mean the need to spend precious vacation time and money retracing your steps to get back to your original city of arrival.

eNewsletters: Even the most diligent deal searcher can miss out on some really great bargains. Personally I subscribe to a select number of e-newsletters that arrive in my inbox, letting me know about special dealsmany with short opportunity windows. I especially look forward to receiving Travelzoo’s “Weekly Top 20 and” Newsflash Alerts”. Go to travelzoo.com to sign up. For general travel ideas and advice, I recommend slowtravel.com. Full of tips, reviews and unique travel ideas, their newsletters are always enjoyable.

Finding Good Deals in the Air: Flexibility is the key: flexibility when you travel and flexibility when choosing airports. The other key is spending the time to search more than one site. I usually begin by searching a general booking site like Travelocity. The site lets shoppers search fares for a 6 day window by using the “+/- 3 days” feature. You should know that Tuesdays and Saturdays can often yield the most cost effective results. When I identify 1 or 2 good possibilities, I then search those specific days using the “compare surrounding airports” option. A few miles can mean a significant difference in price. If I think I have found the flight I want, my next step is to go directly to the airline website. I often find that the prices there are even a bit lower. And don’t forget that some airlines (like Southwest) aren’t listed on sites like Travelocity. Go directly to their website to compare prices. Concerned about a choosing a cheap flight that leaves really early in the morning? This can be especially problematic if you don’t live in a large metro area. I have found that “park and fly” packages at hotels near airports can be great deals and reduce stress. You can get a night’s lodging and 7-14 day of parking for less than the cost of simply parking at the airport. Try parksleepfly.com.

Short Notice Travel. Particularly in the current economic climate, there are many generous last minute deals. Even airlines are offering more last minute bargains than usual. I find the best short notice cruise deals are often found at vacationstogo.com. Their “90 Day Ticker” is full of deeply discounted cruises leaving soon. Resortvacationstogo.com also has short notice listings for resort destinations from Las Vegas to Barbados. Just be sure to keep your passport and sunscreen handy.

Vacation is even more enjoyable when you know you’ve gotten a good deal. If you spend the time and plan wisely, you can have a wonderful time and not break the bank. Everyone likes a “deal”. But when traveling, discounts and specials can make a big impact on affordability. I admit to being a compulsive shopper when planning travel. These are a few of the tactics and resources that I have found to lower the price tag and increase the value of our vacations.