January 10, 2010
By MICHELLE HIGGINS
LAST year was arguably the year of the travel deal, with resorts and airlines practically begging for bookings, and many travelers finding bargain airfares and hotel rooms as a result. But airlines have cut back capacity, meaning there will be fewer seats going unsold, and resorts may not be as quick to cut rates to attract guests, now that the economy looks as if it might be on a slight rebound. So now is the perfect time to review your booking strategy. Here are 10 simple steps you can take to help cut your travel costs in 2010. 1. Sign Up For a Twitter Account An increasing number of travel companies are using Twitter to market their brands, often by tweeting exclusive deals to followers. JetBlue calls out last-minute discounts at JetBlueCheeps on Tuesday mornings. A recent example: “$89 BOS to LAS this Sat. LAS to BOS this Mon. or Tues. 25 seats avail or til 6 pm ET.” Fairmont Hotels offers its Twitter followers special discounts before anyone else. Farecompare’s “flyfrom” Twitter feed offers location-specific fare sales when you plug in your home airport’s three-letter code, as in flyfromNYC. All you need to do is sign up for a free account at Twitter.com and start following the companies you like or travel experts who do the work for you. (You can find me at MichelleHiggins.) 2. Find the Cheapest Dates to Fly ITASoftware.com, which provides the technological backbone for many airfare shopping sites, allows users to scan an entire month’s fares for the least expensive rate. (Log in as a “guest” and click on “month-long search.” ) In January, the 28th and 30th were the cheapest dates to fly nonstop to London from New York ($536) for a week’s vacation, according to a recent search. The next best was Saturday, Jan. 23, at $640. To book the ticket, users must go to another site. Kayak.com has a flexible-dates option (registration is required) and a calendar that shows the best fares found by other Kayak users in the last 48 hours. Bing Travel, the Microsoft search engine, offers a similar option, found under “plan trips,” about halfway down the page. 3. Consider Nearby Airports A recent Web search showed nonstop flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Miami International from $299 round trip on American in early January. But flying into Fort Lauderdale, roughly 30 miles north of Miami, was $219 on Virgin America, an $80 saving. 4. Go Against the Grain If possible, avoid popular travel dates like holidays and spring break because airlines have begun to charge anywhere from $10 to $30 extra at those times. Farecompare.com offers a handy breakdown of the new fees by date, airline and amount. Early-morning and late-night flights may also be cheaper depending on the route. 5. Track Price Even After Buying Airlines have long offered to refund the difference in their fares (minus a change fee) in the form of a voucher to customers who ask. Using your confirmation number, Yapta.com will automatically track the price of your ticket, taking the airline’s fees into consideration, and send you, without charge, an e-mail message or Twitter alert notifying you of the lower price. You can then call the airline to claim the credit. Similarly, Travelocity.com promises to refund the difference in price for prepaid hotel reservations if you find the same room for a cheaper rate online before check-in. 6. Take the Bus Cheap express buses with names like BoltBus, Megabus and Washington Deluxe have become increasingly popular along the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere, with seats for $25 or less, depending on when you reserve. With amenities like more legroom, power plugs at every seat and free Wi-Fi, the bus ride, though longer, can often be more tolerable than a flight that costs 10 times as much. Search for seats at GotoBus.com or BusJunction.com. 7. Roll the Dice Sites like Priceline.com, Hotwire.com and Lastminutetravel.com offer deep discounts to travelers willing to pay before learning the names of the hotels, airlines or car rental agencies they’re committing to. To help you find the best rate, Biddingfortravel.com and Betterbidding.com provide strategic advice and offer tips from other travelers on how to navigate the system. Getaroom.com offers a new twist to this gamble that may be more agreeable for risk-averse travelers. Unlike these other discounters, Getaroom tells customers the name of the hotel and price before booking. But it offers an even lower rate through its call center — typically 10 to 25 percent off — to travelers willing to pay for the room before finding out just how much of a discount they’re getting. 8. Go Rental Tourists in most European cities can easily pay $200 a night for basic hotel rooms. By contrast, an apartment or villa can be rented for as little as $1,100 a week in Paris or Rome. Homeaway.com, Zonder.com and Rentalo.com are just a few of the many rental Web sites available. Some specialize in specific regions like Rentvillas.com for Europe or Wimco.com for the Caribbean. 9. Make Yourself at Home For a 6 to 12 percent booking fee, AirBnB.com connects budget travelers with locals who are offering a place to bed down. The Times’s Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross, described it as “a cross between CouchSurfing.com and the vacation rentals section of Craigslist.” There were more than 2,000 listings in a recent search for New York including a futon in a one-bedroom near Gramercy Park ($65) and a bedroom with private bath and separate entrance in Hell’s Kitchen ($150). 10. Study the Fine Print Play close attention to which airline you are actually flying, particularly on international flights. With code sharing, you may book a flight to Paris on Delta, for instance, and end up traveling with Air France, a code share partner with Delta. But while the flight may be the same, the price often is not. Sometimes the difference can be negligible — say, $609 on SAS on a January nonstop flight from Newark Airport to Stockholm versus $627 for that same flight when booked through United. Or $817 for an American flight from New York to Lima versus the $693 that same flight would cost when booked through American’s code share partner, LAN. There are times though when the difference can be substantial, particularly when the code share partner may be a foreign carrier not well known to American travelers. Here are some examples, based on a search on Kayak.com for flights in late January, where the round-trip fares vary greatly depending on which code share partner you book through. (Click on “details” for a breakdown of the flight’s particulars.) New York to Singapore: $1,319 on Cathay Pacific; $1,817 on American. New York to Marrakesh: $1,098 on Royal Air Maroc; $3,257 on Delta. New York to Cairo: $908 on Egypt Air; a stunning $4,650 on United.