Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Find Good Travel Deals Even in a Bum Economy

If you're like most Americans, you're thinking about ways to cut back on expenses—and vacations often are first on the chopping block. An early 2009 USA Today Gallup Poll revealed that nearly three of five Americans who normally take a vacation say they'll either shrink their 2009 vacation spending or not go at all. For example, some are opting for "staycations"—staying home and going on short trips near home.

But along with the tough economy comes travel opportunity. There are good reasons to still consider heading to a vacation destination. While finding good deals is a challenge, with a little research and flexibility there are good travel bargains to be had—if you have the money to spend.

In fact, in some ways consumers are in the driver's seat. That's because, thanks to cutbacks due to the economy, business travel is slumping. And that means travel operators are doing more to lure consumers to fly and stay with them. Hotels especially are vulnerable, as their inventory grows because properties, planned several years ago and now built, need to be filled.

Hotel and motel managers are working to place vacation travelers in their rooms. "Everybody's trying to do something to entice you to do business with them," says Tim Leffel, Nashville, Tenn., travel expert and author of "The World's Cheapest Destinations." "No matter where you're heading, you can probably find a bargain." Leffel predicts airline ticket prices will continue to stay competitive in the foreseeable future. "There's extreme price sensitivity, and some traveler aversion to flying," he says. "If airfares get too expensive, consumers can say, 'Forget it, I'll drive.'"

Flexibility is key

Credit union credit and debit cards, and savings plans and loans, can make your vacation a hit no matter your destination.

In today's travel environment, if you're flexible, you'll do better. One example: In one week in early 2009, for 15 minutes each day the Web site LastMinuteTravel.com sold rooms at more than 15,000 hotels around the world for $1 a night.

"There's no reason why you need to plan more than two or three weeks out to get a decent deal," says Leffel. "Sometimes waiting until the last minute will give you the best deal of all. It depends on supply and demand." For example, if frolicking in popular Key West for spring break is your idea of fun, plan well in advance. But generally, you can coast a bit. "Most places aren't packed at any time of the year," Leffel says.

If you're loose about your destination for a getaway or vacation that will help, too. If your heart's set on Disney World, there's not a lot of give and take as far as making last-minute plans. But if you're a couple that simply wants to get away or take your family on a vacation somewhere, you can find better deals. Sites such as Airfarewatchdog.com, Travelocity.com, lastminute.com, and hotwire.com post deals for last minute bookings. And if one main airline serves your airport, subscribe to its e-mail newsletter for specials.

Searching for bargains

With that said, popular places such as Disney are offering bargains, for example free hotel stays and meals for young children when an adult books a stay. With the Internet making travel information available at your fingertips, you're in control. "It's pretty easy to set things up to your preferences," says Leffel. "There's no need to spend hours surfing and trying to find things. Let notices come to you." For example, if you have lots of frequent flier miles with an airline, subscribe to its e-mail notifications for deals.

In today's travel environment, flexibility is your key to savings.

Travel search sites are becoming more sophisticated and more powerful. In February 2009, for example, TripAdvisor.com launched a search engine that pulls flight and fare data from multiple airlines and online travel agencies. A fee estimator allows you to figure the cost of checking bags and buying food and headphones into your cost comparisons. Search sites also feature customer reviews of vacation sites. There are plenty of good sites, so be careful not to spend too much time on just one.

Cruises are another place to find bargains. "The ships aren't any more full than hotels," says Leffel. "They're discounting as well." Because cruise ships sail whether full or not, prices may be cut drastically on certain routes, especially longer cruises to more exotic destinations, and sometimes at the last minute.

Cruises are becoming more popular because, in the current economic climate, consumers don't want to be surprised—they like a cruise vacation's all-inclusive fare.

Closer to home

With the economic crunch, travelers are taking more "celebration vacations"—a long weekend or a few days close to home to mark an anniversary or other family event, notes Marti Mayne of BedandBreakfast.com, Austin, Texas. If you're planning to vacation closer to home, Leffel advises that you head to your local library for a state travel guide. "Often people think [libraries are] only useful if you're going far from home," he says. "But they have good information." You'll also find specific guides if you like to hike or bike, for example. State tourism Web sites can provide lots of vacation tips, too.

Consumers are in the driver's seat as travel demand weakens.

And closest to home of all is your credit union. It offers tools and services—credit and debit cards, savings plans and loans—that can make your vacation a hit no matter your destination.

Useful resources

  • For bed and breakfast inn discounts and deals, click "Tanks for Traveling" at bedandbreakfast.com.

  • The Federal government provides links to state tourism sites.

  • You can find special cruise deals at Cruise.com

  • Check vrbo.com for information about renting a vacation home.

  • At biddingfortravel.com, you'll find tips on priceline bidding and recently won bids.

  • Metasites aggregate results from other sites, then redirect you to one of those sites for reservations: kayak.com, tripadvisor.com

    More families are conducting celebration vacations.

  • Subscribe to breaking deals from budgettravel.com, which sends a Travel Marketplace weekly e-newsletter with travel deals and discounts.

  • The site smartertravel.com offers a free weekly newsletter with a list of travel deals, as well as monthly travel bargains for frequent fliers, students, seniors, families, and a bimonthly list of cruise deals.

  • If you're looking for ideas for a fresh destination, each Wednesday Travelzoo lists 20 top travel deals.

  • The National Geographic Traveler offers a free biweekly newsletter. Each issue has an exclusive travel offer.

  • These sites compile travel deals:
    tripadvisor.com—helpful for alternative lodging such as bed & breakfasts and specialty lodging

  • The "big three" travel booking sites also have deals and special offers. You can register and receive e-mails tailored to your destinations: expedia.com, orbitz.com, Travelocity.com.
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