Save big traveling to your getaway vacation
It was a rough winter in much of the U.S., so who isn’t eager to get out into the summer sunshine sooner rather than later? That rising demand has pushed prices for hotels up seven percent and airfares up two percent vs. last summer, according to Hotwire.com, a leading travel booking website.
But if you want to save money, be patient and avoid the temptation to hit the road in June or early July. Rather, schedule your travel in mid-July through August for last-minute and book-ahead bargains, because the early birds will be done pushing prices up, says Hotwire’s State of Summer Travel Report.
And here’s how to find the deals, according to some of the nation’s sharpest shoppers: Consumer Reports’ editors, engineers, accountants, and other staff. We’ve compiled the money-saving tips that have worked for them around the globe, year-round, from the powdery slopes of the Rockies to the calming blue lagoons of Bora Bora. You can use Internet search engines for most of these money savers, and we suggest some places to get you started.
This report covers how to save time and money getting to your getaway vacation. Our companion report tells how to save at your destination.
1. Go off-season
Rome in November and London in April made those trips much easier for one of our Web editors. With no summer hordes, there was no wait to get into the Sistine Chapel. Airfares and hotel rates were lower, and restaurants in Rome were hungry for customers, which prompted unusually attentive table service. But be sure to pack a light weatherproof coat, sweater, and umbrella, because low season weather (at least in Europe) can be cool and rainy.
2. Consider a shorter trip
One editor found Mendocino, Calif., to be a lot cheaper than Madrid, Spain, when traveling from the San Francisco Bay area. For one thing, it was only 150 miles away. And his stay at an ocean-view cottage ran for only a couple of days. Serendipity revealed the Mendocino Music Festival, wine tastings, and gorgeous Pacific sunsets. Fewer and shorter trips last year saved $230 per traveler in travel costs over the previous year, says PhoCusWright, a travel market research firm.
3. Check international tour companies
If you’re taking a tour overseas, don’t rely on U.S.-based operators. Instead, shop local—overseas. One of our copy editors, who has taken cycling tours in Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Spain, reports that she paid 50 percent less with an Irish third-party provider and would have paid even less if she had bought from the Czech company that actually conducted the tour.
4. Use frequent-flyer miles
The director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center was surprised to find that his frequent flyer miles bought flights at their lowest mileage prices only six weeks ahead of his departure to the United Kingdom. Some flexibility was required, including a connection and overnight stay. But he was able to use miles from two accounts to get two round-trip tickets worth $2,000 (total) for just $200 in taxes and the extra $120 cost of the hotel in Canada. Key advice: If you have unusual circumstances, make arrangements on the phone with a real human being, not online.
5. Sign up for fare alerts
Most airlines and travel booking websites offer e-mail notices, which let you know about new discounts and special offers.
6. Break long trips into separate legs
Forget official connecting flights or stopovers. Rather, shop for various possible legs of one long distance voyage as though they were separate and unconnected flights, even using different airlines and “connecting” cities. On her honeymoon trip from New York to Bora Bora, one of our lab technicians saved 30 percent ($1,800 total) by flying from New York to San Francisco, spending a week there, then flying on a different airline from Los Angeles to French Polynesia and on to Bora Bora. But she did have to pick up her luggage and check it back in with the next airline.
7. Consider alternative airports
Chicago Midway is often a less-expensive alternative to the more famous O’Hare. Around New York City, alternatives to JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark include Long Island MacArthur (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), Westchester (near White Plains, N.Y.), and Stewart (Newburgh, N.Y.). And one reporter saves by using California’s Bob Hope (Burbank) airport instead of the pricier Los Angeles International. Substitutes can be available on the departure and arrival side of your travel.
8. Shop low-cost airlines first
So-called low-cost airlines include AirTran, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit. But beware of add-on fees for baggage and amenities.
For destinations up to a few hundred miles from home, it can be cheaper to go all the way in your own car instead of paying for airfare and a car rental, especially if you’re taking a crowd. Our accounting manager says he packs his whole brood into their SUV and drives off to the sand, surf, and boardwalk of a Virginia beach.
10. Pack one-way clothing
Got duds destined for the bin? If you’re going someplace casual, not classy, take them along and discard after wearing them at your vacation spot. It will free up space in your suitcase for souvenirs, and you can avoid excess luggage or weight charges on the return flight.
This article also appeared in the June 2013 Consumer Reports Money Adviser.
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