Researching And Booking Budget Destinations
Researching And Booking Budget Destinations
Catharine Hamm (Travel Editor, LA Times) gives expert video advice on: Where can I get information about budget destinations?; What are 'opaque' websites?; What services can help me find a budget destination? and more...
Where can I get information about budget destinations?
You have lots of opportunities to find information. In fact, the problem is not that there is enough information but that there maybe too much. Newspapers, of course, have information on budget destinations, as do magazines. You should also look at guide books. Some of the leading guide books will have entire sections devoted to budget travel. But you should also look at places like Orbits, Expedia, and Travelocity. They have good ideas about budget destinations. There's also last minute sites like site59.com which can give you a pretty good price for a last minute vacation. And it can actually help turn what might have been a more expensive vacation into a kind of budget trip.
What are 'opaque' websites?
‘Opaque' sites are places like Hotwire and Priceline.com, where you are bidding for an airplane ticket, hotel or a rental car. You're naming the price that you want to pay, and the site may have inventory that it needs to get rid of and will match your price or even give you a really good price. The ‘opaque' part comes in, of course, because you don't who it is, or who is supplying the product. You don't know if you're getting a hotel room at a Hyatt or a Weston, whether your rental car agency will be Avis or Hertz, or what your airline schedule will be. So, by taking the risk, you can also save a huge amount of money. Sometimes it works out very well, but if there's someplace you absolutely have to be, this may not be the best place or best way for you to book your trip.
What services can help me find a budget destination?
The services that can help you find a budget destination include any travel agent. Travel agents tend to charge these days, but sometimes the investment that you make is worth it, simply because their knowledge and their expertise are invaluable. They can steer you to budgets, packages, and vacation destinations that you might not otherwise have thought about. AAA also runs a huge travel agency, and by perusing those AAA Tour Guidebooks, you can often come upon great information about what might be a budget destination for you.
Should I use an agent to book a budget vacation?
Should I use a travel agent to book a budget vacation? Using a travel agent to book a budget vacation sometimes may sound like an oxymoron, because travel agents often do charge for their services. However, in the long run they can often keep you from making mistakes that can be very costly. When you use a travel agent, you have somebody who is your advocate in case you run into trouble. For example, if your hotel is not what you think it should be, a travel agent can sometimes intervene and help you straighten out those kinds of situations and really work in your favor. That is extremely helpful and can help you save money in the long run.
How far in advance should I book a budget vacation?
The answer to booking in advance is a really tricky one. Sometimes you can score a really great vacation by booking at the last minute, going to places like Site59.com that have last-minute packages from travel product suppliers that are trying to move inventory, but generally speaking, you do better if you book further in advance. Airfares is a good example. If you wait until the last minute, you're going to pay last-minute prices, so I'm a big advocate of booking far in advance. If those are refundable or those reservations can be cancelled and you come across something that's less expensive, go ahead and do that, but at least you'll have something in place.
How should I book airfare to my budget destination?
Booking airfare is one of the most difficult things that we do as travellers. Airfares are extremely volatile. A fare war can break out 2 days after you've booked your ticket and you'll say, "Oh my gosh, I could have saved 50 or 100 dollars!" If you wait until the last minute, sometimes you'll end up paying top dollar. I always recommend that you book at least 3 months in advance. You may find a lower fare, but particularly during the busy summer months, you will at least be guaranteed a seat on the plane and you won't have the uncertainty of trying to figure out whether you're actually going to make it to your destination or not.
Where is a good place to book a rental car for my budget vacation?
The first thing that you should do when you're considering booking a rental car for your budget vacation is to make sure that you do it. So make sure that you don't just walk up to a rental car counter i.e. make sure that you actually do it in advance. The second thing that you need to know is that rental cars can often be much more expensive when they're booked and picked up at an airport, so you should check and see what the airport taxes and fees are for a particular city and then consider renting offsite. You can often save yourself a significant amount of money by picking up your rental car closer to your hotel.
Should I buy rental car insurance?
This is a tricky question about whether you should get the insurance with your rental car. What I would suggest is that you check with your own insurance and see if you are covered. Also, check with your credit card company, because sometimes you are also covered from your credit card company, assuming that's what you're using to pay for your rental car. It's obviously an individual choice. Rental car companies recommend it. It can be very hard on your budget, so look and see if you have other options before you go ahead and sign that.
How can I save money when booking a rental car?
One of the ways you can save money when booking a rental car, actually, is by looking at the opaque sites: Hotwire and Priceline. Because it doesn't really matter all that much which rental car company you end up with, as long as you end up with a car. Now you want to obviously make sure that you're going with a reputable firm, but I've rented several times through Hotwire and Priceline and found significant savings. Just make sure that you compare that with what you can get by either calling the rental car company or looking it up online or using one of the sites like Orbitz or Travelocity or one of the aggregator sites like Sidestep. Make sure that the prices are competitive. Make sure that you consider all the fees that places like Priceline and Hotwire charge. But you can often end up saving a significant amount of money on rental cars by going with places like Priceline and Hotwire.
Are there any pitfalls when booking a budget vacation?
There are a lot of pitfalls when booking a budget vacation destination. In fact, there are a lot of pitfalls when you book anything. First of all, you need to make sure that if you've purchased an airline ticket and there's any doubt about whether you can make this flight, that it is a refundable ticket. If you end up not using the ticket, you want to make sure that you can get your money back. The other thing that you need to watch out for are additional fees that might be added on. For example, given the price of gasoline of late, there are plenty of places that are adding on a fuel surcharge. That might be for an airline or it might be the shuttle company that picks you up. When you get to your hotel, you need to make sure that you're not being charged some unusual fees, things like the mini bar re-stocking fee which can add as much as ten dollars to your hotel bill. Hotels are sometimes adding surcharges for energy because the cost of energy has gone up so much. These are all things that can eat away at your vacation budget. The other thing that you need to take into account when you're thinking about budgets and vacations is all those costs that you really don't factor in. For example, tips to the bellman and tips to the housekeeping people can really add up. When you're making your vacation budget, you need to be sure that you include those in there so that they're not a big surprise for you.
Are there any fees associated with booking a budget vacation?
There are often fees associated with booking vacations. When you use a travel agent they may charge you a fee, but also some of the better known sites - Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia may charge you as much as $5 for your ticket. The way to avoid those is to use an aggregator site such as Site Step, Kayak, Mobissimo or to go directly to the airline which does not charge a fee.
Can I save money purchasing airfare directly from the airlines?
There is an interesting question about whether it is cheaper to go to the airline's site. Sometimes, you can find a really good fare at an airline site; so that's a place that you should always check. But it's also very aggravating if you are having to look at several airline sites and that's why often times we go third party providers like Orbiz, Travelocity and Expedia, because they can give you the gamut. You don't always know which airline serves the destination that you are going. So there is also a convenience in using places like Travelocity, Expedia, or Orbitz as that will save yourself the aggravation of having to go to every single airline site. Having said that, oftentimes you will find better fares at those sites.
What is the vacation 'off-peak season'?
An off-peak vacation simply means that you're visiting a place when most other people are not visiting. For example, some people find Venice really charming in the winter. Most of the rest of the world finds Venice pretty charming in the summer, but there are a lot of people who love going to Venice in the winter, simply because the crowds are fewer and it has a completely different atmosphere. So it can often be very economical to visit places where the crowds aren't.
Can I save money by booking a budget vacation in the off-peak season?
You can almost always save money when you're booking an off-peak vacation and i particular when purchasing a vacation in Europe. If you're going to London for example in the winter, those fares are sometime as much as half of what they are in the summer. Hotels also tend to reduce their rates to boost occupancy.
What are the drawbacks of a budget vacation in the off-peak season?
Some of the drawbacks of booking in the off-peak is that some of the attractions, for example, may not be open. The weather may not be as inviting. London, for instance, in the winter is not always the most attractive place to be, but there can be a certain charm in learning about staying indoors, and learning about places where your greatest attractions are inside. You also may not have access to all of the services that are available during the peak season, and the service may not be as sharp simply because there may not be as many people there to serve you. I think those are pretty minor considerations though when you're talking about booking in the off season. I think that what you get in return more than makes up for the absence of service or the lack of a particular amenity.