We travelers are always on the lookout for new, cool destinations that excite us. We are also searching for the best travel deals – to make sure we get good value for our hard-earned money. That’s one reason I love to attend the San Diego Travel & Adventure Show each year.
On a mid-January weekend, the San Diego Convention Center was filled with travel exhibitor booths hawking delectable destinations around the US & the world. I particularly gravitated to the speaker stages to hear some of the biggest names in travel share their vast travel wisdom.
I always come away from the show with great travel tips & resources – and I want to share with you the best of what I learned this year. One factoid you might find interesting (like I did!) is that 11% of global GDP is travel-related. Hmm, I guess the “travel bug” has long gone viral!
In this Travel Tips – Part One blog post, I highlight the best tips & travel resources for booking airline tickets, hotels & other lodging, and car rentals. In a future post, I’ll share travel wisdom related to cruises and all types of tours.
The following tips are a composite from the following 4 travel gurus:
- Peter Greenberg – Investigative Reporter and Producer & CBS News Travel Editor
- Pauline Frommer – Editorial Director of the Frommer’s Guides & Publisher of Frommers.com
- Rudy Maxa – Travel Journalist, Travel Expert, Radio & TV Host
- Wayne Dunlap – Author of Plan Your Escape® – Secrets of Traveling the World for Less Than the Cost of Living at Home.
To save money, avoid the Peak Season when crowds & prices are highest. A destination’s “shoulder season” (like spring & fall for Europe) can be great – and you can save 10-30%. Ask Google “when is the best time to go to ….”
Another good time to visit a place is soon after a natural disaster – and this could also include currency issues. You might be able to save up to 50%. People tend to associate disaster in one area with the whole country! The experts stressed that you’re not taking advantage of the local people. In fact, through your tourism dollars, you are helping them to recover. Recent examples – Puerto Rico, Mexico, Caribbean, UK, and California Wine Country.
Maxa stated that “a website with the best airfares” doesn’t really exist – just like the unicorn! But there certainly are some recommended websites you can & should check out – and definitely more than one – as you do your research.
Also, be careful with HBO (Hand Baggage Only) & Basic Economy Fares with their lesser amenities. Be sure to factor in the price of those items you will want or need to pay extra for – like seat assignments and checked or hand-carry luggage.
Greenberg stated that only 52% of airfare inventory is visible online. So, first he does his research online and then calls a “real person” – either a Travel Agent or the Airline directly for the actual booking. He feels it’s worth the $30 fee. He also says travel agents do a great job. Today’s agents are usually specialists in a particular area of travel, like cruises, airfares, European travel, etc.
Airfare Research & Booking Sites:
- Cheap Air
- Flycheapo.com – for European budget airlines. You can find a cheap flight using their European low-cost airline route database.
- Airtreks.com – a leader in multi-stop international travel
AirTreks – They are an actual travel agency with a specialty in round-the-world and multi-stop travel. It’s easy to book with a single call or email. I have used them twice for complicated African air itineraries & they were great!
Hotels are under the gun right now because of competition from Airbnb. In fact, Airbnb currently has 7% of global room inventory. Plus, hotels are still being built, with an excess of supply. Thus, hotels are offering better deals.
In the past, Trivago was a good hotel booking site – now it’s one of the worst (per Frommer). Also, a caution with TripAdvisor (per Greenberg). Today, they’ve become more of a booking agent – and you can’t always trust all the reviews. However, you can still learn a lot about a property by the composite reviews – like beware the hotel disco!
Recommended Hotel / Lodging Research & Booking Sites:
- Booking.com – I have used them for my two recent Spain trips and they were great!
- Agoda.com – The best for Asia hotels, by far!
- Airbnb.com – Apartments & guest rooms
HostelBookers – Hostels are not the ones of the 60s. You can often get your own room – and the travelers are not just young people. Many have a large meeting room – a good way to meet fellow travelers.
BiddingTraveler.com is run by a volunteer group. They “spill the beans” on results from Priceline & Hotwire. They suss out/figure out which hotel you will probably get. Their website says: Priceline bidding help and tools. If you’re bidding for travel, we’ll tell you what to bid for hotels, winning bids, hotel lists, even rejected bids!
Searching for a Better Hotel Room Price After Booking
I’ve recently learned about an online service called Pruvo which helps you (possibly!) get a better price on your hotel room – after the booking. I’ve not had a chance to try it but it definitely sounds intriguing! Lonely Planet recently had a good article on Pruvo (link below).
Both the Lonely Planet article & the Pruvo website will tell you more. But, essentially, once you’ve booked a hotel room – which MUST be done with free cancellation – you send your reservation info to Pruvo. They then monitor the exact room price for your particular dates. If the price goes down (as it often does), you will be notified and given the opportunity to re-book at the new lower price, before cancelling the original reservation.
Airbnb – Pros, Cons & Helpful How To’s
Adding to the travel show guru’s advice, I wanted to provide you with more information about Airbnb. That’s because this popular hotel-alternative has become common place in the U.S. and many parts of the world. Chances are good that you have already stayed in an Airbnb somewhere on your travels, perhaps in Europe?
I will confess I’m fairly new to the Airbnb experience. Even though I created my guest profile in 2016, my first Airbnb stay wasn’t until last year. There, in Huntsville, Alabama, I had a 1-night stay with a most delightful host Amy, staying in her guest room. I enjoyed getting to know Amy and we even became Facebook friends. Recently, during my Spain trip, I stayed in an Airbnb for 4 nights in Barcelona. Good room, great location & price, but the host was a bit odd.
So yes, staying in an Airbnb can be a very pleasant experience, and often much less expensive than a traditional hotel. However, the quality of the lodging, the hosts, the amenities, and more can vary greatly – and there are some potential downsides. So, it really is a case of careful vetting & Buyer Beware!
Here are two good articles from travel bloggers (I know & trust) with a lot of Airbnb experience. The blog posts are complimentary – and should help make you an even more savvy traveler & Airbnb consumer.
- What is Airbnb? This excellent article is by Leyla of Women on the Road who’s been using Airbnb for years. She recently asked her large following of readers to share their own Airbnb experiences. Most were positive but quite a few were negative. Leyla really breaks down the Pros & Cons of Airbnb plus its ethical considerations.
- 4 Steps to Finding the Perfect Airbnb – This article by Melissa Rice of She Roams About is particularly designed for those of us (including me!) who are relatively new to Airbnb or who haven’t used the platform for a while – as they are constantly changing their features. There’s a lot of good info in here to help you choose an Airbnb property that best matches your needs & desires. Plus, Melissa offers cautions like carefully checking the cancellation policies, which can be stiff!
Pauline Frommer highly recommends the website – AutoSlash.com – for your car rentals. The site will apply every coupon on the market to the rental price. And, you can specify your car rental & airline program memberships. Plus, after you book & before you travel, they will continue to check if prices have dropped. If so, they will email to give you the option to rebook. I haven’t used them yet but I will definitely do so on my next rental.
Update (August 2018) – In fact, I recently used AutoSlash for three different car rental bookings for family visits to St. Louis & Virginia. I was pleased at how easy it was to use their “Get a Quote” to make the car rental bookings at a good price. I then submitted my three reservations under their “Track a Rental” (for price drops) option. And, voila, about three weeks later, I got an email that the price for one of the rentals had dropped $15 (from $110) so I quickly rebooked at the new, lower rate and cancelled the first reservation. Easy peasy!
Happy Travel Planning – Hope You’ve Gotten Some Good Ideas!