This is the time of year when folks in the travel business – cruise lines, hotels, resorts and the like – could use a few more visitors. If you have the flexibility to take a trip on short notice, bargains are out there.
The trick is tracking down the deals. Experts have advice for finding and booking a getaway on short notice:
• Be flexible about where you go. Consumer Reports suggests starting your search for a vacation deal with a broad region in mind (like some major U.S. cities, or a part of Europe instead of one country there) and seeing what you find. If you’re not focused on getting the cheapest possible package for a particular destination, you’ll improve your odds of finding a bargain.
• Choose your travel dates wisely. It might be harder to grab deals right around Thanksgiving or Christmas, when planes and hotels tend to be full. Work around the peak times, such as around holidays or school semester breaks. And hotel rooms are routinely cheaper on weekdays, said Angela Wawrzynek, branch manager for AAA’s Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda location. “Las Vegas is known for that.”
The same goes for when you choose to fly. You’re much more likely to get better airfares if you do not fly out on a Friday or Saturday.
This tends to be a good time of year to travel to somewhere like the Caribbean, if you have the flexibility and the vacation days remaining to pull it off. By mid- to late December, more travelers are headed that way, and you’re less likely to find deals, Wawrzynek said.
• Join email lists. Go to websites of businesses connected to travel – cruise lines, airlines, hotels, rental car companies, as well as travel industry specialists – and sign up for email alerts of deals.
You’ll have to wade through a deluge of messages in your inbox. But this is a good way to receive updates about what is available, without having to constantly check those sites for new deals.
• Consult a travel agent. While some consumers might prefer to go it alone through Web searches, travel agents deal with the industry all the time and can point you to bargains, maybe in locations you had not considered.
“We’re looking at multiple destinations,” Wawrzynek said. “These agents know what is out there.”
Irene Favata, of LXR Travel in Williamsville, said the best travel deals for Buffalo-area residents tend to involve places they can drive to. Cheap, last-minute airfares are much harder to find these days, she said, due to airlines flying smaller (and fuller) planes and the Canadians who help pack flights out of Buffalo.
That’s not to say there are not vacation deals out there, Favata said. “Everybody’s looking to fill their hotel rooms, especially during the off season.”
The same goes for cruise lines, she said. And if the cost of round-trip airfare effectively wipes out a bargain on a cruise out of Florida, consider booking a cruise out of a place like New York City or Baltimore, where you can travel to for less.
• Size up the quality of the deals. You might find a low-price package for a place like Orlando; it might very well be a great deal, but try re-creating the same package by putting together the individual pieces (airfare, rental car and hotel) yourself, to see if you can do even better.
Travelzoo.com suggests plugging in several ranges of dates for the same destination, to compare the cost of taking the same trip.
• Review your travel window. Some deals might require you to act quickly to book – perhaps within the next few days or a week – but give you a more generous timetable to take the trip, maybe within a couple of months.
And no matter where you go, don’t taunt your friends that you are going on vacation when they cannot.
Remember, you might need them for a ride to and from the airport, or to check on your pet.