Tricks you haven't tried for scoring deals on your next vacation
Surprising Travel Savings
by Magnus Hirst
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Savvy spenders know the key to traveling on a budget is researching deals before you go. The advent of heavy hitting comparison websites like Expedia and Orbitz has taken much of the guesswork out of the process of arranging travel for less. Far too often however, consumers are content to run one search and believe they've found the best of what's out there. In many cases, the discounts and deals you know about are just the tip of the iceberg. Read on for a whole new arsenal to add to your bag of money-saving tricks.
Plan to Get Bumped
It doesn't work for everybody or in all situations, but volunteering to get "bumped" from your flight is a fast way to collect free airfare, as well as coupons, meal vouchers, and hotel stays. If you're flexible with your travel schedule, you can take certain steps to actually increase your chances of playing hero to your fellow passengers. Travel during the busiest times based on your destination. Business centers are swamped on Monday mornings and Friday evenings, while travel to tourist spots tends to overbook on Fridays and Saturdays. During the holidays, airlines are always looking for volunteers to give up their seats. Be sure to speak to your gate agent as soon as you arrive and indicate your willingness to be bumped.
Take Advantage of Pricing Trends
Fortunately for us, travel experts regularly analyze algorithms in order to determine the best window of time for consumers to book travel. While an exact time and date seems challenging to pin down, sources can agree that the best fares are available early in the week, with Tuesday afternoon typically filling the top-ranking spot. Your best bet is to sign up to receive email notifications whenever the fares drop on your itinerary, and watch the trends for a while before purchasing.
FareCompare.com, a handy website that tracks price drops in real time, has found that the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Look for departure times in the wee hours of morning or night to find rock-bottom prices. Research conducted by FareCompare also indicates that the best fares are usually found approximately six weeks before your departure date.
Collect Your Refund
Most consumers have no idea that many airline providers offer a price guarantee, meaning that if the price of your ticket goes down after you purchase it, they will refund you the difference. Now come the caveats. You have to call airline reservations right when you notice the drop; refund transactions cannot be processed online. Furthermore, you have to have purchased your ticket from the airline itself in order for the refund to apply, not an outside retailer like Kayak. Not all airlines honor this policy and some will give you a refund only after they deduct a hefty change fee. Lastly, the refunds almost always come in the form of a voucher good for travel within a calendar year. It's not cash in hand, but it's also not a bad deal for those of us who never knew any better.
The cherry on top? You don't have to sit glued to a computer screen between now and your vacation. Yapta.com will track price changes for any flight you input and alert you via email. For the impatient among us, there's an app for that. Get alerts to your smart phone and don't lose a minute collecting that unexpected happy return.
Hunt for Daily Deals
It's likely you already subscribe to Groupon.com deals in and around your home city, but have you considered temporarily subscribing to daily deals in the cities to which you plan to travel this year? And Groupon is not the only site to which you should subscribe. Check out deal-mongers like Livingsocial.com, which lets you view promotions by category like "popular," and "almost gone," as well as allowing you to subscribe to several cities at once. Or visit Travelzoo.com. Type your destination in the "find deals" box, and save on everything from steak dinners to theatre tickets. These sites not only represent most major cities throughout the United States, but they also include specials on travel in foreign countries. However, in the case of Groupon, you will have to be able to read your destination country's native language in order to know what you're buying.
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Compare Prices like a Pro
If you've ever taken a trip, chances are good you've used one of the big name websites to help you price shop. The mistake most people make is stopping at one search; comparison sites don't necessarily do all the work for you. When put to the test, the discrepancy between room rates on sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, and a hotel's own website can range from small change ($20-35) to significant ($200-$300). Not to mention smaller brands, like boutique hotels and low-cost airlines, will often not list their fares on the popular comparison sites at all. That's why it pays to read Yelp reviews for lodging recommendations you might not otherwise find and to visit airline and hotel homepages directly. Most importantly, never book accommodations without first making a call to the hotel's reservations line, as this gives you an opportunity to hear about unadvertised specials and to negotiate deals or upgrades.
Exercise Your Powers of Persuasion
When you call the hotel, make sure you ask to speak with the "on-site reservationist," as this prevents you from getting connected to the 800-number where the customer service reps have no control over prices. Be enthusiastic. Let your reservationist know you're excited to stay at the property. As politely as possible, ask for the price you want. Booking agents want to keep you on the phone and will likely respond to statements like "I'll call you back" or "I'm going to look around," making your best strategy a genuine willingness to keep searching.
In what is truly a case of "who you know," the more ingratiating you are on the phone, the better your chances of getting what you want. Avoid using the word "free." Instead, ask if the hotel offers a Bed and Breakfast discount (10% off and free breakfast at some properties). If they won't discount your rate, see if they will upgrade you to a room with a view or one away from the elevator, or perhaps sweeten the deal with a few complimentary drink tickets for the bar. Finally, if you are traveling to more than one place, ask if they have sister properties at your other destinations. Often both hotels will give you a discount for "keeping it in the family."
Magnus Hirst is a tour guide and Social Media Coordinator at Icelandic Travel Market, a leading Iceland tours company specializing in bus tours, Iceland day tours, jeep tours, Iceland group travel, glacier walks, whale watching tours and more.
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