This year, millions of Americans will travel to see loved ones or to take vacations during the holidays. Many will make plans far in advance in order to get the best fares on airline tickets and the best rates on hotels and rental cars. Unfortunately, some will need to make last minute travel plans. Changes in work schedules, cancellations of other plans, or last minute invites can all mean having to figure out how to travel around the holidays without breaking the bank.
Sometimes, the weeks leading up to the holidays just get away from consumers. All of a sudden, they find themselves making last minute travel plans. Whatever the reason, some great strategies exist that you can use to get great rates and fares.
There are a number of ways to get good deals on hotels and other accommodations, and some great strategies for finding or negotiating the best rate. Check out these tips for getting the lowest rate on your holiday accommodations.
Hotel booking strategies
Don’t be afraid to haggle
While most consumers are too embarrassed or shy to try to negotiate with hotels for a better rate, nearly 80% of those that do are able to win a lower room rate. You have a better chance of winning the negotiation if you do it over the phone rather than in person, so be sure to employ this strategy before you get to your destination. Sometimes, hotels will have special unadvertised deals, or can give you a lower rate based on the bed size or room location. If a hotel has excess empty rooms, your chances of getting a last-minute discount are even better. Also, check for any special rates for seniors, military, government, or memberships, if applicable. Be persistent, as many hotels have what they call a fallback rate for customers who insist on a lower rate.
Shop the Internet
There is much to choose from when it comes to shopping the Internet for a good deal on a hotel room. Sites such as Hotels.com and Priceline.com specialize in helping travelers find the best prices on hotel accommodations. General travel booking sites such as Expedia.com and Travelocity.com are great resources, but you may end up paying a booking fee. Sometimes, you can get a better rate by shopping around on the Internet first and then calling hotels directly to see if you can get a matched or lower rate. That way, you can avoid any booking fees charged by the travel site. Sites such as Kayak are aggregator sites. These sites will search through thousands of choices and then link you to the hotel directly so you can book directly.
Prioritize price over property
Focusing on price and not on specific properties can help you find the best deals. You can choose your own price on sites such as Priceline or Hotwire, but you won’t be able to see the property you’ve chosen until you’ve completed the booking. However, you can specify the number of stars and the general location to be sure you get a hotel that’s satisfactory to your wants and needs. You could save a significant amount of money on accommodations this way.
Contact hotels directly
Calling the hotel directly will sometimes give you access to local discounts that are not available through the central reservation system for large hotel chains. Most central reservation agents cannot negotiate rates with potential guests, so asking for a discounted rate isn’t likely to be successful. They may not have full visibility into the number of rooms available. Reservation staff members at the hotel have all the information they need to make you the best deal, such as room availability, local competition, and special rates available.
Be as flexible as you can with your dates
The time of year you travel can have a big influence on the hotel room rates you pay, as can the days of the week or certain times of the month. By being flexible with your dates, you can sometimes knock money off your total stay. Location plays a factor as well. If the area you’re visiting is near a business center, you may find very enticing rates on weekend days, while tourist areas will have better rates during the week. Study the areas you’re interested in visiting and determine their peak times. If winter is the most desired time to travel there, a holiday vacation might not be the best way to travel on a budget.
Shop last minute
Again, if you can be flexible, waiting until the last minute to book your travel can sometimes yield great rates and money-saving deals. However, there is an inherent risk in doing so, especially around the holidays. This is simply because of the busy travel season making even premium, expensive seats scarce or unavailable. However, if you know the market where you want to travel and are flexible, it’s possible to score some great deals and bargains.
Book a package deal
If your travel plans include both hotels and airfare, it’s sometimes advantageous to check into booking them as a package rather than separately. You may have to give up a little bit of choice in terms of your hotel, but it could mean saving a substantial amount of money. You can shop package deals through a number of resources such as airline websites, travel websites, and travel agents.
Check out alternative accommodations
If you cannot find a hotel within your budget, think about looking into alternative options. Booking a condominium or a home through a service such as VRBO or Airbnb can sometimes net you excellent accommodations for the same or less money. Because you’re dealing with owners, your ability to negotiate is much better. If there are a couple of “orphaned nights” on the schedule that work for you, meaning a couple of nights stuck between two other rentals, you may be able to negotiate a big discount. Additionally, don’t overlook small boutique motels and Bed and Breakfast establishments. The more off the beaten path they are, the more likely they are to yield a great deal.
Ask about taxes and other fees
Make sure that the cost quoted for your room is the full cost and not just the base rate. Sometimes, travelers neglect to ask about add-on costs such as taxes, parking fees, surcharges, and resort fees. These can add up to a substantial amount of money added to your bill. By understanding all of the costs, you can do a true comparison and be sure you’re getting the lowest cost possible.
Check for deals offered through your credit card companies
Credit card companies have interest in making deals with hotels and other companies that they can pass on to their customers. This is because they’re certain to get the purchase charged to the card through which they’ve made the offer, and therefore will likely earn some interest down the road. Check your credit card statement and the website to see if you can take advantage of anything on offer. Using the card to make the reservation will get you the low rate, and you can pay off the charges before you incur any interest charges with a little diligence.
Search the Internet for discount codes and coupons
Savvy Internet searchers can often find offers, coupons, and discount codes just by spending some time searching around and using key search terms. Google your destination along with the words discounts, coupons, specials, and savings. Entertainment books often contain some travel-related discounts as well.
Use your credit card points
Check your credit card reward balances and see what they may be able to afford you. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to save up all your points strictly for travel. Word to the wise: If you’re going to play the points game, find the best rewards program and stick to it. It doesn’t do much good to have a handful of points with numerous companies.
Airline travel strategies
There are some great ways to get discounts on air travel, even at the last minute. Check out these tips for getting the best deals.
Choose ‘off’ days to travel
If you have the ability to be flexible in your travel plans, you can likely get a better airline fare by simply shifting your dates around. Generally, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the cheapest days to fly. In addition, if you have several people traveling in your group, airlines will often group you together into the same fare. Sometimes, that could mean you pay more. If there are only two economy seats available, for example, the online reservation system will book you all in the higher priced seats. Consider booking each seat separately to ensure the best fares.
In addition, if you’re willing to fly on a holiday, you could get a substantial discount, sometimes as much as 25-50%.
Switching airports may give you a better fare
Many times, leaving from (or arriving into) a different airport will yield a better fare. When searching, try switching up the airports to see if you can get a better price. Some travel sites will allow you to specify the city you want to depart from or arrive into and will automatically find the best fare for you and show you travel options. Most sites will allow you to set up alerts that can notify you of bargains and cheaper fares. The competitive landscape is always changing in the travel industry, so it’s important to stay on top of it.
Monitor the airlines directly
Checking in frequently with airline websites directly can sometimes get you some good last-minute deals on both domestic and international fares. If you earn miles with a specific airline, it’ll sometimes offer deals for purchase with miles for loyal customers, so always check what you may be able to purchase with your miles.
Monitor travel sites
You can find many last-minute deals by perusing travel sites. This is true even if you’re only looking to get away for a weekend. Sites such as Smarter Travel have a section dedicated to planning a weekend getaway. If you’re able to be spontaneous and flexible, you can get some impressive deals.
LastMinuteTravel.com not only finds you great deals on airfare, but it can also root out deals on hotels, rental cars, all-inclusive trips, and cruises. Again, by being flexible with your travel dates, you can find the best prices.
If you’re looking to travel to a region such as the Caribbean, specific websites can help you find the best deals. CheapCarribean.com has a special section of its site dedicated to last minute deals. While you can get a great deal, you also have to be prepared to act quickly.
After you’ve made your travel plans for the holidays and feel like you’ve gotten a good deal, don’t forget to follow up in the days and weeks leading up to your trip. Sometimes, rates will fluctuate leading up to your travel time; by staying diligent, you can often get a better rate.
As you can see, there are many ways to go about getting the best price on your last-minute travel plans. You may have to invest a little time, but the payoff will surely be worth it. Best of all, by not spending a fortune on travel, you can free up money to enjoy the holidays and coast into January with fewer bills. That will give you a great start to the New Year and your new year’s resolutions!