More often than not, the person sitting next to you on a plane or sleeping in the next hotel room has paid more or less than you did for the same services. Each day, airlines quote more than several hundred fares for flights between the same two cities and hotels charge different rates for the same room. So how do you find the best rates? Here are some tips:
- Avoid traveling around the holidays. Most airlines have "blackout days" around popular holidays, when fares are more expensive and passengers cannot use frequent flyer miles. However, flying on the day of the actual holiday (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day) generally means low airfares and plenty of seats.
- Sign up for fare special e-mails. When airlines get into a fare war, the cost of a plane ticket can fall overnight and the discounted fare may be sold out by noon the next day. Get on the mailing list of airlines and other travel Web sites so you can be notified immediately if fares drop.
- Look into booking your vacation as a package. You might be able to save by booking your airline tickets along with your hotel room or rental car.
- Buy your tickets at least 21 days in advance. There are usually four different timetables for advance purchase: 21-day, 14-day, 7-day, and 3-day. The further in advance you book your flight, the lower the fare you're likely to find.
- Keep your airline options open. Use a travel Web site to search for fares instead of the individual airline sites, and choose "none" as a carrier preference.
- Consider another airport. Find out about all the airports that are near your destination city. You might be able to fly into a smaller airport or neighboring city at a much lower rate.
- Stay over a Saturday night. Airlines quote the highest fares to business travelers, who fly during the week and spend their weekends at home. If you plan to leave for your trip on a Wednesday and return on Saturday, your fare would be considerably higher than if you extended your trip to Sunday morning.
- Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Some airlines offer cheaper fares on specific days of the week. Generally, it's cheapest to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Remember, though, that a Saturday stay is necessary to receive the lowest rate.
- Be flexible about the time of day you travel. If possible, let the fares dictate the day and time of your departure. Often the less popular early morning or late evening flights have lower rates.
- Pick a flight with plenty of open seats. Seats in a flight are divided into "classes," and each class has its own price. Since the cheapest classes sell first, the fewer seats that are left on a plane, the more expensive they are.
- Sign up for a frequent flyer program. If you are a frequent traveler, it may make more sense for you to fly consistently with the same airline and accumulate frequent flyer miles, rather than base your criteria strictly on which carrier has the lowest fare for a particular destination.
- Make your reservations as early as possible. Many companies increase rates as their cars become booked. Also, certain classes of cars will sell out, and you may end up paying for a larger or more expensive vehicle than you need.
- Shop online. The quickest and easiest way to compare rental car rates: Consult a travel Web site. This way you can see what each company charges for the same type of car and length of rental.
- Consider the mileage policy. If you plan on doing a lot of driving in your rental car, make sure that you get unlimited mileage. Car rental companies can charge an exorbitant amount for each mile you go over the limit.
- Look into car rental offices away from the airport. Airport fees can raise the price of a rental car up to 10 percent. If the hotel you plan to stay in offers shuttle service, ride the shuttle to your hotel and rent a car there.
- Ask about special rates. Many rental car companies have weekly, weekend, or seasonal rates. Find out which discounts they offer and then see if your travel plans can be altered to meet their requirements.
- Book the smallest car you need. Often you can upgrade to a larger car at the rental counter at a rate far less than what you would have paid if you reserved that size. However, be aware that an upgrade is not guaranteed, and you may end up stuck with the car you reserved.
- Compare daily and weekly rates. If you need to rent a car for four or five days, it may cost less ultimately to book it for a full week.
- Ask about all classes and sizes. Sometimes a rental car office may have extra cars in a certain class or size and rent them for even less than the cost of a smaller car.
- Use coupons. Car rental coupons can be found in travel magazines or the travel section of the Sunday newspaper. Make sure to mention your coupon when reserving the car.
- Book in advance. The cheapest hotel rates can go quickly, so book your room at the same time that you make your travel plans.
- Compare packages. Choosing the cheapest hotel doesn't necessarily save you the most money. Weigh the hotel rates based upon the meals, entertainment, housekeeping, room amenities, airport shuttle service, and activity packages that the hotel may provide.
- Check for special deals through your memberships, associations, or clubs. Sometimes a credit card, a travel agent, or a frequent flyer plan can qualify you for a discounted hotel rate.
- Ask your travel agent about booking your room through a consolidator. Consolidators buy large blocks of rooms and often pass large discounts on to the individual consumer.
- Consider staying in a business district. Since business travelers aren't around during the weekend, hotels in business districts have plenty of available rooms on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights and usually offer discounted rates.
- Ask about a suite. If your family requires more than one bedroom, staying in a suite may be cheaper than reserving separate rooms.
- Talk to more than one person. If you plan to stay in a national hotel chain, call its 800-number before contacting the hotel directly. One might quote you a lower rate than the other.
Sources: FreeTravelTips.com; Airlines of the Web