Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Travel Tips



Think about these tips as you get ready to plan your next trip...

Book early and think about traveling in the middle of the week as you may get a better deal than traveling on a Friday or Monday. But do remember that the most important thing to realize is you must purchase a ticket at least three weeks in advance. If you purchase within 21 days of flight date, ticket prices start going up fast. There will be exceptions and last minute deals but for the most part early is better.

If you're willing to drive to a surrounding airport, you can compare airfares at area airports if you go to ITASoftware.com. This site allows users to compare airports that range from 25 to 300 miles away at both their departure and arrival destination. Log in as a guest. Be sure to calculate gas, time off work and parking when deciding which airport to fly out of.

Some of the best international deals right now are in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Domestically, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas, Nev., are economical destinations. Vegas hotel rooms dropped 24 percent in the last year.

Pack your lunch. Eating in the airport or on a plane is expensive; leave drinks behind because you can't take them through security.

Check out Bing.com, which has some unique features. This search engine has a "Flexible Search" and if you select a 30-day range, it will give you a graph showing when airfares are high or low during that month. It predicts if airfares will drop and lets customers know how confident it is in its prediction. For example, a recent search from St. Louis to L.A. showed it was 60 percent confident fares would drop. A search from Springfield to Portland, Ore., recommended buying now because fares were rising.

When traveling internationally, see what packages are offered by various airlines. Some airlines, such as Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, offer good vacation packages on their Web sites. Right now for $999, Singapore Airlines is offering roundtrip airfare from L.A., airport transfers, daily breakfast, four night accommodations, complimentary "Hop-on Bus" pass in Singapore and 50 percent off certain tours. Prices do not include tax of approximately $110. Add $50 for U.S. departures Friday through Sunday. By contrast, a search on Travelocity found the flight alone on Singapore airlines was $1,230.

Consider a cruise. One of the best ways to travel is on a cruise and not just your Caribbean cruise, but in Europe, South America, Hawaii and Australia. You unpack one time and get to see several different cities and ports. Your food and entertainment is usually included. When booking a cruise, be sure to tell your travel agent if you have taken this cruise line before as some offer discounts for repeat cruisers. If you're active or retired military, tell your travel agent, too, since some offer discounts for military personnel.

Skip the Passport Card and get a real passport. The Passport Card is a travel document that allows Americans to enter the country from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. It is less expensive than a passport, but if a passenger gets sick on a cruise and has to fly back to the United States, they're in trouble. A passport lasts 10 years so it's worth the investment.

Bring your own pillow. Beginning May 1, American Airlines will charge $8 for a pillow and blanket in coach class on most flights. JetBlue and US Airways charge $7 for a blanket-and-pillow set. It may not sound like much, but it's easily the cost of breakfast.

Save yourself time searching for a ticket by using a search engine that compares various flights. There are many, but here are a few: www.momondo.com; www.skyscanner.com; www.sidestep.com;www.kayak.com.

Hotels eat a big part of your budget, so spend time researching them. You're likely to get a good deal from sites like Hotwire.com, but you don't know what hotel you're booking until you've reserved it, so if you don't like uncertainty, this may not be for you.

A hotel price comparison site is atwww.hotelscombined.com, which searches numerous listings and allows you to book directly through the hotel. If you find a rate you like, before you book, call the hotel and see if you can get a better discount.

Don't care where or when you go, just want to get out of town? Check out http://www.airfarewatchdog.com and type in SGF for Springfield or BKG for Branson. The site will pull up a list of deals available (usually within the next two weeks). A recent search showed roundtrip airfare from Springfield to Baltimore for $180 or $146 to Asheville, N.C. Branson to Orlando was $138.

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