Summer Travel Tips: How to Save and Where to Go
This article appeared originally on Next Avenue.
If you’re mulling taking a vacation this year, you’re in luck: I just came back from The New York Times Travel Show and will share the best summer travel tips I heard from industry experts.
“Nomadic Matt” Kepnes told me that “Australia, Great Britain, Canada, South Africa and India are really affordable right now.” (Check out more travel tips from Kepnes here.)
And “airfares to Europe haven’t been lower in years,” said Jason Cochran, editor-in-chief of Frommers.com. The reason: growing competition with cut-rate airlines such as Norwegian, WOW, XL and Thomas Cook. Fares to Asia are down 25 percent from a year ago in many cases, Frommer added. Kepnes told me: “Norwegian and WOW offer great deals now.” (WOW recently rolled out a $69 one-way fare from California to Europe.)
But that doesn’t mean every flight, cruise, train trip, hotel or B&B is a bargain. In fact, Frommer, Cochran and Reid Bramblett spent most of their talks telling prospective travelers how not to overpay in 2017.
Here are their top tips:
How to save
Aggregator sites include low-cost carriers; monster search engines don’t always (but don't forget that aggregators can’t include Southwest in their results because that carrier won’t let them—you'll have to search on Southwest's site separately). You can often save about 15 percent on flights by using an aggregator.
Among the aggregators, “Google is getting better, but Momondo and Skyscanner are the best,” Bramblett said. When Bramblett did dozens of fare searches for Frommers.com, Momondo found the least expensive fares 93 percent of the time.
Google.com/flights has a good “Explore Destinations” feature worth checking out, Cochran said. You pick when you want to fly and a map opens with a wide variety of flights and prices by destination that day.
For the best fare bargains, book at least a month ahead, Cochran said.
He cited a recent FareCompare study that turned up the lowest domestic fares by booking 30 to 90 days in advance and the least expensive international fares six weeks in advance.
“Last-minute airfare deals don’t really exist anymore—just fire-sale stuff,” Cochran said.
Be on guard for “ugly” basic economy fares, Frommer said.
These are fares that look alluringly low—until you see what you give up by choosing them. Delta and United already have basic economy fares.
“American will start selling them at the end of this month,” Frommer said. “They’ll tend to be where American, Delta and United compete with (bargain airlines) Spirit and Frontier.”
You don’t get frequent flier points with these fares. And you never get to choose your seat, Frommer said.
“That can be a problem for families.”
The “ugliest” part, Frommer noted: “With United and Delta, you’re not allowed to use the overhead bin if you get a basic economy fare. Your bag has to fit under your seat.”
To find the least expensive lodging in the specific area where you want to stay, Bramblett advised, try Booking.com.
When he compared Trivago with Booking.com for hotels in Rome, Trivago had more hotels overall, but many were in the suburbs. Booking.com had a much better selection of hotels in Rome proper for under $160 a night.
If you’re steamed by a hotel’s “resort fee,” Cochran said, challenge it.
“Dispute it with your credit card company if you didn’t use something on the ‘resort fee’ services list," Cochran advised. "Or demand a refund for it from the hotel’s front desk due to your continued loyalty as a guest of the hotel chain or if the resort fee wasn’t made clear to you at booking."
Don’t let a hotel or airline’s computerized “dynamic pricing” system force you into paying a higher price.
With this sneaky tactic, if you don’t book the first time you search the site, you’re charged more on your next go-round because the airline or hotel knows you’re interested.
“To beat dynamic pricing, use a different browser with every search, if you can, and clear your cookies and history cache between searches,” Cochran said.
Save money on local tours by “looking for ones run by starving grad students,” Frommer said.
“In places like Venice, Rome, Chicago and New York, those tours are free and the grad students are working on dissertations in art history or history. You just have to pay a tip at the end.”
To find them, search “free walking tours” online.
Frommer also recommended free Greeter Tours. They’re offered by locals in 132 destinations around the world who love their cities. GlobalGreeterNetwork.info has a complete list.
Where to go
Bramblett thinks some of the best travel deals in the world are now in Eastern Europe—Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Croatia—where you can stay for $25 to $43 a night.
Frommers.com just picked its 18 favorite destinations for 2017. Among them:
“Since the attacks, Paris lost 30 percent of its tourism. You can now wander in the Louvre and be in a room there totally alone, as I did in June,” Frommer said. “The French are happy to see Americans. It’s just miraculous.”
The plummeting Euro makes Paris almost a bargain, too.
Fun fact: "Music City" will be the only major U.S. city in direct viewing line for the solar eclipse Monday, Aug. 21.
This will be another sky superstar this year—2017 will mark the end of the 10-year Northern Lights cycle and light-pollution free Karasjok is an Aurora Borealis hotspot near the Arctic Circle.
“The Northern Lights will be really sucky for the next 10 years,” Frommer said. If you visit, Frommer added, you can spend the day with reindeer herders and dog sledders.
The Pantanal in South America
The largest inland wetland in the world, it’s mostly in Brazil (also in Bolivia and Paraguay) and features animal-spotting boat tours plus more than 500 species of birds.
Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
This 130-island archipelago “has everything you’d get in Alaska” but “you can spend much less,” Frommer said. “We think it’s about to hit it big because Prince William and Kate were there last fall.”
Cuba (while you can)
At The New York Times Travel Show, Cuba was very much the buzz—partly because it’s newly open to travelers and partly because that might not be true much longer.
“President Trump says he’s going to shut the door and he can do that by executive order, since that’s how Obama opened it up,” Frommer said. “Will this happen? I don’t know.”
But because it might, Frommer added, the Cubans fast-tracked development of hotels.