Top Ten Secrets of Travel Agents to Save You Money
The only thing that travel agents love more than seeing the world is saving money when they do! For several years I worked at three different travel agencies and spent my days looking for and finding the best price for my clients on flights, hotel rooms, car rentals, tours, and rail passes. I learned many tricks of the trade and travel deal secrets. Let me share them with you:
- PLAN AHEAD. You’ve heard the popular travel legend of the last-minute flight to Hawaii for $100 or a screamingly low rate on a five-star hotel room, right? This happens about .01% of the time. For the other 99.99% of travelers, it pays to plan ahead- that’s what travel agents do. Summer trip to Europe? Buy your tickets in January or February for the best rates.
- BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR TRAVEL DATES AND TIMES. Even more important than planning ahead is being flexible. Give yourself a few days of range on either end of your trip, and you will get the best price. Clients who insist on leaving this exact afternoon and returning that exact night almost always get the worst rates. And wake up early, because crack-of-dawn flights are usually the cheapest. I had customers who would pay hundreds of dollars more for their tickets because there was “no possible way” they could get to the airport by 6AM. It’s your choice- but I would rather have two hundred bucks in my pocket than two extra hours of sleep in my head!
- SHOP AROUND. Check websites for deals like kayak.com, mobissimo.com, or sidestep.com to compare rates. Going international? Call a travel agency. Call three. All will give you a quote for free, and travel agents have access to consolidator tickets that you and your laptop do not. Most people assume that the web has the cheapest flights, but in my experience, a good travel agency will beat the online rate about 1/3 of the time for international flights.
- CLEAR YOUR COOKIES. Checking out the travel sites listed above, or any other? Going back to book? Remove the cookies from your Internet browser’s history, otherwise the website will remember you were already there and jack up the price. You see that the rate has gone up and think, “uh-oh, I better book it now!” and wind up paying more than you should have for your ticket.
- BOOK DIRECT. I try never to book my travel through Expedia or a similar third-party company. When you reserve a flight on these websites, you don’t actually purchase your ticket when you push the button, only several hours later- meaning you could lose your price and have to start over. And if a hotel is overbooked, customers who booked with third-party companies get bumped first. You will also get the crappiest room. Use these sites to FIND the prices, and then book directly with the hotel or airline via their website. Note: this does not apply to travel agents, who book directly with the travel companies and function as your representative, not as a third-party company.
- GO LOCAL. Renting a car or campervan in Australia or New Zealand? Local rental companies’ rates are almost always lower, and it is easy to book online. Google is your friend! Going local also applies to saving money on the ground once you arrive- local brands of groceries, beer and toiletries are less expensive and much more fun!
- TRAVEL IN THE OFF-SEASON. Air tickets to Europe or anywhere else in winter (excluding the holiday season) can be 1/3 to 1/4 the price of a peak summertime ticket. Hotel rooms are cheaper, tourist sites are not crowded, and your hosts will be less burned-out. Remember: there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.
- FLY ON WEEK DAYS for international travel, usually considered by the airlines to be Monday through Thursday. You will save almost a hundred dollars by avoiding the airlines’ weekend surcharge on both ends.
- KNOW WHEN TO SPEND MONEY. I had a client who opted for an extra layover in his flight itinerary to save $8 on the ticket. He wanted the best price, and he got it- but when you factor in the value of your vacation time, travel fatigue, and miscellaneous costs like airport snacks and bottled water, it was hardly a deal. Know when to spend a penny to save a pound.
- TALK TO THE EXPERTS. Travel agents spend every day analyzing flight routes, learning airline rules, reading maps of train stations, negotiating car rental prices, and sorting through the computer reservation systems of the airlines, systems that predate the Internet. If you travel internationally at all, a good travel agent will be worth her weight in gold. Find one, keep one, and send her a postcard- we really love it when you do.