Washington - Going on vacation is fantastic. The act of planning one, however, can be far less glamorous.
Finding a good deal on a flight during travel dates that actually work for your schedule is only half the battle. Pairing those flights with a hotel and activities that fit your budget adds another challenge.
But there are newsletters, apps and travel websites that can help make the process a little easier. We looked at a few tools you may want to consider, based on the kind of traveller you are.
I'm game for going anywhere, just get me a really cheap flight.
If you're down to be spontaneous or just aren't sure where to go, travel newsletters that alert you to cheap flights can be a place to start. Scott's Cheap Flights is a newsletter that alerts people to cheap flights as they're discovered, focusing mostly on international trips. It was launched eight months ago by Scott Keyes, who became a travel expert after booking several trips using rewards points and airline miles. Unlike other newsletters that compile multiple deals, Keyes, who searches for many of the deals himself with the help of a partner, sends one for each sale, including recommendations for how quickly people should book.
About a quarter of the deals Keyes sends out each month are mistake flights, meaning prices are much lower than what the airline intended. Last week, for instance, he found a $285 (about R3 400) round-trip flight from San Francisco to New Zealand that he says normally costs about $1 100. Many of the flights are out of major cities with large international airports, such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and users can't specify which airports they want to follow. Scott's Cheap Flights has a free version, but people who pay for a premium subscription, which costs about $29 a year, receive more alerts and are notified about deals before the free subscribers.
Another free newsletter to consider is a one offered by Airfarewatchdog.com. The alerts sent to travelers are a combination of discounts found through automated searches and deals curated by a staff of travel experts, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. Consumers can sign up to hear about cheap flights leaving from the airports they fly out of regularly, tracking as many as 10 airports. People can rule out airlines they don't like and can choose how often they want to receive the alerts - daily, weekly or every couple of days. The website also lets people know about travel date restrictions and other fees they might have to pay.
Unlike more conventional flight comparison tools that help people track the cost of flying a particular route, these newsletters can draw attention to trips that travelers might not already have on their radar, Hobica says. Some of the deals are also time sensitive, and rates can increase substantially over the next several minutes or hours.
I know where I want to go, but am flexible on timing.
Already know where you want to go but haven't figured out the best time to go? The fare calendar on Fly.com can help travelers determine when a particular flight might be most affordable. The calendar is similar to the tools offered by some airlines that show travelers how fares might change if they left a few days earlier or delayed their trips to later in the week. But the Fly.com calendar aggregates flights for multiple airlines and shows how prices are expected to change over the next several months.
CheapAir.com has a similar “flexible dates” tool that lists cheap flights over the next several months for particular routes. Kayak.com also shows people how the cost of flights might change, but only by looking a few days before and after.
I need a hotel last-minute, but still want a good deal.
Sometimes, the travel tickets are booked but you still haven't found a place to crash. The booking app HotelTonight caters to people who have every other part of their trip set but need a hotel at the last minute. Travelers can use the app to sort through hotels available near them to be booked that night or up to a week away. A recent search for hotels in San Francisco showed rooms available the next day for discounts of 15 percent to more than 30 percent off normal rates. As The Washington Post has reported, the app may appeal to people who weren't planning to stay at hotels during their trip but changed their minds or had other plans fall through at the last-minute.
I want the complete package.
Those travelers who really want to take the work out of planning can buy a pre-set vacation package that includes both flight and hotel, and maybe fun excursions, but usually limits when the trip can take place. For instance, websites like LivingSocial, Groupon and Travelzoo list discounts on travel packages that are restricted to specific dates. One package promoted on Groupon.com last week listed prices starting at $449 per person for airfare and a four-night hotel stay at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, compared to normal prices starting at $629 per person. But the rates only applied for travel on select dates between April and August and flights needed to depart from one of the cities on the list, including Baltimore, Miami, Newark and others.
I want to do the planning, but need help.
Those people who want to choose where they go and when can plan their own trips, but they don't have to start from scratch. A new tool from Google called Destinations comes up with various combinations of hotels and flights within a person's price point. Travelers need to do a Google search on their phones for the name of the place they want to visit, followed by the word “destinations,” no app required. People who know they want to do certain activities, like skiing or surfing, but aren't sure exactly what cities are best can add those keywords to the search. For example, the top results from a search for “Thailand destinations beach” turned up resorts in Ko Samui, one of Thailand's largest islands, and Pattaya, a town on Thailand's eastern Gulf coast. Users can see the estimated cost of visiting each place, about $1 300 per person for a six-night stay, and swipe right to see how the cost is expected to change over the next several months.
The tool also recommends certain travel dates that Google projects will offer the best value, but travelers can also research other factors they may influence their decision. For instance, they can scroll down to see when that destination is most popular, what the weather should be like at that time of year and what the average cost of a hotel and flight is expected to be over the next several months. Users can also change the number of travelers going on the trip, the number of stops they prefer for the flight and the hotel class.
These are only some of the tools available for saving on travel. Keep in mind that many of these websites offer multiple services that can cater to all kinds of travelers.