If the crowds at major airports are any indication, people are starting to travel again — and then some.
Staff shortages in security and customs, staffing challenges, and ongoing public health protocols have led to massive delays, long queues, and flight cancellations at some of Canada’s busiest airports, as well as south of the border.
However, despite all the problems, tourist destinations and airlines are expecting huge crowds this summer, with some industry watchers suggesting the number of travelers may exceed pre-pandemic levels.
And if you’ve been browsing travel websites for these elusive pandemic deals, you’ve probably already realized that summer hotel and flight prices have taken off.
So here are some tips and advice from travel experts to help you save some dollars while booking your vacation.
Flights aren’t cheaper to book on Mondays
“Some people will still think you know a 2 a.m. reservation on a Wednesday night full moon will get you the cheapest rates, but that’s not how it works anymore,” said Barry Choi, a Toronto-based personal financer. Travel expert.
It’s all about dynamic pricing, Choi says, and the algorithms already know what you’re looking for based on your search history.
“There are very simple things you can do to control costs, to a point. So, on average, booking from Friday to Monday will always be more expensive than Tuesday to Thursday,” noting that there are usually fewer travelers in the middle of the week.
Choi says the time of day you leave can also mean cost savings.
Someone who travels early in the morning to maximize their time at their destination can expect to pay a slightly higher fee than someone who is willing to save a few dollars by traveling later in the afternoon and arriving later at their destination.
“It’s not a huge difference, but sometimes it can be important, especially if you’re exchanging points,” Choi said.
Choi says that using Google’s Incognito mode to try to get around the algorithm can sometimes work, but adds that it rarely works.
Book as soon as possible, says Christian Cormier, a travel advisor, especially if you see a lot.
Basic properties of the economy apply: supply and demand, Cormier says. The more popular trips tend to be more expensive. Choi agrees, adding that some tourist destinations that were popular before the pandemic will still be popular now and prices will reflect that.
Don’t skimp on airline ticket prices
update button. If you’ve ever tried to book a flight, buy party tickets, a Sony PS5, or book a COVID-19 vaccine, you’ll probably be familiar with the dreaded/loved update button.
But Choi says don’t worry. Not for the $50 or $100 you might save on a trip.
“People tend to be obsessed with airfare. I got used to myself. Personally, I would spend 10 hours looking at each site individually constantly to save $100,” Choi recalls. But he notes that in his cost analysis, that meant he estimated his time at $10 an hour. And by eating at home a few nights that month and cutting back on coffee on the go, he could easily save that money without spending 10 hours crunching online.
Get rid of these travel points and redeem them
Most people haven’t been on a plane in years, and some of us have likely spent a lot of time shopping online during the pandemic, hopefully racking up travel rewards points on credit cards while contributing to the economy as a whole (hey, capitalism).
“Depending on the program, you can immediately apply this to your fare, which immediately lowers some of your costs,” Choi said, but cautions that every program is different, so it pays to do some homework to see how best to use your points .
As an example, Choi says, Aeroplan rewards points can technically be used to book any flight you want. But Choi notes that some reward flights are more valuable than others.
“What I mean by that is, if you book a business class flight, the point in general is that it’s worth more than you book economy class, right. So you have to calculate the value of your points one point at a time,” Choi said.
It pays to be loyal
Joining hotel loyalty programs allows you to earn points, as you would with a credit card, Choi says. Popular booking sites like Hotels.com or booking.com often have their own individual loyalty programs. Choi said Hotels.com offers one free night for every 10 nights you book using their site.
You can also collect points by choosing to stay at certain hotel chains, such as Marriott, which allows you to earn a free night’s stay. Marriott’s Bonvoy points program lets you book four nights with points and then give you the fifth night free, Choi said, which is one of the easiest ways to save money.
Try travel hack
Choi says it’s basically where you sign up for new travel rewards credit cards that give you a huge welcome bonus. Once you have these points, you can then apply them to your travels. If you apply for three or four travel tickets in a year, Choi says you can quickly get enough points to land a free business-class flight. Just remember to cancel the cards before the annual renewal expires.
“I do it myself all the time. But if you’re someone who usually owes or have trouble paying off their credit card, it’s probably something you don’t want to do,” warns Choi.
Travel hacking is not for everyone. Every time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score drops. And in order to get the welcome bonus, credit cards typically require some sort of minimum amount to be spent with the card, Choi says, so setting up these credit cards encourages people to spend more.
Choi loves American Express cards, and not just for travel, as he says he finds their benefits and offers very generous, often including travel insurance and better profit rates.
Don’t buy reward points unless you need them
“In general, buying points is never worth it because airlines will always sell for less than they are actually worth,” he says.
Of course, Choi adds, there are always exceptions.
If you’re 5,000 points away from being able to book a business-class flight, buying those 5,000 points is probably worth it because you’ll get that really expensive flight on the cheap, Choi says.
Choi also points to recent deals on points, some of which offer an additional 50 to 75 percent of points, and says that depending on your specific situation, taking advantage of these bonuses can be beneficial.
“You don’t have to buy points in order to buy points. You should always buy points to get you to a particular reception or goal that you’re looking to claim,” Choi said.
Don’t be afraid to cancel hotel reservations
Choi recommends booking early and booking a hotel that is fully refundable. Hotels are constantly changing rates, and booking a fully refundable room gives you the flexibility to cancel without costs during the allotted time if you come across a better deal.
Choi recommends checking frequently. He recently booked a fully refundable hotel room in California for a trip he took in two months. He checked into the same hotel once a week, because he got the time, he adds, and the price went down twice. He managed to snap up the same room for a lower price, but he notes that the price has gone up again since then.
“It’s totally random,” Choi says of hotel rates, and suggests people check rates frequently to get better rates.
Local tourism boards sometimes offer deals like free gift cards
The tourism industry is also trying to find ways to get people to travel again. Last summer, Choi says, cities like Ottawa, Vancouver and Richmond offered travel deals through their tourism board websites. By booking hotels or lodging through the site, people were eligible for free gift cards. Choi said Montreal had a deal, it was a boardwalk that allowed you to get to do different things around the city, which is nice and likely to help draw people back into the city.
Choi says it’s just another way to save money, and it could help fund a future trip.
Check your personal auto insurance policy
If you’re looking to rent a car when you arrive at your destination, you should check your personal insurance policy because it may cover rental car insurance while you’re travelling, Cormier says.
The same applies to travel insurance either through your company’s health benefits or on your credit card.
Cormier says travel and auto insurance are additional costs, and if you’re already covered, it could mean significant savings.
Don’t always look for the cheapest deals
Cormier warns that cheapness comes at a cost.
“You have to be careful when you’re looking for the cheapest. The devil is in the details,” Cormier said.
She recommends looking at the value for the price point. For example, you don’t want to come to the airline and realize there are costs associated with checked baggage because it’s a discount airline, she said.
Cheap cost often means less flexibility, so if something goes wrong, if plans change (as we saw when the world came to a halt due to a global pandemic), or you don’t read the fine print, what you buy may not be what you buy and you end up getting.
You can look at the price and think, well, that sounds better, but an online travel site might not show additional fees associated with the total costs, so by the time you decide to check out, “cheap” might not mean it’s more cost-effective, Cormier said.
Inflation has hit the travel industry hard, like anything else, prices have gone up across the board. Cormier doesn’t think prices, especially those linked to higher fuel costs, will drop anytime soon, so while she understands the desire to save money, she’s warning people to make sure they know what they’re paying for.
Cormier herself has seen a spike in business since January of this year. I’ve had an influx of clients, both returning and new, asking for help booking flights. She said destination weddings are making a comeback again, and so are multi-generational families from all over the world finally deciding to spend that vacation together.
“He’s so busy, he’s really bounced back,” Cormier said. People travel but people don’t want to travel without advice. They are nervous.”
One of the main reasons people come to her for advice?
“There are a lot of options,” she said.
Cormier said there were a few online booking sites to choose from, and now, although the lion’s share of online travel is booked through giants like Expedia Group, which also owns Hotels.com, Vrbo, Travelocity, trivago and hotwire and Orbitz, navigating all the different websites and combing through the finer details is something their busy clients don’t have the time or inclination to do.
“In general, in travel, you get what you pay for. It’s that simple,” Cormier said.
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