The travel industry is recovering from the recession. And unfortunately, stronger business for it means fewer deals for you. But with our 20 tips, you can still save on airfare, lodging, vacation packages and cruises.
Save on Airfare
1) Use Kayak.com to quickly scan hundreds of travel Web sites for the cheapest airfares. And don't forget to check Southwest.com -- Kayak doesn’t include fares for the budget airline.
2) Sign up for airlines’ free e-mails to get sale alerts and coupon codes delivered straight to your in-box. Or visit AirfareWatchdog, where the site’s staff shares those promotional codes and special offers.
3) Check Bing Travel to save a fortune using its “price predictor,” which forecasts whether fares on major domestic routes will go up or down. Just enter your itinerary and the site will return a list of fares with a recommendation to either buy now or wait for a fare drop.
4) Try booking and flying at less-trafficked times. Fares tend to sneak up on the weekends, when more people are free to plan their travel, so book your flight on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Flying on those days, as well as on Saturday afternoons, also offer the best rates because fewer people travel at those times.
5) Be flexible about where you go. You can use Kayak’s Explore tool to pinpoint on a world map all the destinations you can visit within your budget for fares.
6) Pack lightly to skip the extra baggage fees that most airlines charge. Southwest continues to allow two free checked bags; JetBlue permits one. See SmarterTravel for a comprehensive list of fees from 16 major airlines. And weigh the costs of carrying luggage versus shipping it -- see KIP TIP: Save Money By Shipping Your Luggage.
7) If you’re booking a last-minute flight, consider buying a vacation package. Online travel agencies lock in lower fares early and combine them with cheap hotel stays. At the eleventh hour, when fares may spike up, these bundles may cost less than purchasing the flight alone.
Save on Lodging
8) Book directly through a hotel's Web site. Many places offer lower rates for online-booking. You can also sign up to get hotels’ e-mails about special promotions and discounts.
9) Book blind for rock-bottom rates. The “Priceline Negotiator” can cut up to 60% off regular hotel rates (and 40% off airfare and car-rental rates). And Hotwire.com’s “Hot Rates” can knock up to 50% off room prices. With either, you specify your length of stay, preferred neighborhood and a guaranteed minimum star class. But you won’t know the exact hotel or location until after you pay -- an especially big risk when visiting unfamiliar areas, particularly overseas. (Blind booking works fine for car rentals, too; a sedan is a sedan is a sedan. But it’s a gamble for flights because you won’t know exact departure times or airlines.)
10) Double down on tip number five: Flexibility can also help you save you on your stay. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, try shopping private-sale sites, such as JetSetter.com. They offer deep discounts on luxury hotels for a limited time. But the locations are random and most sites only offer a few deals at a time. We prefer JetSetter because it presents 15 to 30 options at once.
11) Check Hotels.com for its more than 20,000 last-minute deals available each week (the site is updated daily). While you’re there, watch for other sales and specials on hotel stays, too.
12) Call your hotel to confirm an online reservation -- especially if you booked at the last minute -- and check to see whether you’re being charged additional fees. Most hotels are willing to waive fees for frequent visitors or rewards-program members. Also, request a copy of your bill the night before you check out so that you have time to dispute any extra charges.
13) Consider a vacation rental home, especially when traveling with a big group. Such rentals often offer more space and amenities for prices similar to or less than hotels. HomeAway.com offers the biggest selection of rentals, with more than 230,000 listings worldwide.
Save on Vacation Packages
14) Online travel agencies Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz are well known for their bundled bargains. But don’t forget to check packages offered by airlines, such as United Airlines’ United Vacations, and by smaller travel operators, such as Apple Vacations, for some of the sweetest deals.
15) Check the cost of add-ons, such as rental cars, show tickets, tours and museum passes, when booking packages with online travel agencies. Sometimes the agencies offer those extras at a discount.
16) Pay just once for your whole vacation -- including lodging, food, drinks and activities – and make it easier to stay within your budget by booking an all-inclusive deal from resorts such as Club Med and Sandals.
Save on Cruises
17) You can score some of the best cruise deals close to the departure date -- just don't expect the really cheap tickets to get you a stateroom with a view.
18) Visit CruiseCompete.com, where you submit your cruise preferences and more than 300 travel agents compete for your business.
19) Book your flight separately. Using Kayak or Bing Travel, you can often find fares for less than the flight cost included in a cruise line’s package. Just be sure to schedule enough time between landing and setting sail; the boat won’t wait if your flight is delayed.
20) Sail into big savings with a repositioning cruise. Ships need to take these one-way voyages in order to relocate for the season. For example, ships that cruise near Alaska in the summer head south once fall arrives, and cruise lines invite passengers aboard for the ride at deeply discounted rates.