Tips for finding travel deals

It is getting more and more difficult to find a travel deal.

Just ask Tracy Hayes, who recently wanted to fly from Little Rock to St. Louis. “The cheapest ride I found was around $375,” she says. “That was the one-way fare.”

Hayes, a notary from Little Rock, checked the usual suspects — Booking.com, Expedia and a few airline websites — but declined. Either she paid $375, or she’s not going.

She is not alone. Travelers, accustomed to the generous deals offered during the early days of the pandemic, are waking up to a cold reality. Travel is expensive. These days, he truly expensive.

Deals don’t fall on your lap anymore. You have to go out and look for them. Hayes thought of other ways to get from Little Rock to St. Louis. How about the train? She checked the Amtrak website, which offers a one-way ticket for just $52. She can relax with plenty of legroom and WiFi on board. But instead of an hour, it was taking about seven to get there.

“I think with these rates, I’ll take the train a lot,” she says.

You still have to work for a deal even if you get on the train. This summer, I learned that I wanted to take the Eurostar from Paris to London to avoid the madness of Heathrow. But during the height of the summer travel season, Eurostar offered $279 one-way tickets. I shopped and found the same tickets on Rail Europe for $249. It’s still pretty high, but it’s better.

How do you find a travel deal now? Having had an unbelievable moment when you see the amazing starting price, you will need to be patient, a little stubborn and a lot of counter-gullible.

Some tried and true websites and apps can help you find the lowest fare or hotel rate. For example, companies like Google Flights and Hopper will show you the best times to book. Hopper also has a color-coded calendar to mark the lowest prices. And Kayak will alert you when the price drops. You can monitor the fare for a specific time range, destination or price.

The timing of the deal is difficult. Cornelius Fichtner says the dynamics of finding deals has changed for him. He used to access the discounts by booking months before his flight. But that is not the case now.

“Booking in advance no longer works,” says Fichtner, president of an educational software company in California. “It’s best to wait until a few weeks before your flight.”

He is not alone. Industry insiders say their customers started booking flights at the last minute during the early days of the pandemic due to travel uncertainty.

They still do so, forcing providers to adjust the way they set their prices. In other words: Don’t stress if you haven’t found a deal months before your trip. Your patience may reward you for a lower price – in the end. But don’t wait too long.

Being an opponent can lead to big discounts, too. For example, if you’re looking for a discount cruise or vacation package, the big box store probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Maybe it should be. Wholesale stores like Sam’s Club and Costco have earned a reputation for offering deep discounts, especially during the pandemic, according to deal experts.

“The deals posted on their website tend to be anywhere from 10 to 30 percent lower,” says Andrea Woroch, a budget travel expert in Bakersfield, California.

The hounds had to deal with the new travel environment. Ashley Lands goes through various steps to find the best rate. Landes, who runs a digital marketing agency in New York, checks Google flights early Monday or Tuesday mornings. I’ve noticed lower prices on flights from New York to Orlando, in one case by as much as $250 for a weekend getaway.

“And when you find a low price, don’t wait. I can’t overstate how important this is,” she adds.

I recently hesitated for a few hours, only to find that the fare had gone up by $700. The stall effectively killed her flight.

Another thing: In travel, the deal isn’t always a deal. It can be easy to go for the lowest price. You’re probably following wrong instinct, says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews.

“The truth is, just because it’s cheaper on the surface doesn’t mean it’s very cheap in the long run,” she says.

For example, it may appear that the low-cost airline has the lowest price. But once you factor in other fees and have to pay extra costs like a bottle of water on your flight or your checked bag or hand luggage, you may end up paying the same (or more) the regular fare from an old airline. Also, tickets may be more restrictive, so if you need a refund, out of luck.

So what should a traveler do? Experts tell me that at a time like this, they’ve seen a lot of people rush to book a “deal,” only to discover it was too restrictive — or too good to be true.

Bottom line: When you find a deal (and you will), don’t rush the process, but don’t bounce either. Find that sweet spot in your timing. Read the terms of purchase, and pay close attention to cancellation information and other restrictions.

Then, if it still looks good, jump on it.

Prospective travelers should take local and national public health guidance regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Health Travel Notice information can be found on the CDC’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s Travel Health Notice web page.

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