Many Americans are feeling the effects of a chaotic economy, and most Houstonians are reconsidering their travel plans. If you are like me and don’t want to give up travel, now is a good time to look for discounts.
These are uncertain times. In the coming months, it will become clearer how the economic changes will affect all of us. In the meantime, it’s a good time to prioritize what is important to you and your family in terms of travel. Planning for a year of travel helps our family achieve a variety of travel with different purposes: relaxing, reconnecting with family, and adventure or cultural learning.
My motto has always been that I would rather go somewhere with my children than not go anywhere. However, now that our children are school-age, we are fairly limited in when we can travel: during busy travel times over holidays and during the summer. This means it’s never too early to start planning a trip.
There are certain trips we will not miss, like our annual visit to relatives for Thanksgiving. By watching airfare for several weeks, I was able to secure the lowest possible airfare for our family. After directly contacting the hotel where we usually stay, I was able to get a great rate. In the past when we wanted to save money, we stayed with relatives or friends.
Loyalty to air carriers and to hotel chains is one way to earn miles/credits to use later and also get access to the best rates. By creating an account at the hotel and air carrier that you are planning to use (even just once) you will also receive e-mail updates with special offers and last minute deals. Most people are familiar with the blackout dates and other restrictions put on airline miles, but the more you use miles, the easier it gets – I spent just 25,000 miles to fly coach to Paris and back last year.
After spending nearly four hours online trying to use credit card points to reserve a hotel room, I had almost given up. But then I broke the process down, reversed it, and succeeded! Now when I want to use credit card points, I make a reservation at a hotel and ask them to put the reservation on hold for a week while I transfer the required points from my card. Research hotels at Starwood Preferred Guest at www.spg.com first.
Linking your credit card to a frequent flier account is one way to earn miles rapidly. You can also earn miles with your debit card when it’s used as a charge card. Chase, for example, has a debit card that links to Continental. Remember to press the credit button at checkout time and you’ll also receive the additional protections of a credit transaction – even though the amount is still debited from your checking account. For added flexibility, card holders enrolled in the American Express Membership Rewards® program can choose to transfer their rewards points to one of several frequent flyer account options, as well as a selection of hotel loyalty programs.
Travel Web sites are another way to secure lower prices; however, it takes a savvy traveler to navigate the options. I recommend using Travelocity or Orbitz when you know the destination and can discern which hotels are desirable for their location, as well as quality. I don’t recommend using packaged trips that include airfare, hotel, and rental cars without pricing each separately to make sure you are getting the best deal. The time spent researching the different companies can result in cost savings later. Another option is www.kayak.com, a unique travel search engine that can watch fares and allows you to book directly.
What about travel agents? Each agent has a specialty, and they can be invaluable when you are planning a trip that is lengthy, has multiple destinations, or to an unknown region. I recommend that you build a relationship with a travel agent whose knowledge base fits your interests.
As my husband and I began discussing what trips we’d like to take next year, I recalled our last trip to Arizona and how exhilarating it was to climb a small mountain. I told him how, as I sat at the top of the pile of red rocks and looked over the city below me, I felt renewed. For me, the change in perspective that comes from travel is exhilarating. I look forward to travel because changing my location unlocks new interests and new dreams.
But, my dream of returning to Arizona didn’t even peak his interest. If my husband planned all of our trips, he would choose relaxing destinations near a beach. Thankfully, there are plenty of beaches near interesting places and, therefore, we can usually agree on a destination.
Last year at a charity event, we “won” the chance to visit the Dominican Republic. Because it has already been paid for, we are looking forward to that trip this spring. Bidding on travel at charity auctions can be a “win-win” situation if you don’t overpay for the trip or if the opportunity is unique. There are other types of trips that require prepayment, like cruises and trips to Disney theme parks. Prepaying for travel or setting aside funds for travel prior to a trip will reduce stress during the trip.
Because I was born in Italy, I have been hoping to return with my husband and children. I know they would love the magic of Venice and the history of Rome, and we were hoping to add on a stop in Spain. The idea of a cruise that would hit all of these destinations appealed to me because it would give the children a consistent home base and make it more fun while we were in transit.
Needless to say, there are many decisions to make when selecting a cruise: the right itinerary, the right departure date, the right ship, and the right cabin. While weighing our options, I determined that I would like a suite that would sleep all four of us in a comfortable way. This was amazingly complex because most ships cannot accommodate more than three people in a room.
Even without choosing a top-tier line, the cruise cost without airfare was astounding. While I have been weighing our options, something interesting happened. The cruise line decided that it would reduce the deposit by 50 percent. That signaled to me that there is no rush to hold our spot. Even though that is enticing, I intend to wait until January to decide.
As I think about the trips that I hope to take this year, I know that my interests may not mesh with my husband’s (did I mention he doesn’t like cold weather?). If I travel with friends or visit friends in another city, the experience would be less expensive for our family. Traveling solo is a great chance to explore specific interests or destinations; the options are unlimited thanks to the Internet (try www.worldreviewer.com).
For especially rewarding travel, I recommend destinations that have multiple attractions or activities nearby. There are some American resorts worth visiting year-round that are especially welcoming around the holidays. Be sure to check for packages (some that I’ve found include 30 percent off rooms and 10 percent off spas, retail, and restaurants). At many hotels, minimum stay requirements (which prevent short visits and generate greater revenue for the property) are being lifted just to get guests in the door. If you want even greater savings, try vacation rentals. For the same amount that it costs to stay in a hotel room for a week, you could end up with a lot more by renting a condo, apartment, or home at www.vrbo.com.
Because hotel occupancy is down in most cities and so many other travel-related industries are struggling, now is a good time to research discounts and be sure you are getting the best deal.
As this year winds up, I would like to encourage readers to continue sharing travel tips and experiences. More than one reader has commented that our travel tips are handy to bring along on a trip.
Reader Melissa Aldrich visited New York City after reading the February Travel Buzz story and used our restaurant and sightseeing suggestions. As an additional resource, Melissa recommends Class Act Entertainment Consultants for theater tickets in New York and other cities. “I would love to recommend Elizabeth (Ross) to anyone needing tickets for out-of-town shows.” (www.classacttickets.com or 877-493-9956)
In January, I will be highlighting some great destinations in America. In February, it’s on to South American destinations, and in March I will take a look at meaningful travel. If there are destinations you’d like to explore, e-mail me at (firstname.lastname@example.org) katy (at) thebuzzmagazines (dot) com.
Editor’s Note: Katy Holt is addicted to traveling and loves hearing from fellow travel enthusiasts about their experiences and adventures. If you’d like to share a favorite destination, send an e-mail to (email@example.com) katy (at) thebuzzmagazines (dot) com.