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Think Summer Savings Were A Thing of The Past? Think Again.

This morning I was on NBC’s TODAY Show talking about how to save on your summer vacation. Although summer prices are higher than ever with flights averaging more than 13% higher fares than last summer don’t give just yet. Now is the time to try harder and use every trick in the book to search for your summer savings. You can salvage that summer trip yet.

Tip #1: Buy packages. First of all, allow me to clarify, packages DO NOT mean pre-packaged tours that force an itinerary on you. On the contrary, the kind of packages I’m talking about allow you to choose every component along the way. You select your airline and flight times, your hotel and even the room type, you select your car, and can even add in things like theme park tickets. So what’s the benefit of shopping this way, aside from the freedom of total choice? Packages grant access to discounted pricing that you simply can not get when you’re buying these items on your own, or as I say, a la carte. A family of four can save a few hundred dollars on these kinds of packages, sometimes even more.

Another thing I like to explain about packages is that they’re good for every level of traveler. Just because you like luxury doesn’t mean you don’t like to save either. You can find four and five star hotels in these packages too. There should never be any guess work in a good package. Go for what you want and compare the package against the individual items.

Here’s an example: Fly from Dallas to Maui, buying now and traveling at the end of the summer or in the fall, and you can get a package price for seven nights air plus hotel totaling $3,325 for two people. I know that sounds like a lot but compare it to the a la carte total for air and hotel separately, where the air portion alone costs over $3,000. The average savings per person in this case is $1,190.

Tip #2 Be flexible. Ok, so you’ve heard that before. You’re smart enough to look at alternative airports and you’re probably willing to leave at a different time of day if that means savings. But I’m talking about thinking even more widely. Rather than leaving on Friday night after work for your vacation, instead, leave on the first flight out Saturday morning and maximize your time in a destination. Likewise, on the day of your departure, rather than leaving early, request a late check-out and leave your bags with the bellhop and then utilize the day and take the last flight out. This way you’ve basically squeezed two extra days into your vacation without paying for those nights at your hotel. According to Smith Travel Research the average hotel room in the US tops $100 a night which means more savings for you.

With the advance of technology there are other things to look for when you’re shopping an online travel agency, ways of getting cheaper fares may come in the form of a split ticket (where you fly one carrier out and a different carrier back. But there’s another way that sometimes can make sense, something called an “interline” ticket which means you fly two different airlines to get to your destination. Twenty or thirty
years ago they were commonplace but as airline networks grew they became obsolete. Now with technology searching they’re making a comeback and can sometimes be a way of saving. For example: Fly from Atlanta to Portland, OR via Denver on Frontier and Alaska Airlines for $617 versus Atlanta to Portland, OR on USAir the whole way (with a stop in Charlotte) which costs $644.

In this case they take just about the same amount of time but sometimes there’s a longer layover. You’ll have to weigh your time vs. the convenience factor but only you can be the judge of that!

Tip #3 Avoid excess fees. Pack light. Ship heavy items instead of taking them with you. On 3 major airlines there are new bag fees in place charging $15 for the first checked bag. Nearly all the airlines will charge a $25 fee for the second checked bag. Overweight and oversize bags will also cost you upwards of $50 to $150. With airlines paying extra attention to costs, it’s possible that if your carry on bag exceeds 40 pounds or 45 linear inches the airline could force you to check it. The airlines will add a few billion to their bottom line with these changes so you bet they’re cracking down
on the baggage policies.

Allow me to illustrate how this could cost you hundreds. Let’s take a family of four people that has six bags (or items) to check. Say one of those items is 95 pounds, making it overweight. The four bags cost $30 each roundtrip totaling $120. The fifth bag costs $50 round trip bringing the baggage total to $170. The overweight bag costs $200 roundtrip. Suddenly your bag fees totaling $370 just ruined your vacation budget.

But the fees extend beyond baggage this summer. It’s also going to cost you more to make a change to a non-refundable ticket, the price has gone from $100 to $150, so be sure when you book and do not alter your plans.

We’re also seeing fees at some airlines for premium seats, snacks, beverages, even stand-by guarantees (they do change from airline to airline though so you will want to check with your carrier.) For example, I changed my standby ticket on JetBlue two weeks ago and I could have paid a $40 fee to guarantee it 24 hours in advance but I didn’t and instead I went to the airport early and made sure I was first on the list and ready to go. I got on the flight without paying the fee.

Tip # 4 Take a long weekend. This is what the Brits call a “mini-break” and it can be a terrific way to get a change of scenery. I suggest visiting a city where you can use mass transportation and keep prices down buy buying smart. For example, stay slightly off the tourist path at a business hotel. You’ll still be able to experience all the city has to offer but business hotels tend to drop their rates for weekenders when they have less business.

For example, the Jury’s Boston in the heart of the Back Bay area which is packed with charming restaurants and shops costs $325 a night for a weekend in July. Where as the Omni Parker House, on School Street just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation updating the property, is located in the “downtown” area of Boston has rooms for $215 per night for the same weekend. The Hilton Boston Financial hotel is only $198 per night. Both of those are considered “business hotels”. And yet, Boston is such a terrific example for an option like this because it’s a very walk-able city. The T (the Boston subway) has stop close by. But if you’re up for it you can access all of Boston’s best sites on foot. You’re near enough to the Boston Commons (one of my favorite city parks!), the Back Bay, Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail and the North End.

Tip # 5 Go like a local. The trendy term for this behavior is to call yourself a “locovore.” Use mass transit rather than taxis, buy from the supermarket and save on expensive hotel meals, and frequent local locales as opposed to the common tourist spots which are often more crowded and higher priced.

To get legit local ideas use a good review site as your guide, I like www.IgoUgo.com
or www.Yelp.com. True locovores only eat things that were grown relatively nearby. A farmer’s market is the perfect place to get snacks and items for a picnic lunch or dinner. A good resource for them is the website localharvest.org which lists farmers markets found all around the country and you can search by your destination.

In a city like San Francisco there is no shortage of amazing food. But I try not to miss going to the Ferry Plaza farmer’s market. I can spend under $5 on a fantastic meal of fresh tomales and seasonal fruit for dessert.

Remember that staying in a room with a fridge or a kitchenette will help you cutting down your costs. For some family a suite with a kitchen may make sense too.

Cash in by putting all these tips together on your summer vacation. If you’re lucky you may have a little extra left over that can offset the rise in your gasoline bill this summer.

amy_ziff

My name: Amy is my name, but I'll answer to Ame, Ames or Aimee.

How I earn my keep: My beat is travel, but my passion is collecting stories from people I meet on the road.

Hotel I could move into: Must I pick only one?! The Palacio Duhau a Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires tops my list. For the stunning restoration of the palace and tasteful new tower that create a thoughtful intersection of old and new. Every public and private space captivates. I'd move for the grand Alvear entry as much as for the manicured garden. For the wine and cheese tastings, the dulce de leche, the art gallery, the flower shop and for all the careful attention to detail that went into creating a hotel that is transcendent. If I were to pick a hotel that most felt like me, it would be The Inn at the Manor in the Cotswolds. Oh, I could definitely live there curled up with a book in a leather chair in the bar or outside among the English wildflowers. If I wanted to live in a land far away, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater Lodge would make a unique home with a view of the crater floor from every room (including the loo!), sumptuous beds, endless roses and the most unusual neighbors - massive water buffalo who won't bother you if you stay close to your Maori guide.

If I won the lottery, I'd live in: A historic farmhouse with an enormous barn and hundreds of acres tucked into a small town in New England or a Malibu beach house with stunning views and the surf just steps away. On second thought, winning the lottery means I could jet from coast to coast and enjoy them both.

Favorite way to get around: By foot. Whether in the city or country, I find the best way to get to know someplace is ambling around to discover and sample the distinct sights, sounds, smells, and tastes a place has to offer.

View that took my breath away: Looking toward the sky in Arusha and watching black and white Colobus monkeys scramble among the treetops, jumping from one tree to the next, floating through the sky like a primate version of Superman. Monkeys know how to have a good time!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: The place I visited last. What can I say? I'm fickle.

Follow me on twitter @amyziff

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