Ten Commandments of
Summer Travel Buying
June and youre probably deep into your travel mode. After
all, whats more perfect than the Great American Summer Vacation?
So now, more that ever, is when you need to learn Joe's Ten Commandments
of Travel Buying.
commandments aren't written in stone--in fact, they change all
the time to keep up with the vagaries of travel--but they are exceptionally
useful as guideposts for navigating around the costly pitfalls of
the millennium's travel-buying landscape.
NEVER PAY RETAIL The single worst values
in travel today are full-coach airline fares, hotel "rack"
rates, and the cabin prices printed in a cruise brochure. These
are the travel industry's equivalent of "retail"--and
no leisure traveler should pay retail. In fact, the travel industry
no longer even expects to sell at retail prices. By and large, retail
prices now exist solely as a benchmark against which the travel
industry can promote their percentage-off sales.
2. BEWARE advertised BARGAINS Since retail prices
are meaningless, travelers must negotiate their way to the best
deals, and Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware)
should be your travel-buying philosophy. Be especially wary of travel
promotions: Never assume that a travel supplier is advertising its
3. DEMAND the lowest price Cutting through the thicket
of competing "deals" isn't as difficult as it seems. You
can often secure the best price simply by asking for it. Whenever
you speak to a reservation clerk or travel agent, never make a purchase
before bluntly asking, "Is this the lowest price available?"
Once the agent responds, ask the obvious follow-up question: "Are
you sure this is the lowest price you have?"
You'll be surprised how often--and how far--prices drop when you
ask those two questions in a firm, but polite, manner.
4. "Sold out" doesn't mean sold
out The travel industry
controls prices with "yield management," a computerized
system that theoretically matches existing supply with historical
demand at the highest price each traveler is supposedly willing
to pay. To achieve this often elusive balance, yield-management
computers frequently change prices and regularly reallocate the
number of airline seats, hotel rooms, cruise cabins or rental cars
available at each price level.
when a reservations agent tells you a flight or a cruise is "sold
out," this does not necessarily mean that there are literally
no more seats or cabins available. It often means only that there
is no inventory available at that particular
price at that exact moment. If you try a week, a
day, or sometimes even an hour later, a seat or a cabin may be available.
In a way, you're trying to outguess a computer when you make a travel
purchase, so be persistent.
5. Be flexible Yield-management
computers slice and dice the demand for travel so precisely that
prices now differ substantially depending on the date, the day of
the week, and even the hour you travel. Shifting your travel plans
by a few days, or even a few minutes, can mean substantial savings.
Make certain you ask your travel agent or reservation clerk if the
price will decline if you choose an alternate travel date or departure
BOOKING EARLY ISN'T ALWAYS BEST
Yield management has drastically altered one travel-buying
cliché: Booking early no longer guarantees you get the best price.
It's still wise to plan ahead, especially for travel during holidays
and peak seasons, but be alert. Yield-management computers can and
do launch price wars at any time. Mastering the web is also useful
since travel suppliers have recently begun to create last-minute
discounts that are accessible only by tapping into their home pages.
FIND ALTERNATE SUPPLIERS
Even with yield management, the travel industry almost
always has extra inventory. It dumps its excess capacity on "bucket
shops" and "consolidators," middlemen who resell
travel at deeply discounted prices. For airline deals, try LowestFare.com
or 1Travel.com [http://www.1travel.com].
Quikbook [http://www.quikbook.com] and Accommodations Express [http://www.accommodationsexpress.com]
traffic in excess hotel rooms.
WATCH THE SURCHARGES The price you negotiate
is rarely the final cost of your travel. Some extras, most notably
government-mandated taxes and user fees, are unavoidable. Others,
such as the value-added levies in Europe and Canada, are refundable
in certain circumstances. Still others, like extra-driver fees on
car rentals and inflated phone charges at hotels, can be avoided
altogether if you plan carefully.
9. Don't go it alone A good travel agent is an indispensable ally.
After all, are you qualified
to plow through the rules of the more than 360 airfares that exist
just for flights between New York and Los Angeles? Don't have a
good agent? Ask friends and families for a suggestion. If all else
fails, surf the web. These days, everyone's a cyber-critic: People
aren't shy about posting opinions on their home pages about everything
from lousy room service to spectacular walking tours.
Know when to say when
Finally, don't be obsessive. Is finding
the absolute lowest price the best use
of your time? There's almost always a way to slice another $50 off
the price of your cruise or an airline ticket. But I say it's not
worth it if you must squander an extra day tracking down the discount.
The best deal in travel isn't necessarily the lowest price. The best deal is the
price that logically balances a reasonable expenditure of your money
and your time.