CONSUMER REPORTS: How to save big on your next vacation
Consumer Reports Money Adviser recently compiled some expert-tested travel tips for when time and money are tight:
WHEN AND WHERE
• Go offseason. Rome in November and London in April made those trips much easier for one of Consumer Reports’ Web editors. With no summer hordes, there was no wait to get into the Sistine Chapel. Airfares and hotel rates were lower, and restaurants in Rome were hungry for customers, which prompted unusually attentive table service.
• Consider a trip closer to home. One editor found Mendocino, Calif., to be a lot cheaper than Madrid when traveling from the San Francisco Bay area. For one thing, it was only 150 miles away. Serendipity revealed the Mendocino Music Festival, wine tastings and gorgeous Pacific sunsets.
• Check international tour companies. If you’re taking a tour overseas, don’t rely on U.S.-based operators. Instead, shop local — overseas. One copy editor paid 50 percent less with an Irish third-party provider and would have paid even less if she had bought from the Czech company that actually conducted the tour.
• Use frequent flyer miles. The director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center was surprised to find that his frequent flyer miles bought flights at their lowest mileage prices only six weeks ahead of his departure to the United Kingdom. Some flexibility was required, including a connection and overnight stay.
• Sign up for fare alerts. Most airlines and travel booking websites offer email notices, which let you know about new discounts and special offers.
• Break long trips into separate legs. Forget official connecting flights or stopovers; rather, shop for various possible legs of one long-distance voyage as though they were separate and unconnected flights, even using different airlines and connecting cities.
• Consider alternative airports. Chicago Midway is often a less expensive alternative to O’Hare. Around New York City, alternatives to JFK, LaGuardia and Newark include Long Island MacArthur (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), Westchester County (near White Plains, N.Y.) and Stewart (Newburgh, N.Y.).
• Try HotelTonight. Every day at noon in the city you’re visiting, this iPhone and Android app sends you deep-discount, last-minute deals for a selection of hotels. See one you like? Book it and pay using your stored credit card with a single tap.
• Book a condo, house, or apartment. People all over the world own vacation homes that they rent to other travelers. Be sure to research the neighborhood and user ratings. Start with a Google search of “vacation rentals” for your destination to find local brokers, such as anna maria.com (Florida) and BermudaRentals.com. Flip key.com, HomeAway.com and vrbo.com are worthwhile general home-rental sites.
• Sign up for a loyalty program. Even if you didn’t do so before booking, join the hotel’s preferred guest loyalty program when you check in. Consumer Reports’ records and legal services manager joined the Starwood Preferred Guest program on a stay in Chicago and got a coupon for $35 worth of in-room service, free Wi-Fi for the entire stay and two bottled waters from the mini fridge — for a total of $103 in savings.
• Shop on Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. CR’s Tightwad Tod columnist swears by them for booking rental cars and hotels. He has easily saved half the cost of both—or more. Recently in Charlotte, N.C., he got a one-day Hertz rental for about $40 on Priceline.com vs. about $140 with an AAA, Hertz or US Airways discount. The method: He always submits low-ball bids, ignores warnings that they’re unlikely to be accepted and keeps bidding but changes the deal parameters slightly each time. He finally gets a pop-up screen suggesting that if he bid an additional $10, he’d get that rate guaranteed.
• Don’t rent extras. One staffer says opting for a child safety seat from a car rental agency can cost $10 to $13 a day, so he brings his own, and many airlines let you check it free.