Travel was always fun, now it's trendy. Score the cheapest flights and holiday deals with these travel tips.
Score the best deals
How to save money on hotel bookings when you travel
There are two excellent websites to find hotel deals: Priceline and Hotwire. They need a bit of time and patience but can be quite rewarding, as I found out recently when I booked a hotel room in Munich for 60 per cent less than my colleague who used a regular website.
When to search
The best time to search for hotel rooms tends to be around two or three weeks before your departure date. Be sure your travel plans are definite before booking a non-refundable room on these sites.
Priceline works as a bidding site
, offering people the chance to bid on a dramatically discounted hotel room that is anticipated not to be sold in time.
You bid for a room based on your requirements and time of stay without actually knowing which hotel you will be staying in if you ‘win’.
Suppose I was looking for a hotel in New York from the 12th to the 16th of May. I choose the Times Square Theatre District and request a 5-star hotel. I am told that the median price for a 5 star hotel in the Times Square Theatre District is $642 and so now I can place a reasonable bid according to my budget.
Let’s say that I place a bid of $411 (I find that bidding in whole numbers such as $410 doesn’t win as often). If my bid wins, my credit card is charged and I will enjoy my stay in a 5-star hotel in my chosen district. If my bid is rejected, I am not charged and cannot place a bid for the following 24 hours.
If I was to change my search to a 4-star hotel, the median price would become $402 and I would adjust my bid accordingly.
Hotwire has a set price along with some information
. When making a travel reservation on Hotwire (eg, hotel, flight, cruise, car rental), the actual service provider is not revealed until after you purchase and finalise your reservation.
For example, when reserving a hotel on Hotwire, the name and exact address of the hotel remain hidden until you buy. Only certain information about the hotel is revealed such as the hotel star-rating, general vicinity, hotel amenities and price. This allows hotels and suppliers to offer deep discounts on excess supply.
* On many occasions you can
save 50-60 per cent by using these websites
. If you would prefer to know the name of the hotel using Hotwire and Priceline, you can use Bidding for Travel and BetterBidding, which help you narrow down considerably by applying filters.
Both sites require patience and practice. So you’d best start now!
Best season, cheapest flights
Because it’s not just about booking early, here’s advice from a veteran deal-hunterChoosing the right time to travel can be the difference between paying Rs 1,00,000 and Rs 40,000 for your flight and hotel. Start off by being flexible about dates (it’s the foundation of smart budget travel) – and read on:
Know your seasons
There are three standard travel seasons: Peak, Off, and Shoulder. I will use Europe and America as the standard because they have roughly identical seasons. Most destinations follow this trend.
* Peak Season is during the summer months of June through August. This is the preferred holiday season because the weather is comfortable, the days are longer and the nightlife booms. It is also when festivals take place and tourist attractions are at their busiest. If your budget allows, peak season is the perfect time to experience a new destination. It also means peak (meaning higher) pricing and is the worst time to find deals.
* Off Season occurs during the winter months, with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s. This is when its gets colder and wetter, fewer events take place, and tourist attractions are less busy. It is common to find some of the best airline fares and hotel room prices during off-season and there are usually plenty of deals.
* Shoulder Season is April to mid-June and late September to late November. This is the best time to travel if you can take off. The airline fares and hotel room prices during shoulder season are usually very reasonable and many of the benefits of travelling during summer are still available.
* Note that return flights are generally calculated by the departure date. So if you depart during peak season and return during shoulder season, you may still have to pay a peak fare for both flights.
Know when to book
Between six and 12 weeks before departure is ideal.
* It’s a myth that booking far in advance will yield the best prices. Booking four months ahead only pays off on rare occasions when the airline is offering a promotional fare. Don’t be fooled by the “lowest published fare”. It doesn’t mean it won’t get cheaper later.
* Don’t leave it to the last minute to book. There was a time when airlines would sell seats at a knockdown price just before departure. Those days are gone. Airlines now increase rates of last-minute flights by up to 10 times.
* Does the day of the week affect pricing? Many believe Tuesday is best to book a flight, But the Wall Street Journal conducted a study that says Sunday is best.
In truth, there is no best day to book – a Tuesday in July might be more expensive than a Saturday in December. If you are flexible about your dates, it’s easier to find a good deal. Use three or four websites with random dates around your planned departure date to find the best prices.
If you're looking to book the best price for a flight (and why shouldn’t you?) it’s best if you have time on your hands and are flexible about when you want to travel. A few weeks here and there can sometimes make all the difference in how much you spend. And you might just be able to score the cheapest flight ever.
* Start early
Check the price of your intended flight about four months before your intended departure date, using price comparison sites such as Skyscanner and Farecompare. Both are designed to search, as Skyscanner puts it, “millions of routes on hundreds of airlines and travel agents to find you the cheapest air tickets with a click of a button”.
Once you’ve zeroed in on the flight you like, the sites link you directly to the airline or travel agent that is advertising it. It is, however, rumoured that these sites store cookies (including your browsing history) when you visit and will never offer you a deal on subsequent visits.
To avoid this, clear your Web browser’s cookies and cache before every visit. This way, their systems view you as a first-time user, one befitting the best deals, every time.
* Keep at it
Most airline websites offer flash deals from time to time, and travellers often miss these deals because they didn’t know they were happening. So every week, check the airline’s website for flash sales which correspond with your planned departure date. If you haven’t found a good deal two months before the departure date, then this is the time to book the flight. Airlines generally lock their price at this stage and are unlikely to drop prices further.
* Remember this
The cheapest tickets sell out quicker during peak season and last-minute sales occur closer to travel dates during off-season. So if your departure date is during the off-season, you can afford to wait a little longer.
* Work the plastic
You can actually earn airline miles by using your credit card at a restaurant or store. Everyday purchases earn you points, which can be turned into airline miles. The miles can also be carried forward year-on-year.
Imagine you signed up for the SBI Signature Card by Air India, which costs Rs 4,999 per year, and used it to spend Rs 5 lakh in one year. On a normal credit card you would receive no real rewards.
This one entitles you to a free return ticket between Delhi and London. The card offers 20,000 Air India miles when you sign up and another four miles for every Rs 100 spent and over 40,000 miles on a cumulative spend of Rs 5 lakhs.
The same card also gives you a free return ticket between Delhi and Mumbai as part of the 20,000 miles sign-up bonus. (The return ticket between Delhi and Mumbai is around 19,000 miles).
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From HT Brunch, March 22
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