12 Tips To Get The Best Travel Deals

Planning the perfect trip can be a time consuming and stressful experience. After all, your vacation isn’t just about getting away — it’s about escaping, relaxing and creating memories that will last a lifetime. If you’re traveling as a single parent with your kids, you’ll need to consider when making travel plans, such as school schedules, you’ll also want to find non-stop flights to reduce travel time and the hassle of switching air crafts.

According to Jill Rosenberg, manager of Executive and Group Travel Services at AAA Travel in Garden City, New York (800-651-4760 /www.aaa.com/travel), “The best thing to do is book early. As soon as the school calendar comes out, that’s the best time to go ahead and book your vacations for the upcoming school year. If you wait too long, flight availability will be gone.”

If you’re traveling within the U.S. and all you need to do is book airline tickets, there are a handful of strategies you can use to insure you get the absolute lowest fares, plus avoid having to pay a handful of extra charges imposed by the airlines. For example, there are now booking fees of between $15 and $40 per ticket if you call an airline’s toll-free phone number to make your reservations, as opposed to booking online.By following these 12 steps, you’ll be able to find the lowest airfares, based on your desired destination and travel dates:

1. Research your fares and destinations.

After selecting your destination and travel dates, visit the Web sites for at least three major airlines that travel to your destination. Determine the approximate round-trip airfares being offered directly by your desired airline. When booking directly with an airline, the lowest fares are offered 21, 14 and 7 days in advance. The closer it gets to the departure, the higher the fare goes.

2. Choosing travel dates for cheaper fares.

When choosing your travel dates, consider that airfares tend to be lower on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, plus flights on these days tend to be less crowded. Non-stop flights tend to be more expensive, while overnight flights (red-eye flights) are always the least expensive.

3. Look for special promotions to your destination.

Check with Travelzoo.com, as well as the Department of Tourism’s Web site for your destination, to determine if there are any promotions by any major airlines.

4. Visit travel web sites to check airfares.

Once you know what the major airlines are charging for your desired flights, visit two or three of the online travel-related Web sites, such as Travelocity.comHotwire.comKayak.com or Orbitz.com. You’ll find the airfares offered by these sites are typically much lower than what the airlines themselves charge, plus you can book within seven days of departure to get low fares. Unfortunately, you won’t earn frequent flier miles for flights booked through these discounted services.

5. Look at discount airlines.

The popular discount airlines aren’t listed with many of the popular travel-related websites, so you’ll need to visit the sites for airlines like JetBlue (www.jetblue.com), Virgin America (www.virginamerica.com), AirTran (www.airtran.com) and Southwest Airlines (www.southwest.com) separately to shop for their best deals.

6. Look for other discount airfares.

If you’re not finding a competitive airfare, and you’re willing to give up some control over the flights you take (or the airline you fly with), consider using the “Name Your Own Price” feature of Priceline.com. With this service, you can select your destination and travel dates, then enter the price you’re willing to pay for the ticket(s). Often, you can save between 30 and 50 percent off of an airline’s listed fares. These tickets are not changeable or refundable, and you won’t know your travel times or the airline that accepts your offer until after you’ve pre-paid for the tickets online.

7. Compare airfares.

Before booking your tickets, compare airfares if you change your departure and/or return date by just one or two days. Sometimes, the price difference between leaving on a Thursday versus on a Friday, for example, could be significant.

8. Compare fares at different airports.

Compare prices if you depart from or arrive to a neighboring airport. For example, if you’re traveling to or from New York City, check airfares to or from LaGuardia Airport, JFK Airport, and Newark Airport. Often, you’ll find significant price differences.

9. Pack well.

To avoid extra charged imposed by the airline, make sure you adhere to all of the airline’s checked baggage regulations. Each bag must weight less than 50 pounds, or you’ll be hit with an overweight baggage fee of up to $80. If you need to check additional bags (beyond the one or two bags allowed), this too will cost you extra.

10.Don’t leave your car.

If you’re traveling for a week or longer, the airport parking fees at your home airport could cost as much as one airline ticket (up to $40 per day). To save money, have someone drive you and pick you up from the airport. This also eliminates the need to lug your luggage and your kids from the parking lot to the airport terminal.

11. Examine last-minute promotions.

If you know you want to get away to someplace warm, for example, but you’re flexible about the actual destination, be sure to look for special promotions or last-minute travel deals to a variety of different destinations. A travel agent can offer recommendations.

12. Don’t change dates.

Before booking your airline tickets, make sure the dates won’t need to be changed. If you ultimately need to change your tickets, you’ll be hit with a change fee of between $50 and $150 per ticket, plus have to pay the difference between your original airfare and the new airfare.

Rosenberg added, “Even if you want to travel in the summer with your kids, be flexible about the dates. In the early part of the summer, especially around July 4th weekend, before the kids go to camp, the airfares are typically much higher than if you wait until August to vacation with your kids.” Michelle Jerson, an anchor and producer for Travelzoo.com, explained, “Airlines tend to release the best deals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Also, many times if one airline announces a sale, others will soon follow to match their pricing.”

If you’re planning a trip overseas to a destination you’ve never been, or you’re looking to book a cruise or a stay at an all-inclusive resort, consider working with an experienced travel agent who is knowledgeable about your intended destination. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to choose the wrong ship or the wrong resort, for example, and then wind up having to pay a lot extra once you’ve reached your destination in order to salvage your vacation.

“Many travel agents are also privy to special deals and money-saving offers that aren’t available directly to consumers, plus they’ll help you customize your entire vacation experience. By working with a travel agent, not only will you receive personalized service and be able to rely on their recommendations, they can also find the best rates and most suitable flights on your behalf, typically in under 15 minutes,” added Rosenberg.