The Secret to Affordable Travel
When it comes to travel planning and looking for the best deal that you can afford timing is everything. The two biggest factors for driving costs down are the when you book and when you are traveling.
When To book
The golden rule in travel planning is to book as far in advance as possible. Most components of long distance travel are priced subject to basic economics: supply and demand. The further out you book, there is greater availability and lower prices. The closer you get to your travel dates, there is often less availability, hence, higher prices. There are exceptions to this rule of course, as you can always find last-minute deals. But last-minute deals don’t always give you the pick of the litter when it comes to where go or stay. In the case of honeymoons, most people have a specific vacation they want to experience which usually doesn’t involve rolling the dice at the airport and seeing what’s cheap (although that would be totally cool and gets a ‘thumbs up’ in my book!).
Once you have an idea of where you want to go, start setting up flight alerts using sights like Airfare Watchdog. Additionally, sign up for sales alerts with specific airlines that frequent your chosen destination (e.g. Qantas for Australia, Air Lingus for Ireland, etc…). Use multiple sites to learn when is the best time to purchase tickets. Kayak has an algorithm that gives you the “best time to buy” and SkyScanner has a feature that lets you see the least expensive flights to a particular destination over a 12-month period.
The problem is it’s not always practical or possible to book too far in advance. Most major hotels have non-refundable and refundable rates. If you are unsure of your travel dates, book the refundable rate just to hold the room. The same applies with car rentals. Just be sure to pay attention to the cancellation dates in case you need to get your money back.
Some trip insurance policies allow you to cancel anytime without a specific reason and get up to 80% of the nonrefundable fees paid returned to you. Of course, you lose some money (the 20% in addition to the cost paid for the policy) but if you see a good deal and you’re just not sure if you can make those dates, trip insurance might be a good back up option to have. Just be mindful that many trip insurance policies must be purchased within two weeks of the primary booking in order to have the “cancel anytime” option available.
Picking the best Travel Dates
Most desirable destinations have peak, off-peak, and shoulder seasons. Peak is when everyone wants to go. Demand is high, availability is low, and subsequently, prices are high. You can find good deals for peak season travel but usually you have to book pretty far in advance with some pretty hefty cancellation clauses. Off-peak seasons are not ideal times to travel for a reason; something about that destination is undesirable during that time period. Depending on where you are going, some hotels close down during this time, and the few that remain open, charge a fraction of their peak season rates. Shoulder seasons are the hospitality industry’s term for the travel period between peak and off-peak seasons, usually occurring a month or two before and after the peak season. Shoulder seasons are usually when the best travel deals are available, as you may still have decent weather and accessibility to attractions without the hassles and costs of peak season travel.
Figuring out peak, off-peak, and shoulder seasons is not hard, it just takes a little sleuthing. Most up-to-date travel books will tell you about peak and off-peak seasons. Talking to locals and visiting travel forums can give you additional insight on shoulder seasons, festivals, and events that may impact travel dates.
Hawaii is a honeymoon favorite, but did you know that everyone wants to go to Hawaii at Christmastime? Hawaii’s peak season is actually the two weeks around Christmas and New Years. Loads of summer weddings on the mainland, plus school vacation, makes summer travel popular as well. Because of year-round amazing weather, there really isn’t an off-peak time for Hawaii, but fewer tourists are around in the periods between Easter and early June, and then again September through mid-December.
Las Vegas, Nevada is fun, shiny, big and beautiful with hotels for every budget. You would be hard pressed to find a hotel room there on New Year’s Eve but you could score a luxury hotel room (the kind you see in music videos) for under $100 in August. August in Las Vegas is HOT, like 100 plus degrees of dry heat, hot. But the pool parties are fun, and you can literally, party like a rock star with fancy hotel rooms and VIP access for a fraction of what it would cost at New Years.
Ultimately, you may not have the option to choose whether you can travel during peak or off-peak seasons due to work, vacation time, or other obligations. But knowing when these periods are will give you an upper hand to finding great travel deals and creating an affordable vacation that you will love.