Once you have decided your destination & your trip duration, you are ready to make the travel arrangements. How do you get the best deal when making the travel arrangements for your trip? This blog post summarizes the strategies that I follow to get good deals when booking flights, hotel and car.
Booking flight tickets / car
Most of the times, airfare is your single biggest expense during your trip planning. Search on multiple websites like Hotwire.com, Expedia.com, and Orbitz.com. They would list a number of deals to select from. For example, if the listing shows deals from American Airlines, then go to American Airline's website and check the price. Most of the times, you'll get a better price if you directly book through the airline website. You can also adopt the same strategy for booking a car for your trip. Most of the times, I get good deals when I book directly from Alamo Car Rental.
The strategy that I adopt for booking flight tickets/car doesn't work for me when trying to book a hotel. Many times, websites such as Hotwire.com, and Hotels.com, provide good deals for stay. I've had lots of good experiences and pleasant surprises with my Hotwire.com booking. You'll get a 5 star hotel room, for a 3-star price. The only limitation with Hotwire.com is that they have hotels listed only from prominent places & cities. For example, you may not be able to find a good deal for a hotel room near National Parks, through Hotwire. You may have to try Hotels.com, in such situations.
If you want to find a really cheap accommodation, try Motel6.com. The Motel6 hotel rooms are in decent condition and at the same time, their price is also reasonable. Motel6 is for people who just want a place to sleep for a night. You may have to read reviews carefully before you book a "Motel" for your trip. Most of the times, Motels are occupied by lorry drivers & low income people.
- Even if the price given in websites such as Hotwire, matches the one given in airlines/car-rental web site, I would recommend booking through the airline/car-rental website. Booking done through airlines website are cancel-able & hence, you'll get credit, if you happen to cancel your trip in the last minute. Websites such as Hotwire, do not allow you to cancel the booking.
- When booking a rental car or hotel or airline, do not say that you are a corporate customer. The pricing for corporate customers is typically high. There are handful of chains that provide discounted fare for corporate customers. You have to be cautious about that. (To validate this, try selecting the "Corporate Customer" option and you'll notice that the prices are bumped by 10 - 20%)
- When you try searching for deals through web portals, the web portals will remember your session information through cookies. If you are wandering in the same portal for a long time, they'll increase the fare after some time. You'll be tempted to book right away (before the fare goes further up). Don't get caught in the trap. Try using the same web portal through a different browser instance (For example, if you have been using Firefox for the search, use IE for booking). You'll notice that the fare is different/lesser, now. This gimmick is not done by popular websites such as Hotwire. However, I've seen this happening in a few websites.
- Some of the airline websites allow you to book flight tickets + car + hotel (as a single package). In most of the cases, the combined fare would exceed the cost of booking them independently through different websites.
- Do not try to book tickets from websites whose primary business is not selling travel packages. For example, if you start your booking of tickets from websites like Tripadvisor.com, you'll be charged a premium for their service.
- Try to book cars from rental facilities in airport. You'll have the flexibility of 'renting' & 'returning' your car any time. Car rental facilities outside the airport are open only during the regular business hours. So, you may not be able to return the car at your convenience. You'll have to hold on to the car until the shop opens, the next day. You'll be unnecessarily paying extra charges for the additional time.
- Car rental facilities outside airport typically give good deals for weekend rentals (i.e., Fri evening to Monday morning).
- Some websites offer discounts when you pre-pay for the rental. If you know for sure that you are going to travel on a given day, pre-pay the costs. At times, you would get up to 10% discount on the fare (Alamo.com, offers pre-pay discounts for car rentals).
[* I have not used priceline.com, that much. So, my findings do not include the experiences from priceline.com]
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