By Richard Eisenberg
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.
If you’re considering taking a vacation this year, you’re in luck: I just came back from the New Times Travel Show and will share the best advice I heard on how to save money and where to go.
“This year, the whole world is open to you,” said Pauline Frommer, co-president and editorial director of Frommer Media. “The dollar is so strong, it’s whupping pretty much every currency.” “Nomadic Matt” Kepnes told me that “Australia, Great Britain, Canada, South Africa and India are really affordable right now.”
And “airfares to Europe haven’t been lower in years,” said Jason Cochran, editor in chief of Frommers.com . The reason: growing competition with cut-rate airlines such as Norwegian, WOW, XL and Thomas Cook. Fares to Asia are down 25% from a year ago in many cases, added Frommer. Kepnes told me: “Norwegian and WOW offer great deals now.” (WOW recently rolled out a $69 one-way fare from California to Europe.)
But that doesn’t mean every flight, cruise, train trip, hotel or B&B is a bargain. In fact, Frommer, Cochran and Reid Bramblett ( Reidsguides.com ) spent most of their talks telling prospective travelers how not to overpay in 2017. Their top tips (now promise me you won’t be one of the 51% of Americans who, according to AARP and Project: Time Off , don’t plan ahead for their paid vacation days):
How to save money
Use an aggregator: Rather than searching for an airfare at a major travel search engine like Expedia /quotes/zigman/7619798/composite EXPE +0.72% or Priceline Bramblett said, use an aggregator like Momondo.com, Google.com/flights or Skyscanner.com. Aggregator sites include low-cost carriers; monster search engines don’t always (but aggregators can’t include Southwest in their choices because that carrier won’t let them). You can often save about 15% with an aggregator.
Among the aggregators, “Google /quotes/zigman/59527964/composite GOOG -0.33% is getting better, but Momondo and Skyscanner are the best,” said Bramblett. When Bramblett did dozens of fare searches for Frommers.com, Momondo found the least expensive fares 93% of the time.
Google.com/flights has a good “Explore Destinations” feature worth checking out, said Cochran. You say when you want to fly and a map opens with a wide variety of flights and prices by destination that day.
For the best fare bargains, book at least a month ahead , said Cochran. He cited a recent FareCompare study that turned up the lowest domestic fares by booking 30 to 90 days in advance and the least expensive international fares six weeks in advance. “Last-minute airfare deals don’t really exist anymore — just fire-sale stuff,” said Cochran.
Be on guard for “ugly” basic economy fares, said Frommer. These are fares that look alluringly low — until you see what you give up with them. Delta /quotes/zigman/463579/composite DAL +2.70% and United /quotes/zigman/617037/composite UAL +1.72% already have basic economy fares. “American will start selling them at the end of [January],” said Frommer. “They’ll tend to be where American /quotes/zigman/24849617/composite AAL +3.10% , Delta and United compete with Spirit /quotes/zigman/103390358/composite SAVE +3.68% and Frontier.”
You don’t get frequent flier points with these fares. And you never get to choose your seat, said Frommer. “That can be a problem for families.” The “ugliest” part, Frommer noted: “With United and Delta, you’re not allowed to use the overhead bin if you get a basic economy fare. Your bag has to fit under your seat.”
The good news for cruisers: Many cruise lines, such as Celebrity, Holland America, Oceania and Azamara Club Cruises are now changing their itineraries to give passengers much more time on land. “I think it’s a wonderful development,” said Frommer. “The only bad part is that to accommodate longer time on shore, it means fewer sea days.” Frommer strongly suggested using a travel agent to book a cruise.
Know the cruise companies: If you’re interested in taking a river cruise, be sure you know the difference between the cruise companies. “A river cruise is a wonderful way to see a continent, but not all are alike,” said Frommer. “Everyone thinks of Viking, but they’re not the most luxurious. They’re in the middle. Over-the-top luxury ones are Uniworld, Tauck and Scenic. And budget lines include Emerald Waterways, CroisiEurope and Grand Circle — Grand Circle markets to Americans, with burgers available at every meal.”