— -- My column about how online rebates can help you afford a vacation was the gift that kept on giving back to me, and now you. I heard from several consumers and travel industry pros who offered additional ways to cut the cost of your summer vacation. Always love when other smart people do my work for me, so here goes!
Travel research company hopper.com runs an app that predicts the best time to book a flight and notifies users when to strike. Hopper analyzed airfare trends for this summer travel season and came up with several insights that could keep more money in your pocket:
•Book early: Hopper predicts average flight prices will rise nearly 10 percent over the next six weeks as summer vacations get into full swing. And of course, flight prices typically rise sharply in the month before departure.
•Cheapest weeks: The cheapest weeks to travel are early and late summer, namely the first week of June or after mid-August, according to Hopper.
•Travel mid-week: Flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday can save you about $40, on average, according to the site.
•Avoid crowds: Hopper says the most popular domestic destinations are Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and San Francisco. Internationally Paris and Rome are always high on the list. So consider flying to a nearby domestic city -- like Tampa instead of Orlando -- and driving where you want to go. Internationally, it often pays to fly to a less popular city such as Frankfurt and then take a train or a cheap European airline to your final destination. (This is also a great frequent flyer mile strategy, when free seats are not available to the most popular cities.)
Now, let’s talk hotels. Gautam Lulla of TravelTripper.com is on a mission to try to persuade people to book directly with hotels rather than through huge online travel agencies, called “OTAs” for short. Granted, Lulla is biased because his company helps hotels set up their own booking systems, but he makes a good point: online travel agencies -- or any travel agencies -- are middlemen and whenever you add more parties to a transaction those people have to be paid.
Lulla says OTAs earn as much as a 30 percent commission on hotel bookings, and while they often offer discounted hotel rooms by sharing part of that commission with consumers, they don’t always. Case in point, “The_Mick” commented on my previous travel savings story and said, “We decided to spend an extra day touring Vancouver before embarking on an Alaska Cruise and it paid to call the hotel in Vancouver itself -- after getting the information online -- and getting a better deal than through any agency or parent company.”
Lulla points out that most major hotels have price matching guarantees. That means either they automatically scour the internet and match the lowest prices or they will honor a low internet price that you bring to them. If you book directly with the hotel they make more money, so they’re more likely to offer you upgrades, late check out and general good service.
On the other hand, online travel agencies offer a distinctly different benefit, according to industry website Hotelogix.com. Namely, they are unbeatable if you don't know where you want to stay and want to compare prices and amenities among dozens of different hotels.
So here’s what I suggest: If you really want to save on a hotel room, take a 3-pronged approach:
•Check online travel agencies: Go ahead and get a broad brush feel for hotels and prices on the big OTA sites.
•Check chain websites: Also check prices on the big corporate websites -- Marriott, Holiday Inn, etc -- if you are staying at one of their hotels.
•Call the specific hotel. By this point, you’ve probably homed in on a specific hotel you want to book. So be old fashioned. Call the local number and ask if they can meet or beat the deals you found elsewhere.
Opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.
Elisabeth Leamy is a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show." She is the author of Save BIG and The Savvy Consumer. Elisabeth is also a professional speaker, delivering talks nationwide on saving money, media relations, and career success. Elisabeth receives her best story tips from readers, so please connect with her via Facebook, Twitter or her website, to share your ideas.