"Dreaming of a warm-weather getaway? Use these booking tips"

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Thu 24 Feb 2011

Dreaming of a warm-weather getaway? Use these booking tips

By Kitty Bean Yancey


This winter's icy blasts and constant snowfalls in many parts are spawning warm-weather vacation bookings galore, according to travel providers.

Justin Soffer, general manager of the travel booking site Fly.com, says that "searches to warm-weather destinations from New York City area airports have increased dramatically in the past four weeks compared to the same period last year. In fact, searches from JFK and La Guardia airports to destinations such as Palm Beach, Orlando and Nassau International Airport (in the Bahamas) are up 51%-111% compared to last year. We've heard anecdotally that many people searching on Fly.com are fed up with the especially harsh winter we're experiencing and are looking to escape."

He has tips for finding the best airfares. They include:

• Check for low fares on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when he says airlines tend to unleash sales.

• Travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, when traffic tends to be lower.

He also advises: "Don't wait for the last minute to book car rentals. Rental car reservations rarely require a deposit and are normally cancellable without additional charges (the reservation cancels automatically when one doesn't pick up the car), and so travelers can make (multiple, if necessary) reservations before finalizing air and hotel reservations. Reserve early and then keep an eye out for better prices, as rental prices can often drop as travel dates approach."

Here's what I've learned, from years of looking for ways to keep travel costs down:

•Approach the trip like a reporter, which means checking multiple sources, sometimes over the course of days. Prices go up and down. You can get a ballpark for airfare on many sites including Fly.com, hotels and cars on KAYAK.com, for instance. I have gotten great car rental deals on CarRentals.com ($17 a day recently in Miami at Dollar, a rate so low that a staffer there couldn't believe it). I also have had great luck booking plane fares via airline sites (which used to be considered not a great way to go). Just yesterday, KAYAK.com quoted me a $315 round trip from Washington, D.C. to New York on United (during a peak time). But the United site had the same itinerary for $310, and I noticed the website has a guarantee that if you find a lower fare elsewhere, they will refund your ticket and give you 20% off your next flight on United.

•For a warm-weather escape, it's hard to beat an all-inclusive resort, where drinks, activities and meals are included. You can find good resorts for less than $75 a person a day. Cruises also can be good values, though booze generally is not included. Packagers such as Apple Vacations and Funjet Vacations offer cheap air/hotel deals. Last-minute steals are available if you are flexible.

Want to go high-end? Resorts such as Paradisus Palma Real in the Dominican Republic, where I have stayed, cost about $400 a couple daily, which is the price of a luxury hotel room alone. But here you get all you can eat or quaff at nine bars, five restaurants and a pool the size of Rhode Island (just joking, but it's huge).

Regarding hotels in general, don't be afraid to try to bargain on Priceline.com or with hotel reservationists. During slow periods it has worked for me. And recently, when I canceled a reservation at a South Beach hotel, the reservationist asked if he could match the rate at the other hotel I was choosing.

Now your turn. Any personal tips to save money booking vacations?