Anyone who says that nothing exciting happens in February or March has probably never scored a sweet off-season travel deal. As it turns out, those gloomy, stir-crazy months when you’re most in need of a holiday can be a great time to find deep discounts on flights and hotels. “Winter is low season for many destinations,” says Robert Reid, a Lonely Planet guidebook author and explorer for National Geographic. “You can find airfares and hotels dropping prices to encourage impulse buys.” If you’re looking to shake off those winter blues or planning your spring and summertime travel now, we consulted travel experts on some of the best deals right now, as well as general tips about planning — and paying for — your travels.
In this article
- Best websites to save on airplane tickets, hotels and other trips
- How to get the best deal on a flight
- Best winter 2020 flight deals
- Booking a hotel? How to get the best deal
- Best hotel deals to book now
- The best travel is your travel
With coronavirus advisories flooding screens and TVs — and the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) releasing a useful guide to travel with specific regard to coronavirus — this year’s winter season could present added opportunities for sharp-eyed travelers to tap into savings, for better or worse. “So many people are canceling their trips, their hotels,” says John DiScala, founder of the travel site JohnnyJet.com. “[Vendors] are going to be hurting and will need to offer deals.”
Best sites to save on airplane tickets, hotels and other trips
DiScala and Reid recommended these sites to check now for the best flight deals:
Scrolling through the above sites — as well as popular options like Skyscanner, CheapOair and TripAdvisor — even people who are new to booking flights online will notice that prices fluctuate wildly — mysteriously, even. Why does that happen?
“It’s mostly demand. Spring break starts in Oregon on March 19. Flights to/from Portland go up by 50 percent or so that day, as so many people want spring break tickets,” Reid explains. DiScala agrees, saying it's not "difficult” to see why: “The most expensive time to fly is when everybody else is, too,” and that things can get specific: "Airlines know that business travelers are the ones that are booking last-minute so they try to gauge them.” So when should you buy your tickets? While the experts we talked to had differing answers, the consensus is that buying your tickets about a month in advance is wise.
Reid argues “prices jump” the week or two before any given travel date. “I don’t necessarily find a reduction if you book several months ahead,” he advises. “Just don’t wait until the last second.”
“I would say buy at least 21 days in advance,” DiScala says. To avoid missing out on off-season offers, he cautions, “Don’t book too far in advance because you’re not going to get a great deal. When you see a sale, you jump on it.”
How to get the best deal on a flight
When it comes to nabbing great flight deals, both experts concur that timing is key.
“The sweet spot has a lot of variables,” DiScala said. “Where you’re going, what’s going on in the world, dates, the economy” — as well as a solid understanding of so-called price scales. DiScala advises travelers to set fare alerts on booking and airline websites like Google Flights, Yapta, and Kayak in order to get a sense of a “typical” price for a coveted destination and, in turn, what’s really a great deal.
“You can put in your dates, the cities you want to go, and they’ll let you know when the price goes up or down,” he explained. “Google Flights shows what typical prices are in their chart. I know because many times I’m flying the same routes.”
Here’s how to track flights with fare alerts on Skyscanner, for example, one of the leading price-tracking sites at your disposal:
- Navigate to Skyscanner.com
- Choose any flight you’re interested in — for example, let’s consider a roundtrip flight for two from New York City to Jamaica the weekend of April 3.
- The results page shows options as low as $422 at time of writing (and $559 for the fastest transit times)
- If that sounds great, you could book the flights (safe travels!). If not, you could choose the Get Price Alerts button on the top left of the page, prompting you to sign up with your contact information to get those very updates.
The more you know, the more you can save, right? Certainly, but being flexible — if that’s an option — will also help you find flight deals. “Price [tickets] out all different ways,” DiScala advises. “Price them out as one-way tickets, price them out as round-trip tickets, price them out as back-to-back tickets.” Sounds daunting? It doesn't have to be.
On Expedia, for example, the fare results page allows you to show flexible dates with the click of a button.
“That's a great way to start,” Reid explains. “It offers variation in prices over a week period you selected.” Google Flights offers the same on its results pages.
Best winter 2020 flight deals
Here are some of the most outstanding and ongoing travel deals online right now. For all these listings, as well as most others you’ll find online, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Travel times vary by destination so if an ad promises 30 percent off to a country, it might be for just one airport within that country.
- Prices are listed per person, so multiply accordingly if you’re planning travel for a couple, family or group.
- Prices don’t include baggage fees, if applicable, and other non-flight fees like Wi-Fi or otherwise.
Orbitz runs regular deals for flights under $150 for travel over the next few months. Flights from the tri-State area to Tampa usually run in the low $100s. Look for more deals like this on their Deals page. You can also explore the city's offerings on TripAdvisor.
CheapOair has deep discounts on beach vacations in the continental United States, Mexico and the islands. Right now, you can get nearly half off a trip from New York City to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. On CheapOair’s home page, underneath Deals curated just for you, choose the Beach Deals option to see your choices. You can also find information on the island's resorts, hotels and more on TripAdvisor.
Skyscanner is offering excellent May fares to a huge range of domestic and international destinations, like this Paris offer. Fares include $258 nonstop from NYC and $364 nonstop from Los Angeles. To check your own options, scroll down to May deals on Sykscanner’s home page and hit Search Everywhere. Skyscanner allows you to cancel your purchase within 24 hours of buying it, as do some other services on select flights. You can find information on the City of Light's restaurants, museums and more on TripAdvisor.
Booking a hotel? How to get the best deal
Both DiScala and Reid agree that when it comes to booking a place to stay, the two best sites for saving money are Airbnb and HotelTonight, which Airbnb acquired in 2019. “It’s worldwide,” DiScala says of HotelTonight, whose business model targets underfilled hotels, getting you deals at the last minute. “You can do it for any time, but I usually use it for the last minute.”
Reid recommends industry giant Airbnb, saying “it saves you money, with no loss in comfort.” Surprisingly, the two argue, some of the best hotel deals can be found over the phone. “You can always call and ask for a discount,” Reid says. “I once wanted to stay a few days in Philadelphia over July 4th so I called a hotel and asked about deals if I stayed more than one or two nights. I got one. Basically a free night just for calling.”
The secret? Don’t be shy, Reid says. “You need to talk to someone at the hotel location. A general 800 number isn’t as useful as getting reception. Single-location properties, like many boutique hotels or bed-and-breakfasts, are more likely to offer [a deal],” he advises. Here’s how to go about it:
- You want to reach the front desk directly, DiScala says, “especially if it’s a smaller hotel.”
- Ask about a lower rate, something like “‘Can you match it or do a better deal?’”
- If they don’t offer an actual better deal, DiScala argues they may “offer something value-added like a 100-dollar credit toward the bar, the dining room — or a massage.”
Regardless of exactly what deal you score, he argues, “you can always ask.”
Best hotel deals to book now
Many travel and trip sites work with swaths of hotels and resorts to guarantee discounts for their users. Here are a few ongoing sales to consider this travel season.
- Booking.com: Save at least 20 percent in various destinations worldwide. To get the savings, book within March for stays between April 1 and May 31.
- Expedia: Save 25 percent or more with Expedia’s Book Early and Save deals — requiring you book at least 60 days ahead. Check out Expedia’s last-minute deals for up to 75 percent off in savings.
- Priceline: Book by March 26 — for travel until Jan. 3, 2021 — to get up to 50 percent off on 15 participating hotels in Mexico’s most popular beach destinations, including Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta.
The best vacation is the one you want to take
With so many travel deals on at once, it can be easy to get click-happy. But Reid cautions against buying simply for the sake of it.
“I think deal-chasers can miss out on what they really want from a vacation,” he says. “A resort in the Yucatan or Florida might be 50 percent off, but is that the vacation you want? Start with what you want — say New Orleans or Cambodia or Portugal. Then start poking around on sites like Expedia and Airbnb.” Need inspiration?
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