Especially in these tough times, it pays to shop around
Chicago Tribune (MCT) - Shop. Shop. Shop. Compare. Compare. Compare. During this seemingly endless recession, it will take time and effort to find the best ways to stretch your travel dollars.
More tips and strategies come from experts at AAA, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Travel Leaders (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a nationwide network) and others. For starters, there are things you need to define from the start.
Where do you want to go _ on a cruise, to a resort using an all-inclusive package, to a national or state park, to a city? You need to focus on what you want from the holiday.
It may feel awkward, but you can haggle for a better room rate. Consumer advocates say you can negotiate lower prices for just about anything these days. It's not that America has become a vast bazaar during the recession, but, hey, empty hotel rooms don't generate income. Some hotels offer one free night if you stay for two or three, but you might save more money by getting a flat 10 percent or 15 percent discount on your stay. Again, do the math. Use AAA, AARP or any other discount cards you have to secure the best possible rate. Before you book, also check discounted rates offered by sites as hotels.com and quickbook.com.
As with hotels, negotiate the best rental rate you can. Ask about special deals. Remember that airport auto rental locations are convenient, but taxes and fees are higher there than at non-airport locations. See if your auto insurance covers rental vehicles. You can save a bundle by not taking the car rental company's collision damage waiver. Also waive the prepaid gas option, but return the car with a full tank.
Volunteer vacations as offered by Earthwatch and Habitat for Humanity attract thousands of people who not only want to work on scientific projects or build homes but write off the trip on their taxes.
Be careful. IRS Publication 526 (24 pages long) states that you may claim a deduction only if there is no "significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation in the travel." (No, you can't claim that because your in-laws were along, you had no fun.)
Earthwatch advises that under certain circumstances, volunteers can deduct reasonable out-of-pocket expenses, including some costs for transportation to and from the research site.
The word of caution is: "As with all tax matters, please consult your personal tax adviser on all issues concerning tax deductibility."
If no vacation option works for you, consider a staycation. Stay home or find a deal in a local hotel and take advantage of nearby museums, parks, zoos, attractions and neighborhoods that you and the family don't have time to do through the year. State and local tourist offices generally have discount coupons that can save you money.
Again, be prudent. And enjoy your time off.
_If you fly
Check as many Internet sources as you can for the best airfares. In his new book, "Ask Arthur Frommer," the travel guru recommends checking with aggregators, who list not only the large, mainstream airlines but smaller budget lines such as AirTran. He suggests cheapflights.com, farechase.com, kayak.com, sidestep.com, momondo.com and mobissimo.com (for international flights).
Aggregators typically will root out the best fares, then lead you to booking at such sites as expedia.com, orbitz.com, priceline.com and travelocity.com. Once you check an airfare there, also look at the particular airline's Web site to see if you can score an even better Web special. From Monday evening to the following morning is when you're likely to start catching the early posting of lower fares, according to many experts, though some contend Tuesday night is a meaty time.
Consider a consolidator such as Chicago-based cheaptickets.com or 1800flyeurope.com. Consolidators buy blocks of tickets, sometimes offering substantial discounts, but one caveat: You probably won't be able to change your arrangements, so be sure before you buy.
For those without Web access, remember that travel agents can cut through a lot of brambles to find great rates.
Be flexible in your travel dates and times. Often the best fares are available two to four weeks before departure, but there's no sure-fire formula. Too, travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday instead of on or around the weekend. Rates can be dramatically cheaper.
Combine air, hotel and rental-car needs to see what kind of savings you can garner. Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and Travelocity can save you hundreds of dollars if you book the components together because of the discounts ...
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