Friday, May 31, 2013

Trip Planning 101... [part 2 of 4]

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” 
-Henry Miller

Next up on the travel agenda...
[Find the other parts here: 1, 3, 4]
Airline tickets/hotels/rental cars.
Although I usually start the "grand plan" document as soon as we begin considering a vacation, I don't nail down any firm plans until we book a flight. Once we've bought tickets and determined our arrival and departure dates, next I need to define where we'll be each day and reserve hotels. Finally, if the destination requires a rental car, I can't forget to rent a car. I don't want to get stuck at the airport with no (or only really expensive) transportation options.
  • Use Kayak price alerts to get updates of the current prices of flights. I usually set up alerts for each of the local airports... Atlanta and Charlotte are usually much cheaper than Greenville/Spartanburg or Asheville.
Kayak trip alerts come to your inbox daily.
  • Before actually purchasing tickets, check the airlines sites themselves. I don't think we've ever purchased our tickets through an airline aggregator (like Kayak, Orbitz, etc); it seems we've always found the tickets for the same or cheaper price on the airline's website... Southwest Airlines had even more options for ATL to LAS, and they cost considerably less (especially after you count baggage fees).
  • Keep list of potential hotels, current prices, and web links in your "grand plan" document. I have found that it's best to even list the ones that have no vacancies or are out of your price range... When Ruby's Inn is recommended by another website, I want to remember that I've already ruled it out because there are no rooms available for our dates. 
  • Once you get to a short list of possible accommodations that meet your date and price requirements, search TripAdvisor for customer reviews and more importantly real photos of the rooms. It's eye-opening to see that rooms that guests photograph don't always match the professional photos highlighted on the hotel's own website. In my experience I have found TripAdvisor to be generally unbiased... you get both good and bad reviews. You just have to read through and decide whether it will bother you that you can hear through the walls or that the advertised breakfast is just cold cereal. 
TripAdvisor reviews
  • If you're looking for a hotel in a major city, be sure to check out Hotwire and Priceline. You can choose a hotel based on its location, discounted price, amenities, and star rating. On previous vacations, we have been ecstatic to find 4-star accommodations for less than $85 per night. [Also from experience, the time we booked a 1.5 star hotel from Hotwire, it was absolutely awful... so I'd recommend sticking to 2.5+!]
Hotwire hotel search
  • Reserve a rental car through Payless Car Rental as soon as your trip is booked. Their prices are usually as cheap as it gets, but you don't have to put any money down to reserve a vehicle... Which is totally awesome if we happen to score an even better price from somewhere else at the last minute and need to cancel this reservation. Fingers crossed...
  • Name your own price for a rental car at Priceline.  Take a guess at how low they'll rent you the car of your choice. Once you're rate is approved, you're locked into buying... but it's great for low-balling especially at the last minute (as mentioned above). Priceline advertises that you can save up to 40% on car rentals, but there are some good tips here on how to save even more.
  • Access all of your reservations numbers, flight information, check-in times, etc. in the ever-so-helpful TripIt app. When you receive a confirmation email from anywhere you book, simply forward it to, and it "magically" appears in your itinerary.
TripIt iPhone app

What tips do you have for finding a great flight, hotel, car, or even just a great deal?


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