It’s common these days to expect a good deal on everything from a car to a pair of shoes. Why not travel? Everybody’s discounting now, and you’d be crazy to book anything without doing your homework first. Even the Heathrow Express, the high-speed rail link between London and the airport, is offering North Americans a free first-class upgrade this summer. (Never mind that it’s only a 15-minute ride.) Is there a resort or luxury hotel you’ve had your eye on but always thought was out of reach? It may not be anymore. Recently, a friend wanted a special birthday weekend in Paris and was willing to pay for it. Each hotel she researched had a “special offers” link on its website, but she found the best rate by simply plugging in dates until she came up with a room for 340 Euros ($450) at the Meurice. (The hotel’s best package offer was 490 Euros, with extras like American breakfast and a bottle of Champagne that she didn’t want.) Even at a $450 “cut rate,” the luxurious Meurice might be a splurge, but keep in mind that the same room would have cost about $700 last year, when the dollar was weak and nobody was haggling.
Here’s what some colleagues have to share:
Diane Abrams, director, Gourmet Books
I recently used a travel agent for the first time because I couldn’t deal with organizing a trip. It was winter, and we had to get away fast, to Mexico. I’m sure I could have put everything together more cheaply, but this time, it was all about time. Funny thing, though, the agent strongly urged me to purchase travel insurance. I did, and we lost a day due to snow—all fully reimbursable.
Sertl says: If you want to buy insurance on your own, contact Travelex, which has three basic programs (Basic, Select, and Maximum, with Select, in my opinion, being the best combination of coverage and cost). Travel Guard is another company to check out.
Ryan Schick, online photo editor
It’s unbelievable, but we booked five nights at Amanyara and three nights at Grace Bay for our April honeymoon in the Turks and Caicos. The first resort called to say they were throwing in meals with the deal. The second hotel contacted me to offer a fourth night free. I didn’t have to do anything.
Sertl says: Ryan got lucky. Really lucky. (And everyone’s a sucker for honeymooners.) Call your hotel first and ask what they can do to sweeten the pot.
Melissa Roberts, food editor
I finally rebelled against paying $35 a head for a breakfast that my husband, our two kids, and I didn’t want in the first place. Now, I travel with Whole Foods Instant Oat Meal and buy an electric kettle when I arrive.
Sertl says: Breakfast is the biggest rip-off around. A lot of hotels set out an urn in the lobby for early departures. It’s perfect if, like me, you just want a cup of coffee in the morning.
Flavia Schepmans, associate art director
I rent out my East Village apartment on Craigslist, which usually pays for my airfare. (And my cat gets fed in the deal). It’s easy, but I like people who are on Facebook so I can screen them first.
Sertl says: Great if you live in a city that’s a major tourist draw, but the real trend everywhere else is toward house-swapping. My friend in Portland, Oregon just cut a deal with someone in Copenhagen.
Marisa Robertson-Textor, research chief
In this sinking economy, the only good news for travelers is the strong dollar. I always monitor exchange rates and wait for the right moment to pounce. I’m just back from Australia, and, because it was such a bargain, I was able to splurge without guilt at Tetsuya’s, one of Sydney’s legendary restaurants.
Sertl says: We all know Britain and Europe are a bargain now, but the buck doesn’t stop there. Consider Brazil, New Zealand, and South Africa, where your dollar might also go a long way.
John Haney, copy chief
I locked in a fare to London last year, just to be safe, and have spent the rest of the time watching the airfares plummet.
Sertl says: Until further notice, wait until the last minute to book a flight. Airlines lose money every time they take off with empty seats, and there are plenty of them these days. Also, check out farecast.com, which quotes the lowest rates by comparing computer models of rising and falling demand, as well as yapta.com, which tracks air and hotel rates; if you see prices go down, you might be even eligible for a refund (not available for John, unfortunately).