Last-Minute Travel Deals Still Exist — If You’re Patient

April 12, 2010 at 9:54 am | Posted in air travel, car rental/hire, consumer travel, cruising, travel and technology, value in travel | Leave a comment
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by José Balido

last-minute travel dealsVacationers and business travelers alike are booking travel later in the game than ever these days — often a week or less from departure — with the dicey economy accelerating a trend that’s been building for years. This higher demand for last-minute travel, together with the yield management systems used by many of the big players, means rates that are more than ever in flux up until the 11th hour. It also means that “deals” are no longer a sure thing.

Oh, and did I mention that the currently downsized number of flights and rental cars is also tightening unsold inventory? Sadly, all the above ads up to not a lot of breaks for the last-minute travel shopper.

Best Travel Websites for Last-Minute Deals
The good news: All is not lost. Such breaks do still pop up, because the fact remains that vendors with unsold inventory — whether it’s bundled air-hotel packages or individual components — will always need to unload it. What you’ll need is a spot of patience and perseverance — and willingness to spend a fair bit of time online doing comparisons, because that’s where most of the action is these days. And there are certainly myriad choices, including the likes of LastMinuteTravel.com and last-minute sections of familiar sites like TravelZoo, Travelocity, and Kayak. I’ve found particularly good ones are Lastminute.comHotwire.com, and of course Priceline.com where after checking the going rates on other sites you can try submitting (reasonably!) lower bids.

Apart from trolling these various sites, in the case of airfares especially I’d sign up for alerts, both from individual airlines (United tends to have the largest selection, coming out each Monday, but doesn’t email them anymore, so you have to check United.com) and airfare info sites like AirfareWatchdog.com, which blasts out individual and grouped alerts according to airport or route. For car rentals, some companies list last-minute specials, but check out Breezenet.com as well, a comparison site which also features a “Deal of the Week.” And this summer, excess cruise line capacity will pretty likely mean awesome late deals on certain itineraries — especially in the Caribbean.

Twitter Travel Alerts
Finally, as this blog pointed out last year, Twitter has not only been coming on like gangbusters in general but has increasingly caught with airlines, hotels, tour operators, and other vendors as a dandy way to unload late inventory and for consumers to monitor deals by following them. Just a handful of other airlines that tweet news and fare specials include Air France (@Air_France), American (@AAirwaves), British Airways (@BritishAirways), Cathay Pacific (@cathaypacific), Continental (@Continental), JetBlue (@JetBlueCheeps), Singapore (@SingaporeAir), Southwest (@Southwest), Spirit (@SpiritAirlines), and United (@UnitedAirlines). You can also keep track of fares on sites like AirefareWatchdog.com (@airfarewatchdog), DealsOnAirfareToday.com (@dealsonairfare), and LowestAirfares.com (@LowestAirfares_).

Example: Type “#travel” into the Twitter search box and you’ll come up with hundreds of same-day results. But say you want to go to Orlando. A recent search for “#Orlando #travel” yielded, among many other items:

  • For $289, a three-night stay for four at Silver Lake Resort, plus two adult day tickets to Disney World, Universal Studios, or Sea World (@SLResortOrlando).
  • News of an upcoming crafts and collectibles show in the quaint nearby town of Mount Dora (@roritravel).
  • A list of top free attractions in the Orlando area (@GotSaga).

Crack your knuckles and get surfing!

photo: iStockPhoto
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3 Tips For Better Car Rental Deals in a Recession

March 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Posted in car rental/hire, consumer travel | Leave a comment
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by José Balido

car rentalsThe current economic crisis has, of course, been changing travel patterns for many of us. Reduced spending by both leisure and business travelers, as well as tighter business credit, has especially affected the car-rental industry (aka car hire, to our cousins in the Commonwealth). So whether you’re a renter or in the rent-a-car business, you’re taking a hit.

For starters, a drop in orders for new cars to refresh rental fleets (Enterprise, for example, cut its orders almost in half in 2009) means said fleets have grown both smaller and older. That of course, results in more wear and tear, and more reliability and maintenance problems. Midsize and compact availability has been further worsened by the recall of Toyotas because of those infamous braking, acceleration, and “it-is-not-a-computer-problem” problems; it’s expected to affect at least eight million vehicles worldwide.

As a result, auto-rental agency locations may be less likely to have your first choice of size and/or model available. Some companies have also cut their locations’  business hours or shuttered some locations entirely.

What with the decrease in rental vehicles and the increase in maintenance costs, the base cost of renting has gone up in many parts of the world. Moreover, additional fees are being tacked on and/or jacked up like mad, including refueling fees and surcharges for returning cars to a different location from the one you rented at. In more than 40 U.S. states, increasingly strapped local and state governments have piled on new taxes. And rates at quite a few airports have especially shot up.

Given all the above, it’s hardly a shocker that renter satisfaction has plummeted along with demand; some 21 percent of those surveyed by J.D. Powers in 2009 were pretty darned ticked off.  But is there anything that can be done about any of this? Not a heck of a lot, but while we all ride out these tough times, there are three ways you can keep car rental costs down:

1. When booking flights, package tours, and, above all, cruises, it often pays to put on your best poker face and wait for a fire sale before showing your plastic. That used to work with rental cars, too, but now companies are offering discounts for people who pay in advance. For example, some Hertz locations offer 20 percent off if you book in March for a May rental. Another tactic that used to work was to land somewhere without reservations, walk from booth to booth, and bargain ’em down. But thanks to today’s decreased capacity, that could leave you stranded.

2. Don’t just go to one rental company site to book. Shop around on aggregator and auction sites including Breezenet, Kayak, Priceline, and Hotwire. You’ll find that car rental rates, much like airfares, are all over the map.

3. Because of the above-mentioned airport fees, renting at non-airport locations has long been the cheaper option–but today, it’s the much cheaper option. These fees are so exorbitant that roundtrip taxi, train, or bus fares to a suburban or downtown rental office may cost dramatically less than the difference in car rental rates. For example, the base price of a Chevy Cobalt at Hertz’s Oakland Airport office was US$75 at press time. Paying upfront brought that down to $60, but then Hertz added on the $20 “airport concession” fee and a $10 facility fee (huh?), so when all was said and done, the price was $238 three days. However, if you’d booked that same Chevy Cobalt from one of Hertz’s downtown locations, the tab was $134.

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