Travelin’ Sober Man

By Bob Kocher

Welcome to my new travel column for In Recovery Magazine. Each issue will offer you tips on destinations, how to find good deals, dos and don’ts for shopping vacations and other travel information. All questions and suggestions are welcome. If you have one, please use the form at the end of the article.

The most important thing for any travel shopper to know is to work with an experienced travel agent. It will usually save you time and money.

Shopping for Airfares

The best example of this is illustrated by questions most frequently asked of a travel agency: “How can I get a better airfare, and when should I buy the ticket?”

Most agencies charge a fee for booking air tickets these days. The reason is simply that most airlines have not paid commissions to travel agencies for years.

Airlines have sold the idea that buying air tickets on the internet is the best way for a consumer to save money, which is often not true. They change ticket prices based on inquiries as well as supply and demand, so they want you to use the internet. In addition, the public is discouraged from calling an air carrier to check prices because of the long waits to get through to a real person.

A recent article in a popular travel publication offers some helpful suggestions. First, when buying your tickets, avoid shopping when internet traffic is heaviest. As a general rule, buying after 4:00 p.m. until bedtime and on the weekends or holidays is the worst time to shop for airfares. Second, the article goes on to say that Thursday is the best day to shop, closely followed by Wednesday and Tuesday.

Over the years, I have learned a secret that is very helpful. When shopping for airfare, use a website such as kayak.com. Kayak displays prices from major sites, like Priceline, Expedia, Cheapo Air, Airfast, etc. Not all third party sites include taxes. By using this site you will avoid that problem.

People unintentionally create a problem by comparing prices on multiple sites in a short time span. Just one person doing this can raise prices in an instant. Inquiries are simultaneously transmitted to the air carrier’s sites and to third party engines. Prices go up, and people panic and buy, fearing the price will go up yet again. The problem is compounded when a friend or family member tries to help by checking fares in the same timeframe. This raises prices even faster. It’s a vicious cycle.

It used to be that a round-trip ticket was less costly. This is no longer true. I fly from both the San Francisco and Los Angeles area airports because we live almost in the middle of the state. So I shop all the airports in the departure city and at the final destination. Try different combinations of one-way routes at departure and arrival airports. It might save you money.

So, remember to shop Thursday, Wednesday or Tuesday. Avoid spending more than ten minutes at a time looking for fares. Don’t get others involved in the discovery process at the same time.

Kayak offers price-trend information. You can find it in the upper left corner after you have made your flight inquiry. You need to enter a round-trip itinerary, so use a beginning date and add a week for return to get the trend information. I have had 85 percent success using this information. I shopped a return flight from Miami a while ago and followed the trend suggestion to wait. I did, and the Miami to Los Angeles flight I needed dropped by $275!

Shopping for Hotels

Shopping for hotels is much easier than shopping for airfares because the multiple inquiries do not change the prices. You can check multiple sites without fear of raising the price. Hotels are motivated to fill rooms, and the deals can be amazing.

I have had the most success with hotwire.com. Before I check prices on their website, I go to hotels.com or booking.com and input my preferences. Do you want to be near an airport; would you like breakfast included; is Wi-Fi free and shuttle service available? Once you find location and amenities, Hotwire will give you a range of several properties and place you in one of them. You might not know which hotel you are getting. If points from a particular chain aren’t vital, savings can be substantial.

Bob Kocher

Bob Kocher

Other good tips come from Jason Steele, who wrote The Inside Scoop on Hotel Stays From a Front Desk Supervisor for the online travel blog, The Points Guy. He tells us that calling a hotel on the morning of arrival and asking for upgrades and early check in is smart because the hotel system will start pre-assigning rooms each morning. You can also ask not be near a service closet or for rooms away from the elevator (unless you need to be close to one – they’ll give those rooms easily upon request). This is where the upgraded rooms are usually situated.

Jason shares that it doesn’t hurt to ask for an upgrade when you get to the hotel front desk. Staff is often paid a commission to “upsell” you to a better room, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Ask for what you want.

Travel safe, travel well and travel sober! – BK

Bob Kocher has spent over 22 years in the travel industry working as a guide, group planner, salesman and agency owner. He has led more than 125 groups worldwide – in Greece and the Mediterranean, Russia, South America, the Caribbean and Alaska. Check out the blog page at the agency website http://travelsober.com for updates on travel tips.

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