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If you’re a modern traveler, you probably book at least some portion of your vacation using the Internet. I’ve been going online to book since I began traveling independently and I’ve learned a thing or two about mistakes to avoid. I’m still learning, but feel free to use my prior hard knocks to your own advantage.
1. Forgetting to delete your cookies.
One tidbit of information I recently happened across is that websites are now looking at your online search history and using that information to their advantage. If you were looking at New York hotels last week, the airlines can use that information today to bump up their rates for flights to JFK — just for you! This gouging can be avoided by periodically clearing your history and deleting cookies. You may even want to repeat a search with a new browser if you notice something fishy, like advertisements for the exact destination you’re headed already in the corner. This may feel like double the work, but you want to make sure that you’re not paying more than you should, right?
Use as many resources as you can, including the airlines’ websites. There are a ton of travel and booking sites. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll come to discover them the more you use them. Just remember to periodically wipe out your cookies to make sure you’re getting a fair offer.
2. Not waiting on hotels.
This is the hardest tip for me to write because I am a very impulsive person; more often than not, I book my bed way too far ahead of time. I feel more secure having a room lined up, and I like to know where I’m staying so that I can plan an itinerary. But all this has gotten me into trouble before.
Sometimes I’ll book a hotel and only realize afterward that I wanted to leave a day earlier than I thought. Or, a week later the hotel is offering a special rate and I’m already stuck with the higher price. Or else, I’ll arrive and the hotel isn’t anything like its online description and I’m unhappy with my stay. Always read reviews!
With websites like Priceline, it actually makes sense to wait until you’re almost ready to leave before booking, so long as you don’t have a particular hotel in mind and you simply know the area where you want to stay. If you’re really adventurous, you could even show up without any plans at all and still find a decent rate by stopping in a rest area and thumbing through the local coupon books. This will usually put you on the outskirts of the action, but sometimes all you need is a cheap room outside the city.
The point is that unless you find an incredibly low price ahead of time, or you can secure a room when you know that the rates and availability won’t be favorable otherwise (think festival season), or you have a really good reason for being in a very specific hotel, you can wait.
3. Going crazy over flights.
Does it seem to you that a lot of folks have some kind of wacky system for making flight reservations? While everybody and their grandma has an idea on the perfect number of days to book a flight in advance, that optimal number is still murky territory for regular travelers just trying to get on an airplane. My advice is to not stress over THE BEST rates, but to try and get a good rate. This way, you don’t have to second guess or regret your decisions.
As always, a little planning goes a long way. Read a few traveler reviews about the location you want to go. Ask around. What did other people pay for their flights? Were they traveling in the same season as you? After awhile, you’ll get a pretty good picture of what most people paid. Some descriptions will seem unrealistically low, and others will seem too high. If you’re goal oriented, shoot for the low end deal. If you’re being more pragmatic, go for the median. The main thing is to have a good price, the standard price, and a number that you absolutely refuse to go over in mind. Start your search from there and book when you feel comfortable with the price you find.
Another truth I’ve learned is that sometimes an offer that seems unrealistic isn’t too good to be true. There are some amazing deals out there, and if you’re informed and you’ve checked the fine print, you’ll know to snap it up before it disappears. Recently, I signed up for a credit card that offered 50,000 frequent flyer miles. It has an $80 annual fee, but the otherwise free round trip to Europe made it worth it for me. Here’s the thing: don’t take an offer like this unless you’re willing to live with it. Cancelling the card forfeits the miles and could damage my credit. I’m simply willing to pay $80 a year from now on to get a free trip and miles in return. That was the deal I signed up for.
4. Not checking multiple airports.
I don’t mean to throw you for another loop, but have you considered checking several airports? Sometimes the rates are drastically cheaper just a few miles apart. I live in New Jersey, and I usually check New York, Newark, and Philadelphia for both departures and return flights. Smaller, local airports occasionally have weirdly cheap flights, too. No harm in checking, right?
You can apply the same tactic for your destination. When we flew to the Yucatan Peninsula, I was so excited about starting in Campeche and road-tripping our way to the Cancun region that I booked the flight without checking the other airports. Afterward, we realized that a reverse trip from Cancun to Campeche would have cut our ticket prices in half. Argh! It was a rookie mistake, and I’d encourage you to look at multiple airports before locking yourself into any flight. Once you’re booked, cancellation fees will wipe out any chance of saving money on making new arrangements.
5. Forgetting to use coupon codes.
I won’t take forever to spell this one out because I think most people know to do this already. When you’re finally booking and checking out, look for one of those promo boxes. If you see one, use a search engine in a separate tab to look for a code. You’ll often find one for five, ten, or even fifteen percent off after just a few minutes of searching. It’s always worth it, and you can put the money you saved in a slush fund for a nice dinner when you’re on your trip.
A lot of people make mistakes even if they have good advice beforehand. Don’t beat yourself up when it happens to you. Share your successes, and learn from your losses. We’re all navigating a new world together, and if we listen to each other we have a better chance of coming out ahead of the game. Good luck!
What was the worst booking mistake you ever made?
Do you have a system for booking flights?