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REAL DEALS

If prices go up, try these tips

Email|Print| Text size + By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Correspondent / December 31, 2006

Let us end the year with a blast of bad news: Travel costs will continue to go up in 2007. Hotel prices are expected to rise 3 to 8 percent, and many airlines are expected to follow the lead of American Airlines, which recently raised round-trip fares by as much as $40 to compensate for rising fuel costs.

Ah, but there is good news, too. Americans are going to keep going places, as evidenced by the surge in Christmas and New Year travelers -- expected to hit a record of nearly 65 million -- despite higher costs. For careful travelers, there will still be deals, discounts, and bargains. Here are some basics to consider:

Don't carve plans in stone. Unless you have to be at a certain place at an exact time, be flexible. Changing arrival and/or departure times by a day or two can save hundreds of dollars on your flight and even your hotel room.

Go hunting. If you're blessed with a savvy and dedicated travel agent, you are a lucky person , because such an agent has the knowledge and tools to find you a good price and a trip tailored to your likes and dislikes. But each year, more and more of us are becoming our own agents, scanning not only the Big Three travel websites -- Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia -- but many others such as Hotwire, Priceline, Cheapflights, Go-today, and Hotels.com. After a moderately thorough search recently, I found a mid-April trip to La Jolla, Calif., for a little more than $700 each, double occupancy .

Be a little "off." Traveling off-season, as well as flying on off-peak days and hours, can save you a lot and be less stressful. I love Europe in the spring and fall, for example, and I cannot understand why people who have a choice would spend more to be jostled by crowds at the height of the summer season. Often there are reasons, children in school among them, that an off-season trip or a midweek flight is impossible, but even then , consider traveling at the edges of the busy season.

Look for the bottom line. Taxes, fees, and other charges can add significantly to the cost of a trip. Airport fees can easily add more than $100 to the cost of a trip to Europe. Then there are hotel taxes, such as New York 's 13.5 percent levy. Cruisegoers should check whether port charges -- based on the taxes cruise ships must pay for the ports they dock in -- are included. And some group tour participants have been hit with surcharges for airline price hikes. As a result, some companies are instituting price guarantees. Last week, Grand Circle Travel announced that passengers on its small-ship vacations will incur no additional air or other fuel surcharges, or currency increases after booking, even if the company does. Grand European Tours promises that after paying your deposit, the tour price is guaranteed.

Add it up. I once joked in print that when you have finally figured every possible expense on an upcoming trip, multiply the total by 16 and you will have the true cost of your vacation. Often people rejoice if they get a low-cost flight without giving thought to the fact that their hotel stay will usually cost more than the flight and that restaurant meals may keep them heading to the ATM. Then there are souvenirs and tips. Budgeting may be boring and tedious, but it does help rein in costs.

Think about insurance. Not only has the world changed, but your own situation may have, making the possibility of a canceled or interrupted trip more likely. According to AARP Bulletin, 17 percent of people who buy travel insurance end up filing a claim. That, says the bulletin, is fairly high compared with other types of insurance. But not all policies are created equal. Some provide coverage only if something happens to the people traveling; others will pay if a cancellation is needed because of the death or illness of close relatives. Some policies will waive a pre existing condition if the policy is taken out immediately after the trip is booked; others will not. In any event, the companies will usually insist on proof such as a death certificate or doctor's letter.

Don't sweat the small stuff. This may be the most important advice of all. Try not to obsess over a disappointing excursion, a rude waiter, a delayed flight, or some other thing that went wrong. Perfection in travel is improbable. But if you think of your trip as a whole, the chances are that a few days after it ends, you will be looking forward to your next one.

The art of Indochina

Quo Vadis , a Boston-based travel company that has been organizing Indochina trips for a decade, is featuring an art tour Feb. 11-28 through Hanoi, Sapa Valley, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Saigon, all in Vietnam, and on to Cambodia and Laos. The tour will be led by Roxana von Kraus , and Margaret Shepherd, a Boston artist, will accompany the group and help them discover the world of calligraphy. The cost of $5,960 a person includes hotels and breakfasts, private transportation and transfers, museum entry fees, an overnight sail, theater and dance performances, flights within Vietnam, and overnight train transportation.

Visit quovadistravel.com or call 800-876-1995 or 617-421-9494 .

When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy . Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Check on boston.com Monday-Friday for a web-only New England Real Deal. Contact Richard P. Carpenter at carpenter@globe.com.

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