Book Christmas Travel Immediately, Says Travelocity

RF CD:  Christmas
Corel

We may still be in October, but if you are thinking of traveling home for the holidays, get on booking those tickets immediately. According to booking data from Travelocity, Christmastime travelers get the best deals when they book by Nov. 12.

Granted it’s Travelocity’s job to get you to buy tickets, but if you’re looking to snag a good deal, it’s smart to look at its data to get an idea of how much you’ll be paying and how much when you purchase the ticket will affect the final price.For example, according to the data, the average round-trip domestic airfare for travel at Christmastime is $450, up 7.5 percent from last year. Those traveling internationally still will be paying for expensive tickets, but they’re about the same price as last year, with the average ticket at $1,016, up only 2.5 percent from last year.

Here is Travelocity’s booking barometer:

Booking Week Fare
8 weeks before Oct 30 – Nov 5 $ 314.00
7 weeks before Nov 6 – Nov 12 $ 320.00
6 weeks before Nov 13 – Nov 19 $ 352.00
5 weeks before Nov 20 – Nov 26 $ 392.00
4 weeks before Nov 27 – Dec 3 $ 341.00
3 weeks before Dec 4 – Dec 10 $ 313.00
2 weeks before Dec 11 – Dec 17 $ 363.00
1 week before Dec 18 – Dec 24 $ 438.00

As you can see, you can book now and snag a cheap ticket, or keep your fingers crossed and buy a relatively last-minute one a few weeks before. Other Christmas booking tips include avoiding the Sunday and Monday after Christmas, as those are two days with ticket spikes.

Not going home for Christmastime? This is also the time to book for Thanksgiving. Between now and Nov. 9, Travelocity says prices drop, and then go right back up, and steeply, around Nov. 10.

Does Your Credit Card Include Hidden Travel Perks?

Flickr user 410(K) 2013

Millions of travelers are holding discounts to thousands of museums, concerts and airline rewards in their pocket without realizing it.

Credit-card companies offer hundreds of perks that most holders never use. How good are some of these perks? It depends on the card.

The great
The American Express Platinum cardholders can receive unlimited access to several airport lounges, including those run by the Delta, US Airways and American. According to MSN Money, those memberships would cost well over $1,000 if purchased individually.

Airline credit cards carry perks beyond earned miles. Some airlines, including American and Delta, allow cardholders to check their bags for free.

The pretty good
Bank of America credit cards entitle users to one free general admission to select museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, on the first full weekend of every month. A great way to save an easy $10 or more, but not worth getting a card solely for that reason.

Many cards include a small amount of travel insurance when you purchase your trip, although it’s likely only to accentuate the travel insurance you purchase. A much better perk is the free crash insurance for rental cars that comes standard with many cards.

The so-so
Citi’s Easy Deals allows you to cash in earned points for travel perks, including slightly discounted gift cards for cruises, rental cards and hotels. The hotel and rental car deals featured on the site aren’t much better than offers you can find on Travelocity or Expedia. You can also book tickets to popular attractions, but again, the discounts are virtually nil. Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center are $50 on its website, while Citi offers the same ticket for $48 and five of your earned points.

My wife had her iPhone stolen in the Paris Metro earlier this year. Had we used a Wells Fargo credit card, we may have been eligible for $600 replacement coverage. But, of course, there are caveats. First, we would have had to pay our monthly cellular bill with the card. Also, after the phone was stolen, we would have first had to file a claim against our homeowners insurance before Wells Fargo would have paid the difference.

Before making any travel plans, check your monthly credit card bill for any potential offers, visit your bank’s website or call the toll-free number on the back of the card to find out what perks are available to you.

*This post was updated from its original version to remove reference to a credit card offered by Continental.

Travel-Related Websites That Really Engage Their Customers

travel-related web sitesThey all talk about it. “Like us on Facebook,” “Follow us on Twitter” and “Read our blog,” say travel-related websites selling everything from guidebooks to airline flights, gear and gum. Many give us little reason to like them, follow them or do anything other than buy their products on the way to the next online destination. But some travel seller sites actually do put some time and effort into creating a reason to visit other than to buy something.

The task of buying a hotel room for a night is easy to define. The short list of variables includes location, price and availability. Easy. Any number of search sites can gather that information, whirl it around and present viable options. Hotel.info does more. On their blog we find The Ultimate Guide To Cooking In Your Hotel Room that brings us unique, interesting content that in and of itself is a good reason to visit their site.A Different Kind Of Hotel Search
travel-related web sitesProviding step by step directions and video, Hotel.info teamed up with chef Nicola Whistle (the Secret Restaurant) to hack hotel room food. Using things commonly found in a hotel room, like a shower cap and iron, Chef Whistle cooks up some delicious dishes. Poached egg on toast with steamed asparagus for breakfast? Cooked in your hotel room? Yes indeed, it can be done and visiting hotel.info shows travelers exactly how to do it. Visitors to this site actually have a reason to like, follow and maybe check in with their #ultimatehotelguide hashtag from @hotelinfo_EN on Twitter from time to time.

Still, visitors would probably leave the Hotel.info site if their search results were not productive. Running a test search, Hotel.info vs. Kayak, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Expedia and others, results were similar but engagement was not. They all ask for our like and follow but only Hotel.info had additional content worth a look.

15,000 Things To Do On Planet Earth
Another travel buy site that earns our vote is Viator. This travel tour buy site caught our attention last year with their “Win Your Dream Travel Job” contest that had four winners tasked with traveling through 20 countries in 60 days in both North America and Europe, and documenting their adventures on camera. Viator also earned likes from cruise travelers, saving them money with Viator Shore Excursions offering more than 500 shore excursions in over 80 of the most popular ports around the globe. But more moving past simply selling tours, Viator engages site visitors with features like inviting travelers to submit photos and a rich library of tour-specific videos.

Selling a no-wait Skip The Line Guinness Storehouse Entrance Ticket for visitors to Dublin might be reason enough to buy. But Viator builds on that value with recent photos and a short video that is an accurate representation of the tour. A new Viator Tours & Activities App makes finding and booking activities for almost any given destination we might visit while traveling easy too, with more than 15,000 curated trip activities in hundreds of destinations including photos, video and reviews.

Clicking a “like” or “follow” button takes just a split second. But consider that click as a vote and be sure your vote counts. The best travel-related websites not only offer good pricing but come equipped with unique content that makes for a better overall value.

Go ‘Smell The Roses’ With New Travelocity Brand Campaign




Travelocity’s newly-launched brand campaign is urging travelers to get off their couches and “go and smell the roses.” (Note: official hashtag: #gosmelltheroses).

Pushed though five new TV commercials, the spots will feature the now famous roaming gnome in a variety of situations, ranging from the running of the bulls to a ski gondola to a sandy beach, all with messages encouraging travelers to get up, go and experience.

We spoke with the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brad Wilson, to get the inside scoop on the new campaign and what makes Travelocity different from the other leading OTAs in the marketplace.

Competition from sites like Hotwire, Priceline, Kayak and Orbitz is tough, Wilson admits, but he believes that this new campaign sets Travelocity apart in its multi-platform approach. In addition to multiple ads pushed through partnerships with nearly all major television channels and many online outlets, the campaign is being offered via mobile and social channels as well.Housed on YouTube, the campaign will be seen in its entirety across all of the brand’s social channels, but also on mobile devices – a key differentiator, Wilson said.

The famed Roaming Gnome is still a major part of the campaign as well, serving as both mascot and inspiration for travelers.

But that isn’t all that’s new at Travelocity. The brand is aiming to capture travelers through a number of interactive and engaging methods, including a new video series with Courtney Scott, a “Let’s Roam” app launching in April that will let travelers use social sharing technology to solicit information about upcoming trips, and a billboard-like advertising program in major airports that will direct travelers to special offers through unique mobile codes.

We’ll keep a close eye on how this new campaign develops and what – if any – changes this makes to the OTA landscape.

How to Find a Cheap Flight

Another year has passed and the airline industry is still locked in its race to the bottom of quality and service. It now costs money to add anything special to your flight, from legroom to meals to Internet to in-flight television. Need to change your tickets? There’s a fee. Want to standby for an earlier flight? There’s a fee. On some carriers there’s even a fee to store your bags in an overhead bin, and others are removing bathrooms to make room for more paying passengers. Even Southwest Airlines, the king of no-hassle flying, recently announced that they’ll start charging fees for parts of their service.

No fee should surprise the frugal traveler at this point. The industry has adapted to à la carte pricing, which targets the casual and unwary traveler, and it’s up to the informed passenger to find the best priced and fee-free tickets. The good news is that these new fees have kept base fares low – it’s just a matter of finding the cheapest tickets. Here’s how you can get started in 2013. For 2012 tips, check out last year’s still very-relevant guide.

1. Cheat On Your Metacrawler
Oh, you use Kayak? Everyone does at this point, and though it’s hands down the best tool for quickly searching the widest spectrum of airline sites, it’s not the only authority. Sites like Momondo (based in Copenhagen) and Skyscanner (based in Edinburgh) often have access to different branches of Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and can sometimes display completely different prices.

Here’s a recent example. A flight I recently booked between Munich and Berlin was coming up as $650 on Kayak via Airberlin.com. But Skyscanner pulled up availability on a site called Ebookers.co.uk for a cost of $560. Total savings by switching crawlers: $90.

2. Broaden Your Flexibility
The flexible tools on Kayak, Travelocity and Orbitz are great ways to find the cheapest availability, but if you want the best bang for your buck, check out the tools on ITA Software. The search tool, which is quietly owned by Google, has one of the most powerful engines for searching a huge range of tickets. You can select the number of days that you want to be gone, for example, and ITA will search for departures every day for a month. And that’s just in novice mode. In advanced mode, you can force connections in layover cities, call out specific carriers and integrate in a whole host of constraints geared towards finding the cheapest flight. Milepoint has an excellent thread on these commands.

The one drawback? ITA won’t actually book the flight for you. It’s not too hard to take its output and carry it over to Kayak or your local travel agent, but it adds an extra step that many don’t want to take.

3. Outsource Your Flight Searching
All of the searching in the world can help you find the perfect itinerary, but when the fares aren’t dropping, there’s always another solution: outsourcing. Flightfox is a service that allows you to fill in your ideal costs and constraints and then create a contest to identify the cheapest itinerary.

So you want to go to Paris from Chicago over the second weekend of February, right? But the cheapest fare on Kayak is $792. You can plug in your ideal price (say, $600) into FlightFox and then “experts” on the site dig through the myriad search engines to find you the best price. If someone finds an itinerary that matches your goals you can award them a fee from $24.

The best part about Flightfox, though, is that you can stipulate each requirement for your ticket. And that includes searches for mileage tickets. One of my recent requests was for a one-way ticket from Europe to New York City on a One World carrier departing on the 2nd of January for 20,000 miles. I had searched high and low on aa.com and over the phone, but a Flightfox user found a ticket from Madrid for me within two hours and my vacation was complete. For $24, that service was a godsend.

4. Stay Abreast With Sale Fares and Coupon Codes
One of the biggest misconceptions about airfares is that they’re constantly moving up, often with flashy headlines like “Spirit raises fares by $10!!!” If only it were that simple.

Airlines are absurdly competitive, and often, as soon as one carrier raises or lowers its price the others will follow suit to reduce that pricing advantage. It’s that competition that keeps costs from going through the roof.

One way that carriers have been working around that, though, is by using specialized fare sales and coupon codes. Just last week, Jetblue launched a weeklong flurry of fare sales up to 80% off when using a coupon code on their site. Virgin America and Southwest often do the same thing. By dangling those codes in front of passengers they convince consumers to use only their site when booking airfare – thus freeing you from the distraction of other competition out in the market.

It’s a good idea to keep up to speed with each airline and their respective fares when shopping for tickets. You can do that by browsing their respective websites, subscribing to their twitter feeds (a good list is here) and keeping up to date with newsletters from Travelzoo and Airfare Watchdog.

5. Manage your Mileage Program
There’s a tectonic shift moving loyalty programs around in the airline industry, and this year, budget travelers stand to lose precious ground. Delta Air Lines just announced that they’re changing the scope of their mileage program to factor in annual spend in addition to miles and segments flown. If you’re the budget traveler that scrapes together just enough miles for silver status or a mileage ticket on Delta, this is the year to consider other carriers. American and United are still regarded as the best airlines in the country in terms of mileage redemptions. Pick the one that best serves your home airport and give it a try.

6. Twitter Is Still King For Breaking Fares
Last year we pointed out that Twitter is the great aggregator of cheap breaking fares. Fact of the matter is, it takes time to put together blog posts and email newsletters and many brands are looking to gain clout in social media. To that end, they’ll often tweet fares before their email blast comes out, and those precious minutes can be the difference between a booked ticket and a missed deal. As suggested last year, make sure you follow and keep close track of @airfarewatchdog, @johnnyjet, @NYCAviation, @gadling, @globetrotscott and our very own @grantkmartin for any breaking airline news and fares.

Keep in mind, as well, that good deals don’t come up every day. Watching for airfare deals is like cultivating a Bonsai tree. It takes time, patience and a little bit of luck.

[Photo credit: Flickr user flyforfun]