Ever single day, I can’t help but skim through Sherman’s and Travelzoo like a millionaire perusing the stock market. I suppose there’s as a lot of similarities to stocks, as I see different places go on sale at the same time every year. It’s supply and demand. Everyone wants to travel in the summer, when school is out and the weather is warm north of the equator. This article is about finding deals and taking advantage of them—separating yourself from the herd.
I was in Santorini one November a couple of years ago. It's one of the most beautiful islands on the planet, with cliffs and white-and-turquoise-painted buildings perched over the edge of a crystal-clear ocean. I was enjoying a Greek salad at an amazing restaurant and the manager came out and started talking to me about Greece, food and travel. He remarked that we were really lucky to be visiting this time of year. Why? He explained that in the summer, the tourists come in like a wave and there so are many, they wait in a line for two hours to eat in this restaurant. Everyone is traveling at the same time and scrambling to savor the same experiences and see the same places. The problem is, prices are higher and people care less if you’re happy or not. If you’re not happy, someone else will be.
It’s the same with airfare. I’ve been to Europe at least four times this year. I never go in the summer. At that time of year, airfare doubles, rooms are unavailable and restaurants are too busy to give you any specialized attention. Everyone is happy to see you in the wall, winter or spring, when tourists become a little more scarce. You can walk around Venice without feeling like you’re in a giant nightclub, talk to locals without feeling like you’re inconveniencing them. You can book hotels last minute, and your dollar goes further. Here’s how you can find deals you can afford.
1. Subscribe to every website that sends out deals: Travelzoo, Groupon and Sherman’s are just a few. Get on the lists and see the deals. Travelzoo’s 20 deals is my favorite. They scour the web for great timely deals from airfare to full trips and local things.
2. Travel off-season. Everyone knows that going to Disney in the summer is a horrible mistake if you don’t like crowds and long lines. So is Ireland, Italy or anywhere else that all people in the world seem to want to go to simultaneously. Our summer is off season to the southern hemisphere, so trips to Argentina and Brazil will often be less expensive.
3. Use economy airlines. Spirit Airlines, Pegasus, Ryan and Asia Air are a few of the world’s low-cost carriers. You won’t be getting lobster for lunch on these airlines—perhaps no lunch at all, in fact—but they can usually be booked last-minute and will often be half (or maybe a third) of the price of what you’ll pay for a full-service airline. Know the rules about luggage, printing tickets and check-in procedures before you go. Budget airlines make much of their profit from last-minute mistakes from passengers who didn’t do their research.
4. Be flexible. I’m often asked by my friends to help them find the cheapest flight to somewhere. I’ll find an amazing deal, only to discover that they don’t want to do a stopover, they don’t like to get up early or they don’t feel comfortable with an airline from another country. Being flexible on your schedule can save you more money than any other item on this list. If your flight leaves you in Frankfurt for 12 hours, get out of the airport, rent a car and have some fun. Try out new places! Get up early! You can sleep when you’re dead.
5. Stretch your money out in Asia. Asia may be on the other side of the planet, but even the most touristy places there are still cheap by western standards. If you’re nervous about where to go and how to get around, take a package tour. Some of the best values are exciting destinations like Turkey and China. Gate 1 Travel is one of my favorite package consolidators. During off-season times, I often see amazing vacations going for less than $100/day, including the flight to Asia.
6. Eastern Europe. One of the best-kept secrets in travel is emerging Eastern Europe. Prices are half of Western Europe, and there are amazing places to so see. Macedonia has Lake Ohrid, one of the most beautiful lake towns in the world, Kruge in Albania will take your breath away. Even the souvenirs will please the most jaded traveler. Georgia and Armenia have amazing food and incredible UNESCO world heritage sites. And Croatia? Don’t even get me started about Croatia. It’s Italy II with lower prices, beautiful islands and a lovely coastline. Hurry though! Croatia has gone mainstream to tour groups so the prices might still be lower, but the crowds are there.
7. Look at exchange rates and prices before you book. Australia might have been on your radar for a while, but your money isn’t going to get you very far there at the moment. It’s expensive once you convert your US dollars to Aussie dollars and start spending money. In fact it’s one of the most expensive countries to visit at the moment. The good news is that nothing lasts forever, and the prices will come down if you’re patient. The Euro and Japanese Yen have dropped against the US dollar significantly in the last couple of years and that 10 to 20 percent extra money you get when you change currency can add up to big savings. So, go to Europe and save Australia for a little later.
8. Watch out for cruise ship extras. Sometimes the best way to get to an out-of-the-way island is via a cruise. You might find an incredible deal on a sailing trip but then be presented with a bill at the end of your sailing that is double what you paid for the actual cruise. I could write an entire blog about how to save money on a a cruise, but keep in mind that a cruise is not that different than a Las Vegas casino. Once you’re inside the ship, most of the cruise ship makes its profit from your gambling, drinks and excursions. Gambling odds aren’t good, there’s a million ways around paying for drinks and excursions can be often booked outside the ship for half the price.
Once you start doing these things, you’ll notice that you suddenly know more than your friends and they’ll be asking you for traveling advice. Sign up for those emails and find your trip!