June 1, 2022
If the crowds at major airports are any indication, people are starting to travel again — and then some.
Staffing shortages at security and customs, recruitment challenges, and lingering public health protocols have led to massive delays, long lines, and flight cancellations at some of Canada’s busiest airports, as well as south of the border.
However, despite all of the issues, tourist destinations and airlines are forecasting huge crowds this summer, as some industry watchers indicate the number of travellers could even exceed pre-pandemic levels.
And if you’re combing through travel websites looking for those elusive pandemic deals, you’ve probably already come to realize: summer hotel and flight prices have taken off.
So here are some tips and hacks from travel experts to help save you some bucks while booking your getaway.
Flights aren’t cheaper to book on Mondays
“Some people will still believe you know, booking at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday night of a full moon will get you the cheapest price, but that’s just not the way it works anymore,” said Barry Choi, a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert.
Choi says it’s all dynamic pricing, and the algorithms already know what you’re looking for based off your search history.
“There are very simple things you can do to control your costs, to a certain extent. So, on average, booking Friday to Monday is always going to be more expensive than Tuesday to Thursday,” said Choi, pointing out that there’s typically fewer people travelling in the middle of the week.
The time of day when you depart could also mean cost savings, says Choi.
Someone who is flying out early in the morning to maximize their time at their destination could expect to pay a slightly higher fee than someone willing to save a few bucks by flying out later in the afternoon and arriving later at their point of destination.
“It's not a huge difference, but sometimes it can be significant, especially if you're redeeming points,” Choi said.
Using incognito mode on Google to try to get around the algorithm can occasionally work, says Choi, but adds that it rarely does.
Book as early as possible, says Christiane Cormier, a travel advisor, especially if you see a great deal.
Basic properties of economics apply: supply and demand, says Cormier. The flights that are more popular tend to cost more. Choi agrees, adding that certain tourist destinations that were popular pre-pandemic will still be popular now and prices will reflect that.
Don’t obsess over airfare prices
The refresh button. If you’ve tried to book a flight, buy concert tickets, a Sony PS5, or book a COVID-19 vaccine, you’re likely all too familiar with the dreaded/beloved refresh button.
But Choi says don’t sweat it. Not for the $50 or $100 you might save on a flight.
“People tend to obsess over airfare. I used to myself. Personally, I would spend 10 hours researching every single site constantly to save $100,” Choi recalls. But he points out that in breaking down costs, it meant he valued his time at $10 an hour. And by eating at home a few nights that month and cutting back on grabbing coffee on the go, he could easily save that money without spending 10 hours stressing online.
Dust off those travel points and redeem them
Most people haven’t been on a plane in years, and some of us have likely spent far too much time online shopping during the pandemic, hopefully racking up travel reward points on credit cards while contributing to the economy as a whole (you’re welcome, capitalism).
“Depending on the program, you can apply that right away to your flight fare, which will immediately lower some of your costs,” Choi said, but warns that every point program is different so it’s worthwhile to do some homework to see how best to benefit from your points.
As an example, Choi says, Aeroplan reward points can technically be used to book any flight you want. But Choi points out that some reward flights are more valuable than others.
“What I mean by that is, if you book a business class flight, the point is generally speaking, worth way more than booking on economy, right. So you need to calculate the value your points one point at a time,” said Choi.
It pays off to be loyal
Joining hotel loyalty programs allow you to earn points, like you do with a credit card, says Choi. Popular booking sites like Hotels.com or booking.com often have their own individual loyalty programs. Hotels.com, Choi said, offers one free reward night for every 10 nights you book using their site.
You can also collect points by choosing to stay at certain hotel chains, like the Marriott, which allows you to earn a free night’s stay. Marriott’s Bonvoy points program allows you to book four nights on points and then gives you the fifth night free, said Choi, and is one of the easiest ways to save money.
Try travel hacking
It's basically where you sign up for new travel rewards credit cards that give you a huge welcome bonus, says Choi. Once you get those points, you can then apply it towards your travel. If you're applying for three or four travel cards within a year, Choi says you can quickly rack up enough points to get you that free business class flight. Just remember to cancel the cards before your annual renewal is up.
“I do it myself all the time. But if you're a person that's typically in debt or has trouble paying their credit card, (it’s) probably something you don't want to do,” Choi cautions.
Travel hacking is not for everyone. Every time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score decreases. And in order to get the welcome bonus, the credit cards usually require some sort of minimum amount spent using the card, says Choi, so setting up these credit cards encourages people to spend more.
Choi likes the American Express cards, and not just for travel, as he says he finds their benefits and offers to be very generous, and often include travel insurance and better earn rates.
Don’t buy reward points unless you need them
“So generally speaking, buying points is never worth it because airlines will always be selling at a lower value than they’re actually worth,” he says.
Of course, Choi adds, there are always exceptions.
If you’re 5,000 points away from being able to book a business class flight, then buying those 5,000 points is probably worth it because then you get that really expensive flight for cheap, says Choi.
Choi also points to recent deals on points, some offering an additional 50 to 75 per cent more points, and says that depending on your specific situation, taking advantage of these bonuses could be beneficial.
“You shouldn't buy points for the sake of buying points. You should always be buying points to get you to a specific reception or goal that you're looking to to claim,” Choi said.
Don’t be afraid to cancel hotel bookings
Book early and book a hotel that is fully refundable, Choi recommends. Hotels are constantly changing prices, and booking a full refundable room gives you the flexibility to cancel without costs during the allotted time if you come across a better deal.
Choi recommends checking frequently. He had recently booked a fully refundable hotel room in California for a trip he’s taking in two months. The checked the exact same hotel once a week, because he’s got the time, he adds, and the price has dropped twice. He managed to snag the same room at a lower rate, but notes that the price has since gone up again.
“It’s completely random,” Choi says about hotel pricing, and suggests people check back frequently for better prices.
Local tourism boards sometimes offer deals like free gift cards
The tourism industry has also been trying to find ways to get people travelling again. Choi says last summer, cities like Ottawa, Vancouver, and Richmond offered travel deals through their own tourism board websites. By booking hotels or accomodations through the site, people were eligible to receive free gift cards. Montreal had a deal, Choi said, that was a pass that allowed you access to do different things around the city, which was nice and likely helped draw people back to the city.
It’s just another way to save money, Choi says, and could help fund a future trip.
Check your personal auto insurance policy
If you’re looking to rent a car when you arrive at your destination, you should check your own personal insurance policy as it may cover car rental insurance while you’re travelling, says Cormier.
The same goes for travel insurance either through your company health benefits or on your credit card.
Travel and auto insurance are additional costs, says Cormier, and if you are already covered, it could mean significant savings.
Don’t always look for the cheapest deals
Cheap comes at a cost, warns Cormier.
“You’ve got to be careful when you’re looking for the cheapest. The devil is in the details,” said Cormier.
She recommends considering value versus price point. For example, you don’t want to get to the airline and realize that there are costs associated with checked luggage because it’s a discount carrier, she said.
Cheap often means less flexibility, so if something goes wrong, if plans change (as we saw when the world shut down due to a global pandemic), or you didn’t read the fine print, what you’re buying may not be what you end up getting.
You may look at the price and think, oh that looks better, but the online travel site may not show additional fees associated with the overall costs so that by the time you decide to checkout, “cheap” may not mean more cost effective, Cormier said.
Inflation has hit the travel industry hard, like everything else, prices are up across the board for everything. Cormier doesn’t think that prices, especially those associated with sky-high fuel costs, will ease any time soon, so while she understands the desire to save money, she cautions people to make sure they know what they’re paying for.
Cormier has herself seen a huge uptick in business since January this year. She’s received an influx of clients, returning and new, asking for help in booking trips. Destination weddings have picked up again, she said, as well as multi-generational families from all over finally deciding to take that vacation together.
“It’s so busy, it’s really bounced back,” said Cormier. “People are traveling but people don't want to travel without advice. They're nervous.”
One of the main reasons people are coming to her for advice?
“There are too many options,” she said.
Cormier said there used to be a few online booking sites to choose from, and now, although the lion’s share of online travel is booked through giants like Expedia Group, who also owns Hotels.com, Vrbo, Travelocity, trivago, hotwire, and Orbitz, navigating all of the different websites and combing through the fine print is something her busy clients don’t have the time or inclination to do.
“Generally, in travel, you get what you pay for. It’s as simple as that,” Cormier said.