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Tips for saving on airfare and hotels this summer

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 6/24/2019 By George Hobica, Tribune News Service
a pile of luggage sitting on top of a suitcase: Luggage circles a baggage claim at Gate C on March 10, 2017, at DFW International Airport in Dallas, Texas. © Ashley Landis/Dallas Morning News/TNS Luggage circles a baggage claim at Gate C on March 10, 2017, at DFW International Airport in Dallas, Texas.

I’ve been analyzing airfares and hotel rates for most of my working life and I’ve learned a thing or two or three. Here’s my latest, updated advice about lowering travel expenses.



If the price of the cheapest one-way ticket is half the price of the cheapest round-trip ticket, then buy one-ways, and do so on different airlines if it’s cheaper (American outbound, United inbound for example). Here’s why: if you buy a $200 round-trip from L.A. to Vegas and need to change just the outbound flight you’re out the full $200 (those hated airline fees); buy the trip as two $100 one-ways, however, and you’ll lose just $100. I always buy one-ways except on those international airlines that only sell round-trips at the lowest fares.

If searching flights for two or more passengers, try pricing one passenger at a time. If there’s only one seat at the lowest price the airline will price both seats at the next highest fare.

Fares go down a lot for travel after mid-August when kids are back in school. So if you can, fly then. It’s still summer, after all.

If you’re booking a flight on an airline to Europe that is cash-strapped — usually the ones with the lowest fares (R.I.P. Primera, Air Berlin, WOW), only buy with a credit — not a debit — card 60 or fewer days before travel. If the airline goes belly up your credit card company must eat the charges (federal consumer protection rules apply).

Check to see if more than one airline is selling seats on the same flight. That’s a codeshare in airlinese. I recently reserved a premium economy seat to London on British Airways but I bought it from BA’s codeshare partner, American Airlines, on the website for hundreds less than it was listed on BA. Plus American let me reserve a seat at time of booking for free; BA charges $60 or $70 for seat selection until 24 hours before departure.

Beware travel sites that don’t have all airlines. Southwest only lists its fares at so always check them if they’re flying where you want to go, but Delta has pulled its fares from some fairly popular apps such as Hopper and Hipmunk. How to tell? Do a sample search from New York to Atlanta and if the site or app doesn’t show Delta you’re not getting the full picture (I think apps and sites should disclose which airlines they don’t show but that will never happen); there are rumors that United might pull fares from some third-party apps and sites, but so far it’s just travel industry chatter.

For a starting point when searching airfares, I do like even though they’ve became heavy-handed, shoving their own travel and other products down our throats whenever we do a search — it’s not for nothing that they’re under antitrust watchdog scrutiny). Like most Google products it’s a bit nerdy and more complicated than it needs to be (feature creep), especially with a recent redesign. My favorite feature is the fare map, if price is more important than destination. Instead of entering a specific destination airport, click on the “explore destinations” link and it will show a price map on the travel dates you choose. The “date grid” and “price graph” features are useful for finding fares if you’re date-flexible and willing to fly whenever fares are cheapest. It also shows alternative nearby airports (Newark vs. JFK vs. Laguardia). It’s a bit “inside baseball” and takes some exploring and patience but it’s a useful set of tools. That said, Priceline might have a fare to Italy or somewhere that is hundreds less than on Google Flights. Online travel agencies buy seats in bulk and sell them either as part of air plus hotel packages or airfare-only.



Traveling solo? Some top hotels, such as the delightful Lygon Arms, an old coaching inn in the English Cotswolds, and London’s adorable Draycott Hotel, have single-bedded rooms that are much cheaper than, but just as luxurious as, the larger ones, but you won’t find them for sale unless you specify one guest (booking sites always default to two guests, you may have noticed).

Don’t be afraid of booking hotels with websites you’ve never heard of. I booked a room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston last year using one of these (I’ve forgotten the name … HotelWow? HotelNow?) and saved $250 compared to the hotel’s website (again, credit card only and finish your stay within 60 days of the charge appearing on your credit card statement; and call the hotel to make sure your room is booked). Lesson: it’s not always cheaper to book direct with the airline or hotel.

I always look at the hotel site and then compare on Trivago — because they list prices on some little-known vendors — that’s where I found the Fairmont deal — as well as on Priceline, Expedia and other online travel agencies. If I can’t find a deal online I’ll call the hotel’s reservations manager directly (not the 800 number) and try to finagle at least free parking or free breakfast. Sometimes there are special deals lurking in the hotel’s computer systems that you won’t find online.



Price air plus hotel using an online travel agency, such as one of Priceline’s and Expedia’s many subsidiaries (Travelocity, Orbitz, etc.) and then compare the hotel and air separately on the hotel’s and airline’s sites. I’ve found package prices often save money versus booking air and hotel separately — makes sense, because despite the hotel and airline industry’s attempts to lure consumers away from OTAs (resort credits, gift cards, what have you), they’re still in business. Must be a reason, right?


Watch: How To Find The Best Summer Travel Deals (provided by CBS New York)


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