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Travel Smart, Savings and Tips

By Charles Hopkins Published 11/28/2007 | Travel
Most travelers know that some of the best bargains are in the off-season, when poorer weather or the start of school makes vacationers scarce.

So when do you travel to get the best deals? That depends. Peak season varies from region to region. Summer airfares to popular maintain areas, parts of Canada, and Europe can be high. But summertime travel to warm weather destinations...Florida, the Southwest, parts of Mexico, and the Caribbean...can be a bargain. If heat isn't a big deal to you, why not take advantage of lower costs? Summer in the United States is winter in Australia and the Galapagos Islands (as well as a lot of other places), so travel deals are available. Yet you can see and do many of the same things as in the peak season.

Midweek stays at resorts are often less costly than weekends; but city hotels that cater to business travelers have high rates during the week and bargains on weekends. The best airfares often require a Saturday night stay unless it's a local hop. You'll sometimes find better domestic fares in the middle of the week or during off-hours on weekdays (late at night, early in the morning). Weekend flights almost always cost more. Here's the catch: If you have to take off two days of work in order to get a midweek flight or book a midweek resort stay, and you lose either pay or vacation time, what have really saved? You'll need to consider those factors as well.

SEASONAL SAVINGS
When it comes to lodging, consider the "shoulder" season..the time between peak and low travel periods. If you book a stay early in shoulder season, you can get a deal and probably still have the benefits of the same weather and opportunities available during peak season.

But sometimes programs are not available in shoulder season. At many guest ranches, for example, families can cut costs in June and September, but there may not be a supervised children's program or as many children to make friends with. If you have older kids who would be out riding with you anyway, this is an excellent time to visit a guest ranch, as it's often less children's program so you could get in adults-only time, the money you save by traveling during the off-season may not make up for that loss.

YEAR-ROUND BARGAINS
Keep in mind that deals can be had at almost any time of year and that bargaining skills are not just for use in foreign marketplaces. At many hotels it's standard practice to quote callers the highest rate first. Reservationists are often told not to volunteer deals unless specifically asked about them. To get a better deal after a rate is quoted, ask if there's a better price available. There usually is. If you've seen a special deal in a newspaper or flyer, you should mention it. Ask about discounts for group members. You're likely to have the best luck bargaining with reservationist at the hotel itself as opposed to those at a nationwide number, but try both. If no one will offer a deal, find a different hotel. You can almost guarantee that your costs will come down if you negotiate. After booking your stay, check periodically to see if new deals have come up in newspaper travel sections. Ask your travel agent to continue checking airfares in case of special promotions. But don't obsess about it. Vacation is all about letting go and being laid-back.

TRIP INSURANCE
Did you know in advance the last time your child got sick? Probably not. And it's a sure bet you won't know the next time either. In the everything-that-can-wrong-will-go-wrong scenario, picture your child breaking out with chicken pox the day before you're scheduled to leave. And then there's the possibility of lost or delayed luggage, theft of baggage or important documents, and medical mergencies en route. These delays it's hard to tell which airlines have come out of bankruptcy and which are just filing. The same is true of tour operators. So what happens when the company you shcedule with goes belly up? You're out of luck unless you purchased travel insurance (some credit cards include travel coverage, too, so check yours). Most curise lines, tour operators, and many outfitters will either offer a specific insurance pachage in their information kits or be able to suggest one. Travel agents can do the same thing for you. You will not get your best deal from those vending machines at the airport, so try to arrange for insurance when booking your trip.

Of course, some unforseen problems are not covered by travel insurance, such as your boss's deciding at the last minute that this is a bad time for you to be away. Read the fine print so you know exactly what you're buying and what it covers.

Check with your travel agent, cruise line, tour operator, or outfitter for refund policies. Some offer no refunds. Others give refunds on a timeline the closer to the trip date you cancel, the less money you'll get back. Find out what the refund policy is before you decide to sign up.

TIPPING
Paying gratuities is usually a voluntary gesture that's based on performance and service. Many people who work in the travel industry depend on tips as a major part of their compensation. Tour guides, for example, make a decent living only if they make decent tips. If you travel with a guide in a city, on a river, on a walking or beking tour you should tip unless the service is not notably poor.

Some tips, however, are built into the pricing structure and are included on your bill. There are ranches with mandatory tips for wranglers and other staff, and there are retaurants that automatically add a gratuity to food bills. And with some types of travel--cruise ships, for example--tipping falls just short of mandatory. Exactly what's expected will usually be spelled out in the brochures.

It's a good idea to check guidebooks and consulates about attitudes towards tipping in foreign countries; what we mean as a than-you might be taken as an insult in some cultures. And it's important to note that some resort have a policy of no tipping. When in doubt, always ak.