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4 Reasons to Book Your Summer Travel NOW

By Fox News Travel
March 20, 2015
Lonely Planet - Rome, Lazio, Italy
Lonely Planet

This article was written by Rick Seaney, an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, and originally appeared on Fox News Travel.

If you're planning on taking a vacation this summer, here or abroad, I have some advice for you: Do not procrastinate. 

Here's why.

1. More are flying

Not so long ago a lot of folks put vacation plans on hold, thanks to 2008's recession. Here are some passenger traffic snapshots of those days (domestic and international) for the month of August, courtesy of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

—2008: 67.7 million passengers

—2009: 65.0 million passengers

Now look at last year's numbers.  

—2014: 69.3 million passengers

Even more people will fly in 2015.  Thanks to a perfect storm of strong dollar and continuing cheap fuel prices and an economy on the upswing, airline seats will be at a premium.

2. Flights will be packed

In the past few years, airlines have turned capacity-cutting into an art form; they know how many want to fly and how many seats they need to hold us all. Since more passengers are expected to fly this summer, the airlines have pricing power on their side. When demand is up, prices are too.

3. Watch for limited summer deals

You may not be aware of this but since late December, Southwest Airlines sales have mostly been limited to flights on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Saturdays (prior to this, sales were good on flights any day except Friday or Sunday). Southwest isn't alone, either. JetBlue deals have long been limited to Tuesday and Wednesdays only and others have similar sale restrictions. Bottom line: Fewer days for sale flights means fewer seats at the cheapest possible prices which is another sign that the time to start planning a summer vacation is now.

4. Shop for summer now

Most of the current crop of airfare sales are valid only for flights through June 3 or so. After that, watch prices jump (and jump again in late June) as more and more people vie for an increasingly small number of deals and seats. The airlines know that most of us wait to make plans within 30 days of departure, and price their fares accordingly meaning tickets will be more expensive.

The sooner you move - particularly if you're going to Europe - the better your chance of getting the flight you want at the price you want, or at least coming close to a good deal. If you procrastinate, you may not get a seat on the flight you want at all.

More from Fox News Travel:

Secrets of a cruise ship captain

Ryanair could offer $15 flights from the US to Europe

As the euro tanks, European summer travel deals get sweeter

Photos in flight: What you can and cannot shoot on planes

Qatar Airways leader accuses Delta of flying 'crap' airplanes

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Travel Tips

10 Things Every Foodie MUST Know About Food Festivals

You can always spot the ringers at a destination food event like the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (known as SBWFF) in Miami. While noshing newbies in fancy footwear are literally sinking in the sand as they queue up to crowded booths, pro festival-goers are lapping the floor in flip-flops and sinking their teeth into the tastiest morsels before sidling up to celeb chefs for requisite selfies.   While there's no "right" way to experience your first food festival (or your 50th) there are specific strategies you can use to get the biggest bang for your buck (tickets at SBWFF and similar festivals run from $20 for a kids event to $500 for an exclusive dinner). Put these expert tips into action, and you may get even more than you bargained for: a coveted invitation to one of the legendary SBWFF after-parties. 1. HAVE A MISSION Most food festivals span several days and feature several dozen events, from intimate dinners to walk-around tastings to late night parties. "You can't hit every event—you'd be tired, woozy, and overstuffed," says Robert Irvine, author of Cook like a Chef and host of Restaurant: Impossible. Decide which experiences are most important to you, and then purchase tickets to those specific events. 2. DRESS CASUALLY  You've paid handsomely for tickets and you're in a glamorous location, so it's tempting to wear your finest duds to the festival. Resist the urge. "Remember that most SoBe events are on the beach, on sand, and exposed to the elements," says Franklin Becker, executive chef of The Little Beet in New York City. "Check the weather report, and dress for comfort." If you absolutely can't bear the idea of skipping out on your high heels, get creative and wear them as an accessory, as this festival-goer did (pictured above). 3. ARRIVE EARLY Show up at least 15 minutes before your scheduled event begins, recommends Irvine. "Otherwise you could be standing outside in a big crowd, waiting to get inside when the food is already being served." 4. FLOW AGAINST TRAFFIC            "When walking into an event, it's human nature to gravitate to our right and move around the room counterclockwise," says Mark Gregory, former Food Network executive. "That's everyone else's instinct too—which is why there's often a logjam by the front door." He recommends escaping the early crowds at any event by walking directly to the far back corner of the space, then moving clockwise to hit as many booths as possible before the crowd catches up. 5. CHECK THE MENU No matter how early you arrive, or how strategic you are about your sampling, you're eventually going to wait—and wait—to grab some grub. "Before you step into an epic line, read the menu to see what's being served," says Ani Meinhold, Partner at The Federal in Miami. "So often people get to the front and realize that they can't or won't eat what's being served." On the flip side—if you're really a fan of a particular chef, don't be deterred by a mob of people queued up to see them. "In that case, be patient and wait," recommends Meinhold. "It'll be worth it for the opportunity to be served by someone whose food you're really excited about." 6. SAMPLE BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE While events like Best of the Munchies and Burger Bash are loaded with comfort food nibbles you know and love, don't be afraid to try something that feels a little "out there" for you—like tripe or barbequed pigs ear. "If a top chef offers you a bite of food he or she has just cooked up, don't turn it down. Try a small bite!" says Guy Fieri, host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Guy's Grocery Games. "You might just discover something new that you love—and you'll show your respect for the chef." 7. GO LIGHT ON THE LIBATIONS Tickets to many food festival events also come with special extras like unlimited refills of wine, beer, or mixed drinks. "Whatever you do, don't drink too much on the first night," says Iron Chef Marc Forgione, chef proprietor of American Cut steakhouse in New York City. "Otherwise, you'll be limping around for the next two days. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint." 8. BUDDY UP Unless you're the next Kobayashi [a world-famous competitive eating champion], you can't eat a full plate of everything served at the larger festival events, like Best of the Best and Meatopia: The Q Revolution. That's why Becker recommends grabbing a friend or two and sampling your way around the room or tents together. "Not only can you divide and conquer, waiting on different lines and picking up bites that appeal to everyone," he says, "but you'll reduce how much food you end up throwing out." 9. WORK UP AN APPETITE  With so many tasty morsels to choose from at each food festival event, it's pretty easy to overdo it. Work up an appetite for the next eating orgy by going for a walk, jog, or bike ride along the boardwalk between events, suggests Paul Wilson, General Manager at the Biscayne Tavern in Miami Beach. This part-wood, part-paved stretch of sidewalk runs 40 blocks along the coast between Indian Beach Park at 46th Street and 5th Street in South Beach, a span of about 4 miles. 10. MAKE A MEMORABLE APPROACH  Not only is it okay to chat up the headliners at the festival—it's actually encouraged. "Stand out from the crowd of fans and admirers by having a smart question or two to ask your favorite chef or food personality," suggests Irvine. "We want to help answer those questions and give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it is that we do in real life." Want to take a photo with your favorite food crush? That's fine, too. All you have to do is ask—respectfully. "Fans have helped put us where we are, so we're almost always happy to snap a picture," says Anne Burrell, host of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and co-host of Worst Cooks in America. "Just wait until there's a break in the action or conversation, and make the request."

Travel Tips

6 Things You Need to Know Before You Visit the U.S. Virgin Islands

A nearby tropical paradise, no passport required? Point us to the closest airport and we'll be on our way. If your passport has expired and you need a quickie getaway now, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI for short) has all the trappings of an exotic island jaunt, minus the red tape. 1. You don't need a passport to enter the USVI. Located just to the right of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands have been a United States territory since 1917, so U.S. citizens don't need a passport to get in. With that little inconvenience out of the way, if you're feeling spontaneous and want to maximize your beach time, you can even hop a direct flight to the St. Thomas airport from U.S. cities including Atlanta, Boston, New York, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. Spirit Airlines often offers short, less-than-three-hour direct flights Fort Lauderdale for less than $300. Bonus: Once you arrive, currency is the U.S. dollar, and there are ATMs on the islands. 2. Fifty islands make up the USVI—but St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix are the three most prominent ones. Discovered by Christopher Columbus himself in 1493, these three islands have unique identities. Remember them like this: • Cultural St. Croix is known for its historic towns (Christiansted and Frederiksted in particular), shops, and pastel buildings. TRY: Touring the 18th-century slave quarters, sugar factory, and windmill of the 12-acre Estate Whim Museum, the only sugar plantation museum in the Virgin Islands ($10, stcroixlandmarks.com). • Natural St. John is almost all protected U.S. national park: Two-thirds of it is verdant hills and underwater reserve, plus the striking beaches of Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, and Maho Bay. TRY: Packing a lunch and setting out on the guided three-mile downhill Reef Bay Hike through tropical forests, past sugar mill ruins, and alongside ancient petroglyphs. The $30 fee covers the hike, transportation to the trail head, and a boat ride back to the Visitors Center (nps.gov). • Cosmopolitan St. Thomas, on the other hand, is known for its shopping and dining. TRY: Lounging on the well-maintained white sands of Magens Bay, which is staffed with Red Cross-certified lifeguards and snack and drink bars, and has been called one of the world's most beautiful beaches ($4). 3. There's an underwater national park. (Really!) The 225-yard-long underwater snorkeling trail in St. John's Trunk Bay even has underwater signs to guide you among the coral and sea creatures. Bring the kids—it's an easy swim, and you can rent snorkel gear once you're there (nps.gov). 4. You can casually board a seaplane to island-hop. Sure, a ferry is always an option, but why not summon a seaplane shuttle as your chariot when you're exploring the USVI? Travel the 44 miles between St. Thomas and St. Croix in about 25 minutes on an airline like Seaborne Airlines or Cape Air, which have multiple daily flights (from $60 one way). 5. Three islands means three festivals, held throughout the year. Mark your calendar if you like parties, food, and fanciful costumes: St. Croix's Christmas festival is in December (naturally), St. Thomas holds its carnival the last week in April, and St. John celebrates June through early July. You'll be "limin'" (hanging out) with the locals in no time. 6. They drive on the left side of the road there...in American cars. Yep, you can rent a car in the USVI just like you can everywhere else (from familiar companies like Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, Budget, etc., to boot), but remember to channel your inner James Bond and motor like a Brit—even though the steering wheel is counterintuitively on the left side too. (Awkward.)

Travel Tips

Airlines With the Best Wi-Fi

Courtesy of Fox News Travel If in-flight Internet access is important to you, there's some good news.  According to a new survey by airline industry data firm Routehappy, on-board Wi-Fi is now offered on about a quarter of flights worldwide. In the U.S., 66 percent of domestic flights offering some form of Wi-Fi access-three times the number just 18 months ago. So which airline is the best? Routehappy analyzed all international commercial flights on a typical mid-week travel day that "met their criteria for having at least some chance of Wi-Fi by subfleet scheduled to fly on a flight." They found that while connectivity quality and speed are improving across the board, United has had the biggest Wi-Fi growth domestically over the past 18 months, but just over 20 percent of their flights over inflight Internet service. Routehappy CEO Robert Albert told CNN that Wi-Fi is one of the "most sought-after new amenities" fliers are looking for when booking travel and airlines are continuing to experiment with different ways their guests can gain access to  the web with set pricing structures or gratis. Nordic Airlines Icelandair and Norwegian lead the charge for international carriers with the greatest web connectivity, offering Wi-Fi on more than 80 percent of their flights. Routehappy does not provide specific numbers in their study. Check out Routehappy for the full list international carriers with great Wi-If.  For those flying in the U.S., the carriers below offer the highest percentage of flight miles with Wi-Fi connectivity. 1. Virgin America 2. Southwest 3. JetBlue 4. Delta 5. Alaska 6. American/US 7. United Check out additional stories from Fox News Travel: 6 interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower Seattle now shaming residents for not composting food waste Outrageous luxury Super Bowl packages and getaways

Travel Tips

Best-Kept Booking Secrets of Hotwire

Ah, the sweet victory of scoring an amazing Hotwire travel deal: In your face, widely advertised prices! With "opaque" deals, however, not knowing where you're going to end up for the night—or the details about how you'll get there—isn't exactly reassuring when you're springing for a big trip. No one wants an unexpected three-hour layover or a dated hotel room, but if you play it too safe, you could miss out on potential savings. Even though Priceline's rates are reputedly cheaper by around 5 to 20 percent, Hotwire's opaque Hot Deal and Hot Fare prices are already listed, so you won't accidentally bid way too high—and there are other perks too. "Hotwire is much better than Priceline for families," says Randy Greencorn, founder of HotelDealsRevealed.com and ResortFeeChecker.com. "You can't book a room on Priceline that is guaranteed to accommodate more than two guests. Plus, you know what amenities you're going to get. For example, a swimming pool is a must-have when I travel with my kids." With a little fancy keyboard work before you click "book now" on Hotwire, you can prevent both overpaying and that sinking feeling when you get stuck with a hotel room, car rental company, or flight schedule that is so not what you had in mind. Let BT be your guide: 1. First, make a beeline for non-Hotwire-affiliated data-collecting sites to see what everyone else has been booking. You can't completely eliminate any doubt about what opaque offers you're scrolling through, but you can form a general idea of what other people are paying—and for what—by scouring crowd-sourced websites and message boards like BetterBidding.com and BiddingTraveler.com. Those sites help predict what hotel you'll get and share specifics about recent Hotwire deals, including hotel names and prices, car rental company and rate information, and flight details (layovers, stops, airlines, etc.). Know, however, that they're not gospel: Geographic boundaries are often redrawn, and offerings change. Even Hotwire itself is telling users up front what hotels previous Hot Deal takers have nabbed: For example, we searched for a three-star hotel in Reykjavík, Iceland, for five nights in March, found one for $72 per night, clicked on it, and a blue flag popped up, saying, "Book soon! The last person got the Hótel Leifur Eiríksson." The Leifur Eiríksson is a small, basic boutique hotel smack in the middle of the city, with views of Hallgrímskirkja church. Booked through the hotel's site, the daily rate would have been $126; Hotels.com showed $114. That's almost a 37 percent discount for a well-rated, centrally located crash pad, assuming that's the hotel you do end up with. The takeaway: Don't feel guilty about DIY-ing your own research; everyone is doing it. 2. Google the amenities to guess opaque hotel choices. "Although Hotwire does not reveal the name of a hotel before booking, it does provide a lot of information about a hotel, such as vicinity, hotel amenities, resort fee (if applicable), hotel class, and TripAdvisor rating," Greencorn says. "This information acts like a fingerprint, describing unique characteristics of a hotel. It is fairly simple to use other sources—Google Maps, TripAdvisor, Resort Fee Checker, etc.—to find hotels that fit this description. It's not perfect, but I can usually narrow it down to two or three likely hotels before pulling the trigger on a purchase." 3. Download the mobile app! The last-minute hotel deals are the best ones. Above all, Hotwire considers its last-minute hotel savings—including day-of arrival—to be significantly better than Priceline's. Hotwire's in-house experts say that of the people who book their travel on Hotwire’s free mobile app, two-thirds of them book on the same day. It's completely worth a shot to download the app and scan the inventory, even—or especially!—if you happen to be idling in the parking lot, deciding which nearby hotel to choose. Plus, Hotwire just updated its iPad and iPhone app to include car rentals and launched car rental bookings for Android too. 4. Create your own Hotwire vs. Priceline cage match. This might not be the nicest thing to do, but it's one strategy: "Many travelers use Hotwire to find out opaque pricing, then see if they can get a better deal on Priceline's Name Your Own Price system," Greencorn says. "For example, say I see a five-star Las Vegas Strip hotel for $100 on Hotwire. Why not bid on Priceline and see if you can do better?" In that same vein, he says, you can use Hotwire in conjunction with Priceline Express Deals to get the best price. Glance at that section of Priceline before you buy on Hotwire, since Priceline Express Deals follows the same transaction model. 5. Take advantage of a little-known Hotwire tool to plan your trip around the best rates and weather. Not everyone knows about the site's TripStarter feature, but if you type in your destination and the airport you're flying from, it quickly tells you when flights and hotel rates have historically been the cheapest, based on Hotwire searches, along with average temps and rainfall. For example: We found that flights from Chicago to Orlando usually hit rock bottom (around $200 or less) in late April, early September, and early December, and average hotel rates dip to around $85 in early September as well. The beginning of the school year might not be an ideal time to take the kids, but for an adult getaway that will more or less let you have the theme parks to yourself, you can't beat the prices and the weather—the high is 90 degrees, cooler than June, July, and August. 6. Be realistic about what your hotel needs are, then book accordingly. Are you traveling to a major metro area on a solo work trip that will leave you with little free time? Then you probably don't need a leisure hotel famous for its package spa treatments and activities for children. In cases like these, a typical four-star hotel in the city center will do, which is where sites like Hotwire excel, says Tim Leffel, author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. "Unless you're racking up lots of loyalty points, does it really matter if you're in a Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, or Sheraton?" he says. "If you're going to catch eight hours of sleep at an airport hotel before a flight, does it really matter which three-star airport hotel with a shuttle you're in? You're just going to sleep, shower, and leave anyway." That said, even if you're craving a true vacation, you can still make out like a bandit, provided you manage expectations and are specific about what's important to you, Leffel says: "I have used Hotwire for a last-minute all-inclusive vacation in the Bahamas. It was a three-night getaway, and we didn't much care where we stayed as long as it was on the beach." 7. Use Hotwire for car rentals if nothing else. If any degree of hotel or flight uncertainty freaks you out, you can still get a deep discount on auto rentals. Travel expert John DiScala, a.k.a. Johnny Jet, told us that he usually uses Priceline for its across-the-board savings, but recently, he's seen Hotwire's car rental prices plummet to what he calls "really" good rates.

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