Air travel booking secrets for 2017
As we shift into the new year, there’s a lot of looking back on the travel industry to see what worked and what didn’t, what succeeded and what failed, and, of course, where, how, when and why people traveled. We look back so that we can have a clearer vision and understanding of what’s ahead. While technology allows us to do nearly everything aside from decisively predict the future, piles upon piles of data lets us to come pretty close. The more data we can pull from, of course, the clearer the vision.
In a recently released study by Expedia, the company partnered with Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), a trade organization, to crunch the numbers between January 1, 2016 and October 24, 2016 and figure out worldwide air travel trends. The report, “New Heights for Air Travel,” looked at data from Expedia—which encompasses the 335 million itineraries it created in its 20 years of operation. Those itineraries cover 1,820 cities within 203 countries. ARC, meantime, offers information on more than 12.5 billion passenger flights. (That's a whole lotta packs of tomato juice and packs of pretzels!)
The main takeaways of the study forecasts a huge win for travelers. First, according to the International Air Transport Association and ARC, air capacity is up about 5% globally, which means airlines are flying more planes to more destinations. Global growth typically clocks in around 3%, even in boom times. So in other words, 2016 saw a tremendous amount of growth. More seats in airplanes means more competition for passengers, so this past year also saw a tumble in average ticket prices. Those two factors—more space and lower cost—are a formula for creating more travel opportunities at lower prices in 2017.
How much of a tumble in those ticket prices, you ask? In the nearly 10 months examined, average ticket prices in North America fell about 6% for economy one-ways and about 5% for economy round-trips. That means, for instance, a round-trip ticket that cost $472 in 2015 cost $450 in 2016.
With billions of data points at their fingertips, Expedia and its partners were able to examine buying patterns and assess ticket pricing trends and quirks. By and large, the results pretty much validate a lot of urban myths. First and foremost, some times are better than others for purchasing airline tickets. Weekends are the best time to book flights. Fridays are the worst, primarily because that’s when business travelers make their bookings. The study also notes that for domestic travel in the US, you can save as much as 11% by purchasing tickets on a Sunday vs. Friday. You can save even more on tickets to Europe—as much as 16%, in fact—by making your ticket purchase on a Sunday.
And now for the good news for the early birds among us. We all know that it pays to plan, but this study tells us just how much. According to ARC, 21 days in advance is the tipping point. When it comes to traveling within the United States, within Europe and even between the US and Europe, booking three weeks ahead of takeoff can score you as much as 30% over waiting until the last minute.
When you’re planning a trip, don’t underestimate the impact of a weekend stay. Expedia’s study determined that you can get the best deals when you include a Saturday night overnight stay on your itinerary. That can mean savings of up to 57%, as the researches found to be the case in Southern Europe.
That does it for the “how.” Now, about the “where.” Based on its data, the study looked at 500 top destinations. Not surprisingly, the airport with the most significant leap was Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, which surged in capacity by 53% from 2015 to 2016. Coming in a very close second was the airport in Da Nang, Vietnam. Among other destinations that spiked in popularity were Zhuhai, China (41 percent); Cusco, Peru (39 percent); and Santiago, Chile (38 percent). Cities in Uruguay, Iceland, Panama, and Russia were other mentions.
There are plenty more general findings. Perhaps you can chalk it up to the coast-to-coast growth of tequila and the taco truck boom, but overall growth of Mexico City as a destination was a significant 11%. Industry watchdogs are already deeming it a 2017 hotspot. Largely because its economy is pulsing, airlines are ramping up flights to India as we speak. Same goes for Dubai as well as China, which saw nearly 10% growth in airline capacity over the past year. Notably, in addition to more airlines instituting new routes to China, new airports have opened or expanded throughout the country.
Experts predict that most of the destinations that have seen growth in 2016 will continue to thrive. It’s up to you to prove them right. Or chart your own path and prove them wrong.
Great travel bargains for 2017
As 2016 winds down, it’s time for travelers to think about... next year’s vacation, of course. This morning, I spoke with Jim Cantore live via Skype on the Weather Channel's AMHQ to share incredible international destinations that won’t break the bank, courtesy of our colleagues at the amazing Lonely Planet magazine and LonelyPlanet.com and their Best in Travel 2017 package. (Click here to watch my appearance on this morning's AMHQ.) OTTAWA, CANADA: Canada is Lonely Planet's no. 1 Best in Travel 2017 pick, and for good reason: Canada boasts vibrant cities, Rocky Mountain national parks, and the friendliest citizens in the world. It’s also celebrating its 150th anniversary next year. The capital, Ottawa, will be the epicenter of the biggest anniversary party on July 1, but if you want to get a headstart, the city in winter is incredible, with ice skating on Rideau Canal, and delicious fried-dough concoctions called “beaver tails.” BELIZE: Whether you just want to relax on the beach, snorkel or dive colorful reefs, or indulge in some of Central America’s best street food, Belize is surprisingly affordable considering its perfect location near the Caribbean and Mexico. While it enjoys some pricey resorts, it is also home to up-and-coming beach towns with a laid-back vibe and reasonable price tag. MOROCCO: Sure, the name sounds exotic, but this is one dream trip that you can actually afford. From the incredible shopping in Marrakesh’s souks to indulgent lodgings with spa treatments, to exploring the Sahara and the striking Atlas Mountains, Morocco is an easy, affordable, and drama-free escape to North Africa. For more travel inspiration from our colleagues at Lonely Planet, and to see the complete Best in Travel 2017 package, please visit LonelyPlanet.com.
You've Been Taking Travel Photos All Wrong!
Cathy Bennett Kopf is the editor of The Open Suitcase. I fully intend to take dancing lessons before the first of my kids gets married. It’s one of my self-improvement goals. I have others, including “learn how to host an excellent dinner party” and “master intermediate plumbing” – I consider myself an advanced beginner, having repaired many running toilets. Also on my list was the goal to improve my photography skills but it soared to number one with a bullet when I booked a bucket list trip to South Africa. Taking photos with my iPhone and compact camera would be fine, but I want better than fine for this trip. So I went looking for a professional photographer who would be willing to share some tips and techniques. I didn’t have to hunt too long or too hard. One of my college chums happens to be dating a very talented photographer who was kind enough to agree to mentor me, like Mr. Miyagi and the Karate Kid. Avery Meyers started taking photo lessons in high school; she was initially drawn to the subject because of the teacher (“He was hot!”), but soon realized her lust was really a passion. She studied in a landscape workshop under Ansel Adams and Jerry Uelsmann in Carmel, California, before heading to The Rhode Island School of Design, where she received a BFA in photography. Bicoastal by choice, Avery splits her time between Los Angeles and New York, where she is currently working on a black and white study of the city. In the Bag For our photo play date, Avery and I met at the Central Park Zoo for some simulated safari shots. I spewed the first of many questions immediately after passing through the entrance turnstile, “Do I need a camera bag?” Avery shook her head and pulled her camera out of a plain canvas tote. She explained that a DSLR body is fairly rugged and doesn’t require a special bag. Besides, when traveling, a camera bag screams “Steal me!” to thieves. Lenses do require a bit of TLC and Avery suggested neoprene bags for transport. Must-Have Accessories I may have this tattooed on my chest: don’t leave home without a spare, charged battery. I can visualize the moment when I press the shutter button to capture a photo of a sleeping lion and can’t because my little battery icon will have turned from green to red to off. Avery also recommends keeping extra memory cards in a clip-on case. She downloads her photos as soon as practical and then reformats the cards. Reformatting is a menu item on most cameras. Why? Because the cards become degraded over time and it’s possible for images to get trapped. I asked if I needed a lens hood. Nice, but not necessary, according to Avery. If you notice glare in your shot, she suggests using your hand to shield the front of the lens. Patience is a Virtue I shoot quickly and carelessly and hope I can crop a decent image once I get home. Avery suggested I’d get better results by doing the exact opposite. She explained how she gives some thought to her subject and then moves herself and the camera to eliminate distracting elements from her shots. And then she waits. This is particularly important when taking pictures of moving things like kids or animals. So I gave it a try. In my first shot of the world’s cutest red panda, using my ants-in-the-pants shooting technique, the animal’s adorability was diminished by a stick in the center of the frame. I moved around the exhibit, focused my camera, and channeled Mr. Miyagi – “Wax on. Wax off.” After a few minutes of waiting, my red panda started eating a stick, increasing his cuteness exponentially. Rise and Shine Not a morning person by nature (think vampire), Avery forces herself to get up and out before dawn to photograph special locations when traveling. For example, on a trip to Ireland, she really wanted to shoot the Giant’s Causeway, thousands of solidified lava columns along the coast. It’s a wildly popular tourist destination and by arriving at dawn, she was able to take pictures that weren’t filled with buses and tourists. Speaking of tourists, patience comes in handy with them too. You’ll often be confronted with a fence or glass to shoot through when you’re traveling. Getting as close as possible and focusing (switching to manual lets you really hone in on your subject) helps to make the obstruction nearly invisible. So wait your turn, let the crowd dissipate, and then get as close up as possible. The Artist’s Eye With some practice, it becomes fairly easy to take a technically good snapshot. What I hope to cultivate is the art of capturing a place in a photograph, like Avery. As we were leaving, we were excited to get home and look at our shots. She was particularly eager to view her many penguin pics (Avery REALLY loved the penguins) but also to see how the city skyline looked in her sea lion shots. The skyline? Duh. I’d completely forgotten that we were in a zoo in the middle of Manhattan. In my sea lion closeup, the animal could have been in any zoo or aquarium in the world. In Avery’s photo of the same sea lion with a bit of skyline behind it, she gives you, to quote John McPhee, a sense of where you are. And that is the difference between an amateur and a pro.
Who Should You Tip? And How Much?
Tipping really shouldn't be so hard. The service was good, you leave a token of your appreciation, and everyone is happy. Not so fast. This is one of the most difficult aspects of travel to navigate, since you have to take into consideration everything from how employees are paid to cultural traditions that could have you embarrassing yourself and your waiter just by leaving that 15 percent (apps like GlobeTipping—which gives advice for tipping in restaurants, hotels, and more in 200 countries—can help you along). We consulted experts and avid travelers for their thoughts on the scenarios that trip up travelers most and got their advice on how to avoid awkward situations. CRUISE STAFF In the old days, cruise lines provided an envelope and suggestions for how much to tip the crew members with whom you had direct contact during a sailing. Now it's the norm for major cruise lines to automatically add the tips to your bill (which could take you by surprise), especially in the U.S. and the Caribbean. "In the last 10 years or so there's been a trend toward automating [tips] where the cruise line said 'we'll take care of that for you if you just mark this off on the bill,'" says Spud Hilton, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle's travel section and Bad Latitude blog. While some cruise lines make it possible to adjust the included tips if you wish, on others those included tips have become mandatory and cannot be adjusted. In this case, says Hilton, "the tipping is no longer about you and the person giving you good service—it's about service in general on the ship." And that service, he says, can even extend to things the cruise lines shouldn't expect passenger tips to cover—including employee education. Always check with your cruise line to find out if tips are included (and whether or not they can be adjusted) before setting sail. WAIT STAFF We've got tipping in the U.S. down when it comes to restaurants—leave 15 to 20 percent unless there's some outstanding circumstance. It's not so cut-and-dried abroad. A general rule for tipping in European restaurants is to leave a couple of euros if you're happy with the service, rounding a 47 euro bill up to 50 euros, for example. But in Denmark and New Zealand, no tip is expected at all. And be on the lookout for service charges that are included in the bill. In Norway, a 10 percent service charge is typically included (though you should leave 10 percent if it is not). But be aware that in some places, that service charge doesn't always cover the full tip. In Aruba, for instance, 15 percent is automatically added to the bill (this is distributed to everyone, including the kitchen staff). If you were happy with the service, leave an additional 5 to 10 percent and give it directly to your waiter. When in doubt, ask the hotel staff what the local customs are for tipping at restaurants. It's confusing when Europeans travel here as well. A couple years ago, the bar at a trendy New York restaurant started automatically adding 20 percent tips to bar tabs, since waiters were sick of being stiffed by European visitors who may not have been aware of customs on our shores. BELL MAN The tipping conundrum gets all the more confusing when you arrive at a big hotel with a flotilla of staff members on hand to assist you. One person grabs your bag from the car, another wheels it to reception, and yet another delivers the luggage to your room. You could get dizzy tossing around dollar bills. It's better to give one handout when you've reached your room. "The person who usually takes your bag from the car to check-in doesn't really expect to be tipped," says Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur who spends 85 percent of his time traveling, "They usually rotate their shifts (with the other porters delivering bags to rooms). The person who brings the bag to my room is the one I tip." STAFF IN CHINA AND JAPAN Believe it or not, tipping is considered rude in China and Japan, and is just not done. That goes for cab drivers, restaurant wait staff, and workers in hotels. But there is a big exception to this rule that could take even the savviest traveler by surprise. Keep reading to find out! SHUTTLE VAN DRIVERS Those courtesy shuttles you take from the airport to the car rental parking lot and from your hotel into town shouldn't be viewed as a completely free ride. Whether there's a jar for tips or not, you should hand off a dollar or two to the driver as you're getting dropped off. "If I have really heavy bags, I usually give the driver a few bucks," says John DiScala of Johnny Jet. HOTEL HOUSEKEEPING "Housekeeping is probably the most controversial—and misunderstood—tipping subject in hotels," says Charlyn Keating Chisholm, editor of About.com's hotels and resorts site, who has written several blogs on the topic. "Many people don't, but you should definitely be tipping the maid at your hotel," adds DiScala. "And if you tip every day instead of at the end of your stay you'll get the best service." A couple of dollars per day is acceptable. And when there's no official envelope for tipping, it's best to leave the money under the pillow instead of on a dresser, DiScala advises—in the latter case, maids may think the cash is not for them, and leave it behind after they clean. Even better, he says, find your housekeeper in the hallway and pass her a few dollars while thanking her for work well done. One caveat for this is if you are staying at a small inn or B&B. It's usually the owners themselves taking care of the tidying up, so forgoing the housekeeping tip is perfectly acceptable. CONCIERGE You don't need to tip a hotel concierge for sketching the route to the best local sushi joint on your map or arranging an airport shuttle. But if a real effort has been made to get you tickets to a sold-out show or a table at an impossible-to-book restaurant, the concierge deserves a special thank-you for his or her efforts. Tip somewhere between $5 and $20, depending on what you've requested, says DiScala. Slide the cash to the concierge in person or have it delivered to them inside one of the hotel's envelopes with a brief message expressing your gratitude. TOUR GUIDES Tips for guides are rarely included in tour prices, and are expected whether you were shown around the Roman Colosseum for an hour or the Great Barrier Reef for an entire day. "Generally speaking, $3 to $4 per day (in local currency) is acceptable for guides of shorter tours and $7 to $10 per day for full-day tour guides," says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance. When in doubt, ask the tour operator what is considered an acceptable tip—the question comes up so often that many agencies even post the information on their websites, he says. When we say this is standard worldwide we mean it—yes, even traditionally non-tipping countries like China and Japan (see, we told you there was an exception). But making a big show of passing over a few yuan or yen is still frowned upon. "Ideally, you would not give the tip directly after someone has done a favor for you," says Greg Rodgers, who runs several Asia travel blogs, including one on About.com. "That is like paying for the service. Instead, giving the tip at a later, unexpected time would be better." Most tours in China will include transport back to your hotel or the airport, so wait until the final goodbyes, not right at the conclusion of the tour. According to Rodgers, just taking cash out of your pocket is the worst way to tip in Japan. Put the money in an envelope and seal it before passing it to your guide. Have you experienced a tipping scenario that confused you that wasn't covered here? Tell us below.
Is Europe Safe for Travelers?
In the wake of the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice, France, many are asking themselves: Is Europe safe for travelers? The answer is yes, with the logical caveat that the better informed you are, the more observant you are, and the more prepared you are, the safer your trip anywhere in the world will be. Am I biased in favor of travel? You bet I am: There’s simply no better way to understand the world, to bridge the differences among cultures, and to embrace our personal stake in this little blue planet of ours. The State Department reminds travelers to adopt the following practices when visiting Europe: • Exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation. • Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places. • Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events. • Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency. • Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities. • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions. • Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency. • Register in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.