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Air travel booking secrets for 2017

By Liza Weisstuch
September 29, 2021
757 landing at sxm
Courtesy gmaso/myBudgetTravel
Using billions of data points, a new report from Expedia offers pro tips on how to get prime deals on flights year-round, as well as a preview of 2017 top destinations.

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. 

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"Water is something you can’t have too much of,” Theisen says. “Often nervous pets will spill their water or decide not to drink all day, and then they need a gallon when they get to the hotel. Also, write your cellphone number on your pet’s collar in big numbers.” If your pet likes to snuggle with you at night, Halliburton suggests bringing a towel or bedsheet to protect hotel linens. And comfort from home goes a long way. “If they have a sleeping bed or blanket, definitely bring it,” Halliburton says. “Any reminders from home will lower their stress level.” 2. Don’t forget the paperwork. Before you hit the road, make sure all of your pet’s tags, including his identification and rabies, are up to date. Be prepared for emergencies by bringing copies of medical records and vaccinations. Air travel requires a health certificate and possibly other documents depending on the airline and destination; if you’re traveling internationally, check with that country for requirements specific to their region. (That’s critical. None of us wants to face the legal predicament Johnny Depp’s wife Amber Heard is in after she flew her Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, to Australia without going through customs or heeding the country’s quarantine rules.) It’s also a good idea to have your pet microchipped—and make sure the record is current—in case you get separated. 3. Stock a first aid kit. Whether your and your pet are going hiking or just driving to visit grandma, it’s important to have a first aid kit on hand. “Buy a pre-packaged kit with essentials such as gauze, gloves, medical tape, bandages, cleaning wipes, and disinfectant,” Halliburton says. “I suggest also bringing Benadryl for possible allergic reactions, hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting in the event that your pet has gotten ahold of something he shouldn’t have, and in case your pet has damaged a nail, cornstarch will stop the bleeding.” Download the Pet First Aid app from the Red Cross for tips on how to handle various injuries (free, redcross.org).  4. Print out a picture. Practically every pet owner’s phone is filled with pictures of their furball—and that can come in handy. “But you can’t print that out and give it to someone,” Theisen says. “You can’t make a poster or flier when you’re in a panic and on the road. Carrying a printed photo is an additional level of security.” It’s also helpful when you’re trying to find your pet at the airport at cargo pickup. 5. Book the right hotel. Not only should you make sure that your lodging is pet-friendly, but you should ask a few key questions too. “Check if there is a weight requirement; many pet-friendly hotels have a weight restriction,” advises Eric Halliday, general manager of the Lodge at Tiburon in Tiburon, California (from $179 per night, lodgeattiburon.com). “Communicate with the hotel about when you would like your room cleaned. We advise the guest at check-in that we will only clean the room if the pet is with the guest or in his cage.” Halliday also suggests inquiring about dog-walking areas in advance so that you know what to expect. “Ask about the local community—is it pet friendly? Will you be able to take your dog most places?” And just so you’re not saddled with any surprise charges, inquire if there are additional fees, which are common. For example, the Lodge at Tiburon has a one-time non-refundable pet fee of $75, though that includes a pet package with a special bandanna, dog bowl, treats, and access to the dedicated dog-run area on property.  6. Prepare for takeoff. While we get snacks and movies on demand, flying isn’t nearly as fun for animals. In fact, Theisen says that unless airline travel is necessary, you’re better off leaving them at home or finding another mode of transportation. Typically, only dogs and cats under 10 pounds are allowed in the cabin, and larger ones must go in the cargo hold. Be sure to check with the airline before you book, as rules vary widely—as do fees and number of pets allowed. Most airlines don’t allow you to put anything in the transport crate besides food, water, and a blanket due to ingestion risk, but a blanket that smells like home can help relax them. “Figure out which water bowl you’re going to use, freeze treats and kibble in that dish, and then when it’s loaded into the plane, the water doesn’t spill, and it’s encouraging for them to work on the ice block to get to treats and keep them occupied,” suggests Theisen, who says it's her go-to trick. 7. Do a trial trip. To keep your pet calm and comfortable during the big journey, do a few practice runs beforehand. “Start by simply having her get in the carrier and rewarding her,” Halliburton says. “Do this often, and increase the amount of time she is in the carrier each time. Then have her practice being in the carrier while you drive around the block or go to the dog park. It’s important to place toys in the carrier and reward her often for behaving well during this practice. Generally, dogs will come to think of their carrier or crate as a safe place.” If they’re going to be on a plane, you can adjust this technique. “Load your dog in a carrier and put it on a rocking chair, or put it in a car squished up on floorboard,” Theisen says. 8. MacGyver a special seat for the car. It’s adorable when you spot a dog sticking his head out the car window and taking in the breeze—but it’s dangerous too. “Unfortunately, a pet loose in the car at a very minimum is a distraction to driver and may interfere with your ability to drive safely,” Theisen says. “A cat goes right under the gas pedal, while dogs run into your field of vision. Pets are best secured in a carrier or crate. Not only are they prevented from distracting you, but they have a level of protection in case of an accident or crash.” There are plenty of options, from harnesses to booster seats to seat belts for pets. But Theisen cautions that there have been very few studies on the safety of these products. Often, the easiest solution is just stowing them in their carrier and securing it with a regular seat belt. 9. Keep Fluffy entertained. Bringing your pet’s favorite toy along is a given, but a trip is a special occasion, so why not wow him with something new? “An interactive toy will keep him occupied during long trips,” Halliburton says. “The PetSafe Busy Buddy Barnacle [from $4.50, amazon.com] is durable and has multiple holes for dispensing different-sized treats during play. Outward Hound has several great options as well.” To ensure safety, take your pet’s mode of transport into account. If your dog will be unattended, like in a carrier in the backseat of your car alone while you’re behind the wheel, stay away from anything he might choke on, like bones or hooves. 10. Take plenty of breaks on the road. As a rule of thumb, humans usually need a break every two and a half hours on a road trip, and the same applies to your pet. It’s also a good time to make sure he’s still safe and content in his carrier and hasn’t had any accidents. Try to visit a dog park to let Lassie stretch her legs. “You can use the BringFido app (free, itunes.com) to locate dog parks near you when you travel through new cities,” Halliburton says. The app also helps point travelers toward pet-friendly hotels, eateries, and attractions like pets-welcome hiking trails. Many towns hold "yappy hours" at parks or restaurants where dog owners can socialize with each other and their pets. 11. Prevent motion sickness. “If your dog or cat gets motion sickness easily, they might want to stay home,” Theisen says. Avoid feeding your pet within three to four hours of travel, and give her controlled amounts of water. Ask your vet if there are any medications or supplements. “Motion sickness is more common in puppies than older dogs, and most puppies will outgrow it, similarly to human children,” Halliburton says. “Like people, facing forward, lowering the windows a bit, or distracting them with a toy all help to alleviate nausea.” 12. Don’t sedate your pet. It might seem like a good idea to give Max something to make him drowsy, but it can be harmful. “We do not support tranquilizing or sedating your pet, especially for air travel, because cargo holds have different air pressurization and temperature than the cabin,” Theisen says. “Your pet needs all his faculties to handle that stress. When pets are over-sedated, there is no one to see your pet if something goes wrong.” Never give your pet painkillers from his last surgery. Instead, ask your veterinarian for a prescription if your animal is very anxious or has other needs.