The Best Time to Book a Hotel
It may be smart to buy your plane tickets a few weeks in advance, but when should you book that hotel room to lock in the best rate? If you’re traveling to Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, the answer may be sooner to departure than you’d think. According to expense-management company SAP Concur’s 2017 data, you’ll get the lowest average rate if you play the waiting game.
Score a Deal
It may seem counter-intuitive to leave it late, but to hit that sweet spot between available inventory and pricing, you’ll want to book just three days ahead—or less. Plenty of travelers are leaving money on the table in this regard: Though the majority of hotel stays are reserved at least eight days out, booking 15 days or more in advance comes with an average 18% surcharge. If you’re looking for luxury for less, you’ll want to be even more patient, as SAP Concur found that same-day reservations for high-end hotels in Paris and Frankfurt cost less than bookings made at least a month out. (Not in London, though—there, bookings at swanky properties cost 7% more on the day-of than 30 days in advance, so you’ll want to monitor prices on a city-by-city basis to get the most bang for your buck.)
Consider the Season
Tempted by the recent flood of cheap flights to Europe? Spending the summer on the continent may sound appealing, but you’ll be battling the crowds and paying more for the privilege; instead, target a winter break and travel from January to March, and you’ll be looking at rates nearly 10% lower than the rest of the year. Whenever you decide to go, though, make sure you check the cancellation policy for the hotel you’re hoping to book and try to hold out til then—last-minute cancellations mean readily available inventory, and if you're willing to gamble, it could mean big savings.
How close do you cut it when you're planning a trip? Do you like the thrill of an eleventh-hour hotel deal, or are you willing to pay a little extra for peace of mind? Tell us about it in the comments.
How to Get More Legroom in Coach
If you’ve been feeling extra cramped on flights these days, you’re not alone. Air carriers have been been slowly shrinking the amount of legroom customers get for years. The average “seat pitch” – the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat directly in front of it – has decreased from 35 inches in the late 1960s to 31 inches today, and on some airlines has been reduced to 28 inches. That may explain why a quarter of passengers on economy flights said they found seat comfort to be “poor” or “very poor,” a 2018 survey by Consumer Reports found. Many airlines have added more seats to planes to increase profits. But amid growing concerns of deep vein thrombosis (a potentially fatal condition involving blood clots in the legs) on planes with less legroom – and safety issues in the event of an emergency evacuation – the Federal Aviation Administration is considering stepping in to impose regulations on how much room travelers deserve when flying with a commercial airline. The good news? We’ve compiled a list of the best and worst coach seats based on legroom from North America-based airlines. Knowing what your options are can help you make a smarter choice on your next flight. (Note: Legroom on carriers can vary between long-haul and short-haul planes.) NORTH AMERICAN AIRLINES WITH THE MOST LEGROOM Interjet: 34 inches. This Mexico-based, low-cost carrier flies from a handful of US cities to destinations in Mexico and Central and South America. The airline says it removed up to 30 seats on each its aircrafts in order to give customers more space. Air Canada: 30-34 inches. Canada’s largest airline is known for not only low prices but also spacious seats. JetBlue: 32 inches. Although JetBlue recently lowered its average legroom space by adding 12 cabin seats to its latest fleet of planes, the carrier is still a strong runner-up. Virgin America: 32 inches. At 5’11,’’ Virgin America founder Richard Branson doesn't like to be confined to tight spaces – and he doesn’t want his customers flying coach to be either. Southwest: 32 inches. In addition to low rates, the domestic discount carrier gives passengers more space than many of its higher budget competitors. NORTH AMERICAN AIRLINES WITH LESS LEGROOM Alaska Airlines: 31-32 inches. Despite the squeeze, coach passengers have the option to book Preferred Plus Seats, which offer 4 inches of extra legroom, starting at an extra $15. American Airlines: 31 inches. Tight space, right? To American Airlines’ credit, after the Fort Worth-based carrier announced last year it would be adding more seats to its Boeing (BA) 737 Max jetliners, the company decided to nix its plans after receiving negative feedback from customers and employees. Delta: 31 inches. Delta, one of the largest airlines in the world, also offers some of the tightest economy seats. Hawaiian Airlines: 31 inches. Despite its tight seating, Hawaiian Airlines recently nabbed the title of the US's airline industry’s top-ranked carrier for on-time performance from the US Department of Transportation. United: 30 to 31 inches. With flights to 60 countries spanning North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, United offers larger “Economy Plus” seating with extra legroom. Allegiant: 30 inches. The budget airline serves more than 100 domestic destinations. Select flights offer “Legroom + seats” that provide passengers with up to 34 inches of legroom. Spirit: 28 inches. Although the airline is tied for last place, Spirit offers some of the cheapest fares. Frontier: 28 inches. The low-cost carrier may offer seriously squashed legroom, but (like Spirit) it has some of the lowest prices. HOW TO UPGRADE YOUR LEGROOM FOR FREE Put simply: Loyalty pays off for air travelers. Many frequent flyer programs offer members perks such as free seat upgrades and discounts of 10 to 50 percent on select flights. Promo alerts are often sent to members via email, Twitter, Facebook, and other channels. If you travel enough to earn elite status, you may also qualify for complimentary seat upgrades. For instance, when you fly 25,000 miles on American in one calendar year, you earn “Silver status” that can get you (and a companion) free access to the airline’s roomier economy plus seats. Pro tip: You may even be able to score a seat upgrade by asking the check-in agent or gate representative “nicely” for one, The Points Guy says.
How to Fly for Under $400 Round-Trip
We’re always on the lookout for a good deal, and a new tool has emerged that will help you book domestic or international travel on the cheap. The team at Kayak recently looked at data from a year’s worth of searches (1.5 billion or so) to recommend the best places to go each month for less than $400. Using Kayak along with a bargain lodging tool may yield surprisingly great travel deals. Here's how to make it happen. 1. KNOW THE RIGHT TIME FOR A WARM-WEATHER GETAWAY A bargain fare for a warm-weather destination might seem hard to come by in the middle of winter, but it turns out it may be just as good for your wallet as it is for your mental health. Kayak’s top picks for January are Turks & Caicos (average fare $309) and Long Beach, California ($138), while Atlanta ($216) and Puerto Vallarta ($338) are the site’s recommendations for December. 2. HEAD TO THE BIG CITIES IN WINTER, SPRING, OR FALL Look for urban getaways like Chicago in February and Boston in March, or catch the tail end of winter-sports season in Denver or Calgary with cheap fares in April. As we’ve mentioned before, shoulder season offers a great opportunity to visit popular destinations at a fair price, without sacrificing on the weather front. See also: Mexico City in May and Cabo in September, both for right around $300. 3. THESE DESTINATIONS ARE (ALMOST) ALWAYS A GOOD DEAL In general, Mexico and the Caribbean performed well overall, and Canada was a big hit year-round, so look close to home if you want a new stamp for your passport without putting in too much time on a plane. 4. STAY FLEXIBLE TO MAXIMIZE SAVINGS If you have some vacation time to burn and some flexibility, the Kayak site may inspire you to book affordable trips you hadn't planned on, with plenty of domestic flights under $200 and overseas destinations under $400.
Have You Saved Money With These Travel Innovators?
In our insatiable quest to explore new travel trends, we’ve been devouring Fast Company’s newly published 2018 Top 10 Most Innovative Travel Companies list (fastcompany.com), and having our usual reaction, a mix of “of course,” “really?” and “wow, I didn’t know that.” Among the most relevant news for Budget Travelers: HOPPER USES ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO SAVE YOU MONEY Hopper, the mobile flight-booking platform, doesn’t just try to book you on an affordable flight, but increasingly employs artificial intelligence and push notifications to help you zero in on the kind of getaways you’re looking for, potential alternative airports, travel dates, and even alternate destinations. Fast Company reports that 20 percent of Hopper’s bookings are now for flights that users were not initially even looking for. GRADUATE HOTELS IS CELEBRATING THE GREAT AMERICAN COLLEGE TOWN Graduate Hotels develops lodgings near college campuses, integrating its hotels and overall aesthetic into the community. It’s no secret that Budget Travel has celebrated America’s Coolest Small Towns for more than a decade, and we’re psyched to see how Graduate Hotels expands from its current 10 hotels. CELEBRITY CRUISES IS GETTING A MAKEOVER Debuting in November 2018, Celebrity Cruises’ new Celebrity Edge was designed in 3D, allowing for an innovative look that provides passengers with bigger staterooms, more public space, and an overall airier approach to the cruise experience. We're adding the Edge to our 2018 cruise to-do list. HAVE YOU SAVED MONEY WITH THESE TRAVEL INNOVATORS? In addition to the three brands mentioned above, Fast Company also cited, among others, Away for its innovative suitcase design, Delta Airlines for streamlining the airport process, and Budget Travel’s parent company, Lonely Planet, for its cool Guides and Trips apps and inspiring video platform. Have you traveled with any of Fast Company’s 2018 honorees? Have you saved time, money, or hassle thanks to their efforts?
How to Save Money at AAA’s Top Restaurants
AAA has unveiled the 68 restaurants that have earned its top Five Diamond rating over the past year (aaa.com), including eight new honorees. If your first reaction is, “I can’t possibly afford a restaurant that good,” we’ve got some good news: While, yes, these eateries are among the very best foodie hotspots in North America, and prices can be sky-high, there are also a few strategies that may help you enjoy certain Five Diamond restaurants (and AAA’s Four Diamond and other top restaurants) without breaking the bank. RIGOROUS RESTAURANT EVALUATIONS AAA has been inspecting and evaluating lodgings and restaurants since 1937 and has been publishing a Diamond rating system since 1985. Inspectors are experienced food-and-beverage professionals who evaluate restaurants in person with an eye toward quality ingredients, unique preparation, great service, and overall environment, as well as emerging culinary trends. AAA inspects and approves more than 31,000 restaurants, and only about .2 percent earn the Five Diamond rating. RESTAURANTS THAT EDUCATE AND ENTERTAIN “Five Diamond restaurants have evolved over the years to meet the changing expectations of restaurant enthusiasts who are increasingly sophisticated about cuisine,” says Michael Petrone, director, AAA Inspections & Diamond Ratings. “Guests want to learn about cooking techniques, ingredient sourcing, and the latest trends. They are looking for a wide-ranging dining experience that includes being educated and entertained. No longer does world-class necessarily mean formal attire and opulent surroundings. And that’s where AAA’s Diamond Ratings can help guide the discerning diner.” Among the eight new additions to AAA’s Five Diamond list this year are McCrady’s, in Charleston, South Carolina, which shares a space with a tavern that offers a more casual menu; and The Catbird Seat, in Nashville, Tennessee, which grows its own produce in a patio garden and offers a $115 tasting menu that, while certainly splurge-y for Budget Travelers, is a relative bargain in the high-end restaurant world. HOW TO DO FIVE DIAMOND RESTAURANTS ON A BUDGET Speaking of menu prices, we asked AAA’s Petrone if it’s even possible for bargain-minded diners to partake of the bounty at Five Diamond restaurants. Although some Five Diamond honorees offer only a fixed-price tasting menu that may surpass $200/person, there are some money-saving strategies that will work at some Five Diamond restaurants, as well as at AAA’s Four Diamond honorees and other top restaurants: Save money at lunchtime Consider eating at a restaurant for lunch instead of dinner; check in advance as there is sometimes a separate lunch menu with more affordable prices. Eat in the lounge Instead of eating in the restaurant itself, eat in the lounge area, where more casual fare may be served and prices are sometimes less expensive. Share or snack If the restaurant allows more casual dining, look for shareable menu items or order snacks to get a taste of what’s cookin’ without going bust. Check out the chef’s menu Look for a chef’s menu with or without wine pairing, as that is often the best value.