The Best Time to Buy Thanksgiving Plane Tickets Is...
We get asked all the time, “When’s the best time to buy airline tickets?” So you can imagine, as the busy holiday travel season approaches, the urgency with which that question gets asked only increases.
THE BEST OF TIMES IS NOW
Our friends at the global travel search engine Skyscanner have gotten out ahead of the holiday rush with some research that should help you nab a good deal. The prime time: Now. That is, starting this week, when Skyscanner predicts that travelers can find savings of up to 4 percent and an average round-trip domestic airline ticket around $300. If your first reaction is, “Pounce!” you’re not far from wrong.
BY THE NUMBERS
If you’re wondering where Skyscanner got its crystal ball, the answer is: Data. By crunching last year’s Thanksgiving travel numbers, the ideal window of opportunity became clear. At the moment, the most popular Thanksgiving destinations are some tried-and-true travel favorites (many a far cry from Grandma’s pumpkin pie), including: Cancun, New York City, Orlando, London, and Paris.
AIRFARE BOOKING SECRETS
Skyscanner also shared some airfare-booking hacks that you can use this holiday season or any time to nab a deal:
- Expand flight searches to include other area airports.
- Tweak travel itinerary dates of departure and return.
- Set up price alerts to track the cost of a desired flight route and purchase a fare once the price drops.
Cheap Flights for Last-Minute Labor Day Trips
No plans for Labor Day weekend? No problem. Our friends at Skyscanner.com have got big plans for you: They’ve crunched the numbers on late-August airfares to deliver some truly amazing deals. Your only challenge will be to pick one of these dreamy destinations and book now. Fort Lauderdale, FL to Los Angeles, CAStarting at $283 Boston, MA to Denver, COStarting at $184 Chicago, IL to Miami, FLStarting at $279 San Francisco, CA to Phoenix, AZStarting at $277 Dallas, TX to Las Vegas, NVStarting at $309 Atlanta, GA to New York, NYStarting at $247 Philadelphia, PA to Orlando, FLStarting at $184 Skyscanner is a travel search site offering a comprehensive range of flight, hotel, and car rental deals. To find more bargain fares like those listed here, visit Skyscanner.com.
Beware of These Hidden Hotel Fees
Last year U.S. hotels collected more than $2.5 billion in fees and surcharges, up from $2.45 billion in 2015 according to research by Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. Hanson credits the uptick to the nation’s thriving travel industry. “When times are financially difficult, hotels are more concerned about offending guests with extra charges, but when the economy is doing well hotels feel more confident about increasing their fees,” says Hanson, who has tracked U.S. hotel fees and surcharges data since 2000. Unfortunately for travelers, many hotel fees are often buried in lengthy disclosure statements or tucked into bill summaries at checkout. The best way to avoid getting slapped with surprise fees? Pick up the phone. “Call the hotel and ask, ‘Are there any automatic or mandatory fees or surcharges?’ before you book a room,” Hanson advises. To be a savvy traveler though, you should still have an idea of what hotel charges can potentially sneak onto your bill. By knowing what they are in advance—and how much they cost on average—you may find ways to cut costs on your next trip. Keep your eyes peeled for these hidden fees. RESORT FEECost: $10 to $50 per night Resort fees are daily charges imposed by some hotels in addition to the basic room rate. These fees—which hotels say cover the costs of access to hotel amenities (e.g., internet, fitness center, hotel pool) or “complimentary” perks, like coffee and newspapers—are usually mandatory. Resort fees are disclosed at the time of booking, but they typically only appear after a room is selected and the traveler is about to pay for the reservation, says Randy Greencorn, co-founder of ResortFeeChecker.com, an online tool that allows users to look up resort fees at more than 2,000 properties around the world. In other words, “the resort fee is only disclosed when the traveller has their credit card out and is about to book the room,” Greencorn says. Pro tip: “the resort fee is typically found at the bottom of the [last] page” when you check out, says Greencorn. IN-ROOM COFFEEMAKER FEECost: $3 to $6 If you want to make a cup of joe in the morning in your room, you may have to pay for it. To err on the side of caution, use the (hopefully free) coffeemaker in the lobby instead. ROOM SELECTION FEECost: $10 to $40 Some hotels now charge guests for the privilege of reserving a type of room, like a room with a king bed. But this fee may be negotiable, especially if you’re a hotel rewards member. EARLY CHECK-IN FEECost: $30 to $50 If you want to check into your room before the hotel’s standard check-in time, you may have to pay a premium to do so. This is a relatively new fee. BAGGAGE HOLDING FEECost: $2 to $5 per bag If you’re checking in early or stowing your bags for a few hours while you explore the city after checking out, you may have to pay a fee for the hotel to hold your luggage. This fee is in addition to what you tip the bellhop when you pick up your bags. (Etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute recommend tipping $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag.) IN-ROOM SAFE FEECost: $2 to $6 per day Many travelers put cash, passports, and other important belongings in the in-room safe, but a number of hotels charge a daily fee for it. “Discouraging guests from using in-room safes is a liability risk for hotels,” Hanson says. “It’s a service that should be provided.” In-room safe fees are becoming less common, but if your hotel charges on it will likely be indicated in writing on the safe. HOUSEKEEPING FEECost: $10 to $20 per day Traditionally, hotels have included cleaning services in the cost of the room, but some are beginning to charge housekeeping fees. You may be able to opt out of this service and save money—that is, if you don’t mind tidying up after yourself. MINI-BAR RESTOCKING FEECost: $3 to $6 per day Hotels have always charged inflated prices for mini-bar food and drinks, but these days you may have to pay an additional fee per day after you remove the first item—regardless of whether you buy anything else from the mini-bar during the rest of your stay. Therefore, “don’t take anything out just to look at it” or you could get slapped with a restocking fee, says Hanson. SURFACE PARKING FEECost: $6 to $10 per day “Many people assume that if there’s an outdoor parking lot, it’s free,” says Hanson, but an increasing number of hotels are charging for outdoor, or “surface,” parking. Consequently, “always ask if there is complementary parking,” says Hanson. EARLY DEPARTURE FEECost: The full rate When you check into most hotels, you sign or initial a registration card that states your scheduled departure date. But if you decide to check out a day or several days early, you’ll most likely have to pay the full amount for your stay. To be fair, this isn’t really an extra “fee”—it’s more of a penalty, since you booked a room for a set number of days, during which time the hotel couldn’t offer your room to someone else.
A Real-Life Travel Nightmare Worthy of a Hollywood Script
When it comes to things that can ruin a vacation, lost luggage, stolen cell phones, missed flights, and broken bones aren’t even in the same league as what happened to 1,900 passengers on board the Sea Princess, which left Sydney on a round-the-world 104-day cruise. According to a report on news.com.au, during the first leg of the trip that was bound for Dubai, the passengers were banned from roaming the decks and even taking in the sea air under the stars on their own balconies from dusk until down for 10 days. Speculation flew—terrorism? Bats? Vampires? When the captain finally spoke to the worried passengers, the real threat came out: Pirates roamed these seas and the passengers needed to be prepared for a possible attack. They were sailing the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Suez Canal, a route that passes Somalia, one of the poorest countries on earth. On the waters off Somalia's 1,880-mile coastline, the longest in Africa, pirates loom equipped with weapons and ladders in small, speedy boats. They’ve been known to hijack boats and hold crew and cargo for ransom for months. Pirate drills ensued. Passengers were instructed to close cabin doors, lock balcony doors, take shelter in the corridor. Fire hoses to ward off intruders were locked and loaded on one of the decks, an easy entrance point to the ship. (Airplane turbulence must have seemed like a wished-for fantasy compared with this.) READ: 10 Foolproof Tips to Fight Flight Anxiety The great news is that the passengers made it through their journey unscathed, aside from a weariness with wisecracks about Captain Phillips and Peter Pan or talking parrots, we can only imagine. According to Carolyne Jasinski, a passenger on the cruise who wrote the article for news.com.au, anxiety overtook everyone, but “there was a weird kind of excitement. Once aware of and alerted to the prospect of pirates, we watched vessels more carefully,” she writes. As far as statistics go, pirate attacks on cruise ships is very rare, but the frightening episode is a sobering reminder that the threat is real. This past April, the New York Times reported that after several years of quiet on the Indian Ocean, Somali pirates ambushed four ships in the month of March. The article attributed the sudden rise of incidents to famine, drought, and the influence of the Islamic State, among other factors. The Constanzi Report on Piracy and Maritime Security, a website that provides live reports on attacks against ships as well as articles on all things related to piracy and maritime security, offers a detailed look at the state of things. It features an incredibly comprehensive chronicle of attacks by month. A map details where incidents occur and to what kinds of vessels. While it’s certainly distressing to note the number of attacks over the past years, vacationers can rest assured that most assaults are made on cargo ships. So, cruise-goers, chances are incredibly high that on your next jaunt you'll be able to swim and drink outside under the stars at night. Still, don't make any Tom-Hanks-to-the-rescue or Captain Hook or talking parrot jokes.
How to Decode an Airbnb Review
Vacation rentals such as Airbnb can save you money on lodging and provide a comfortable home base at your vacation destination. But it can be a challenge to navigate Airbnb reviews when the average Airbnb rating is a whopping 4.7 out of 5 stars, according to a recent study by Georgios Zervas, an assistant professor of marketing at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. That’s a surprisingly high number when compared to hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, where the average rating is only 3.9 out of 5 stars for hotels with more than 100 reviews, a Cornell survey found. Zervas suspects there’s a psychological component at play. “People might feel bad leaving a negative review because they know that many hosts are using Airbnb to supplement their income and help support their family,” says Zervas. Some Airbnb customers might also be hesitant to write a negative review because they fear repercussions. “Hosts also review guests, and future hosts can see every review you leave,” says Emily McNutt, an editor at ThePointsGuy.com. Translation: “if you write a scathing review, a future host might be less inclined to let you stay at their place,” McNutt says. Another reason why Airbnb ratings are so high? For many people, it’s difficult to be critical of someone they’ve met and gotten to know—even if they had a bad experience. “If you’re reviewing a restaurant on Yelp, you’re not talking about the owner directly, but on Airbnb you’re essentially rating the host just as much as you’re rating the property,” says McNutt. To Airbnb’s credit, a recent Consumer Reports survey found that 92% of Americans that have booked a home-sharing service say they are likely or very likely to do it again, and fans said homestays make traveling more authentic and affordable. If you’re planning to stay at an Airbnb, you’ll want to check out guest reviews before booking a trip. But since ratings on the website are so high, it’s important to have a critical eye when reading reviews. Take these steps to accurately interpret guest reviews and find a great Airbnb. 1. READ THE PROPERTY DESCRIPTION Before reading what guests have to say, look at the property description (under “about this listing”) to see what the host promised to provide. “If a guest complains about the noise level but the host said the home was located in a busy neighborhood, it’s not the host’s fault that the guest was unhappy,” says Evelyn Badia, a short-term vacation rental coach and founder of TheHostingJourney.com. 2. TAKE GLOWING REVIEWS WITH A GRAIN OF SALT Reviews that simply lap praise on the property or the host aren’t very useful when evaluating where you should stay. In other words, you should be looking for reviews that talk about specific aspects of the property, like cleanliness, not gushing reviews that tout generic compliments, like “great place!” or “perfect apartment!” 3. FOCUS ON OBJECTIVE PROBLEMS Some complaints from guests point out valid issues with a property, but some things just boil down to personal preference. For example, “if a guest says the Internet broke and the host was notified and didn’t try to fix it, that’s an issue,” says Badia. However, negative comments about the home’s décor, per say, shouldn’t matter all that much to you. (After all, you’re not buying the place.) 4. AVOID AGGRESSIVE HOSTS Airbnb’s website enables hosts to post public replies to guest reviews, and how hosts communicate with guests is indicative of how the host might behave during your stay. You want to find a host that’s respectful—someone who thanks guests for writing suggestions instead of attacking the person for pointing out areas for improvement. While checking out a 1-bedroom listing in Washington, D.C. with 4 stars, I found that the host wrote hostile replies when guests offered constructive criticism; that’s certainly not someone you’d want to rent from. 5. GIVE AN OWNER CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE Problems can arise that are outside the host’s control; say, the power goes out in the building, the dishwasher breaks, or the dryer won’t start. In those instances, what really matters is how the owner handled the situation, says McNutt. For instance, if a guest says in a review that the Internet shut down but the landlord responded immediately and contacted the cable company to fix it, there’s no harm done; in fact, that’s the sign of a good host. So, when reading guest reviews, try to assess whether the host is accessible and responsive when issues crop up. 6. IF YOU SEE A SCATHING REVIEW, DIG DEEPER Some guests are impossible to please, and many of these people will write negative reviews regardless of their experience. Therefore, if someone leaves an overly harsh review on a property that has relatively high ratings, click on the person’s profile to see what reviews the guest has received from hosts in the past. If someone has consistently bad reviews from hosts, it’s best to disregard that person’s opinion when deciding where you want to stay.