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Holiday Travel

Rick Seaney says:

Well, most of us dodged a bullet last week, despite doom-and-gloom predictions; Thanksgiving travel seemed to go off without a hitch, as travel writer Chris Elliott pointed out in a post called, "Oh, never mind!"

But most of us (including yours truly) weren't crying wolf. We were pointing out what COULD have happened. And I think, on some level, we may have helped prevent an apocalyptic scenario.

We had a lot of concerns about the increase in customers, the packed planes, and the long lines at the nation's airports; if the weather had turned ugly, we know we could have seen all kinds of delays.

And we started talking about this, loud and long, our way of trying to help you, the FareCompare faithful. No, it wasn't just us; there were others saying the sky COULD fall, and eventually a lot of folks started jumping on the "this-could-be-a-rough-Thanksgiving" bandwagon.

And I think it had some effect on the powers-that-be: they started paying attention and suddenly, airspace got opened up, more airline employees were dispatched to work the holidays, and the TSA started telling folks things to do to make the lines move.

Rick Seaney says:

Today I received a Free Airfare Email Alert; I'd set it up so I would be notified about great deals from Dallas to Europe, and the Email Alert informed me of several excellent deals to Spain, including one from Dallas to Malaga. (There were so many good deals, it had to be a big airfare sale, and, it was most likely on American, which is based in Dallas and has a lot of international routes–this is where education comes in).

It turns out the airline ticket price to Malaga is a ridiculously low $300-roundtrip; you then add the $200 fuel surcharge and the customary $100 or so in international taxes, but you still end up with a ticket in the low $600's. An incredible deal! Well, assuming you can book it.

So I clicked on the airfare alert (or you can go to FareCompare.com, in big "Search Airfares" box, put in the cities, make sure Research is checked, then hit "Find") and clicked on the month of March in the calendar, because it was the last month with that cheapest price and saw that this particular airfare is good for departures through March 31st (if you want to depart later than that, the price of the ticket doubles!)

So, I picked my dates: depart March 31st (last day it is good) and return April 7th and then I hit "search". What??!! The results told me the cheapest price (on all airlines) was actually $1000 or more!

I don't despair — because I have a plan of attack and I know a "secret" that I am about to share with you.

I then select the new AA.com "Compare To" function on the FareCompare result page which pops up a window and automatically does the query on AA.com to confirm the $1100 price isn't a snafu… Yep still $1191 (screen capture shown below) out the door for my coveted $600 "out the door" airfare (obviously they don't have seats on my day at that price??? )

But I don't give up! (Here's where education and technology really come in).


* Fund all - or part - of a getaway: U.S. airlines offer gift certificates or cards that let you pay for some or all of a giftee"s trip. Check the individual airlines to see how they can be purchased (Some must be ordered by phone or mail.), and in what denominations, and how they will be delivered (e-mail or snail mail). Most important, read the fine print about how they must be used and redeemed. And don"t forget to check for expiration dates. Some must be used within a year, which could limit their usefulness for some giftees, while others never expire.

Airlines offering gift certificates or cards include: American Airlines; Alaska Airlines; Continental Airlines; Delta Air Lines; Hawaiian Airlines; jetBlue; Midwest Airlines; Northwest Airlines; Southwest Airlines; US Airways.

Do you have a lot of miles in an airline"s mileage program? Check whether you can transfer those miles to someone else. Just be sure your giftee lives in a city where the airline flies. In some cases, you can also buy miles to help a giftee rack up enough miles for free award travel.

* Accommodate them: You can also spring for a traveler"s lodgings, from more affordable B&Bs to posh 5-star venues: The Getaway Gift Card from BedandBreakfast.com can be used at over 4,000 B&Bs nationwide. Bonus: There are no blackout or expiration dates… Travelocity"s Hotel Gift Cards can be redeemed at over 30,000 hotels all over the world. (A nice touch, you can personalize the cards with your own photo.) … Hyatt Hotels" Gift Cards and Gift Checks can be used for restaurant dining, in-room services, golf fees and spa services, as well as room charges. Bonus: Gift cards can be used by non-guests at Hyatt-operated restaurants or lounges.

If you want to treat someone to a taste of the luxe life, opt for a gift certificate from upscale hoteliers such as Ritz-Carlton; the Four Seasons Hotels or the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (available in dollars, pounds and Euros), which can be used at its 440 independently run luxury hotels in 70 countries.

* Help "em get out of town - fast! Know someone whose schedule makes it hard for them to plan ahead? Travelocity offers gift certificates for its last-minute travel packages. Gift certificates are emailed and include a personal message. (Last-minute deals include airfare, hotels, air/hotel packages and car rentals.)

Vacations to Go is known for its big discounts (up to 75 percent off), even on last-minute sailings on top lines. You can order gift certificates in various denominations online for delivery via the USPS or DHL express service.

* Stretch their travel budget: Flyers can lose what they saved on airfares when they overpack and are forced to pay high fees for overweight luggage. A portable luggage scale ($9.75; TravelSmith) is a cheap and useful tool to use at home, and on the road, to ensure that luggage meets airline weight rules… A subscription to Budget Travel magazine is a must-have for anyone who wants to squeeze the most out of their travel dollars. And at only $12 for a one-year sub, it won"t break your budget either!

Travelers can cut the cost of sightseeing at top attractions with a City Pass Gift Certificate. Passes are available for Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hollywood, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California and Toronto… The 2008 editions of the Entertainment Book include discounts and coupons (up to 50 percent off and 2-for-1 offers) for local restaurants, retail stores, attractions and services as well as travel discounts for hotels and rental cars. Books are available for dozens of U.S. cities and start at $15. The books and passes are a great value for all travelers, but are terrific money-savers for families.

Even if a traveler manages to snag a cheap airfare, finding affordable accommodations around the globe can often be a real challenge. Fortunately, the editors of Budget Travel magazine have done the groundwork and compiled their favorites in Secret Hotels: Extraordinary Values in the World's Most Stunning Destinations. The book details different types of lodgings (cottages, villas, guesthouses, etc.), many of which are known only to the locals, in top travel destinations. The hotel profiles include rates (generally under $200 a night); contact information and photos of the hotels (both interior and exterior shots).

Travelers often waste a lot of money (not to mention time) trying to find local eateries that are really worth their vacation $$$. A one-year subscription ($24.95) to the online Zagat Guides gives free, and full, access to 30,000+ ratings and reviews for restaurants in the U.S. and around the globe; nightlife, hotels and attractions. The subscription also includes a 25 percent discount on items in the Zagat store.

Given the high cost of airport food and the state of in-flight offerings, it makes both fiscal and common sense to carry on food. But who wants to schlep around stuff in plastic or paper bags? The Gourmet Getaway ($24.85, Magellan"s) is a stylish-yet-practical way to stow snacks and food for in-flight and on-the-road noshing. The lightweight, stretchy neoprene material acts as a natural insulator to keep food warm or cold for several hours and it easily expands to hold beverages and take-out and plastic containers. Best of all, it"s washable, stays flat when empty and can be easily stowed in a handbag or briefcase.

Brett writes:

Cheap airfare. Discounts on lodging and park admission. Short lines. No crowds. Sunny weather that's not too hot.

Those are just some of the reasons to consider taking your trip to the Magical Kingdom in the winter instead of during summer or spring break, like most people do.

I recently returned from a five-day trip to Disneyland with my three children, all younger than 6. Many of the important decisions about this excursion were made before we left, starting with the question of when to go.

Bob Deuel, public relations director for Disneyland, declined to release specific attendance figures, but he acknowledged that after the New Year's Day festivities wind down, the park is at its slowest until spring break.

A couple of staff members told me that they bring their own families during the third or fourth weeks of January, when most people are still home recovering from Christmas, physically as well as financially.