Greetings, female travel planners! We know you're the travel planner in your household, whether it's for a family trip, a girlfriends' getaway, a solo excursion, or a huge reunion featuring extended family and friends. We recently asked you to share your best travel-planning strategies, and girl, did you deliver. We culled the best tips to help you plan your next vacation. So, here's what works for your fellow travel planners—and don't forget to submit your own tried-and-true strategies in the comments section!
Compare, Compare, Compare
"It's not always the cheapest that is the best," says Connie Atnip of Ramah, Colorado. As a travel planner, your ultimate goal is a great vacation for you and your traveling companions. Putting in the legwork to research both the deals and the destination can really reap dividends.
"The best travel planning strategy these days is to be organized and think strategically," says Mary of Boston (no last name provided). "Do your homework. Track the airfares, read the cruise message boards, and find out what is going on in the industry. Be an informed consumer, don't just book something because it looks good/sounds good."
"Don't wait for airfare to be the absolute lowest, just find something that's decent," says Diane Button of Vancouver. "Otherwise, you're likely to wait too long and have to pay more. Compare, compare, compare—check aggregate sites and individual company sites. Find off-beat properties ... Most of the time you get what you pay for, so work within your budget to pay for some good experiences."
Be creative with your comparisons, especially with opaque sites. "It is often easy to figure out which hotels Hotwire is booking based on rating and number of reviews on TripAdvisor," says Jessica Vandrick of Clare, Michigan. "Hotwire might advertise a three-star hotel in Ft. Lauderdale that has a 3.5 star review based on 125+ reviews as of April 2009 on tripadvisor.com. Go on tripadvisor.com and you can usually find only one hotel that fits that exact description. That way, there are no surprises when you use Hotwire." Other readers echoed this strategy and claimed significant savings from their cross-reference research.
Being flexible goes a long way, especially if you're willing to be bumped. Sheila Johnson of Harlem says, "If [an] airline requests volunteers to give up their seat on an overbooked flight, then I can get $300 or more in credit for my next ticket."
"I always fly the airline that I have the most frequent flyer miles with, even if that fare is a little more expensive," says Kathryn Hospodar of Los Angeles. "Once premier status is attained, the extra bonuses like extra legroom, premier check in lines with no waits, are available to me."
Hospodar also recommends steering clear of airports (when possible) that are prone to weather problems, as well as choosing direct flights. "I try to avoid booking a flight with a layover in Chicago (especially in the winter), Denver (in the winter), Atlanta, or Dallas.... If I need to fly to a location that gets severe thunderstorms, I try to arrive early since most of the storms develop in the afternoon, [and there's] less chance of landing delays."
Gloria Heinz of Dundas, Minnesota, recommends vacation rentals. "We rented an apartment in a central location for a week and it's much cheaper than a hotel! You can shop at fresh local markets and cook your own meals as much as you want, wash your clothes, and you are able to melt into the culture of the area. You feel like you're not just a visitor."
Another reader says you should reconsider hostels. "It's a great way to meet people, very affordable, and often quite luxurious," recommends Sue Ann Todhunter of Boulder, Colorado.
For hotel stays, many of you stressed the importance of booking properties that include a free breakfast. It's one less meal you have to spend money on, and usually gets your group up and ready for the day. Additionally, look for properties that have complimentary Internet access, parking, and fitness centers for even greater value.
Start all travel research with a clean slate. "When checking airline or booking sites, always clear your cookies," says Debora Baird of St. Louis. "That old info remains in your PC and you may not be getting up-to-date information." And consider getting travel insurance. "Buy from a third party, not from the airline, cruise line, or tour provider. If they go under, you have no insurance coverage," Baird says.
"An amenity I want in a rental property is laundry facilities," says Anne Young from St. Louis. "My strategy for a week to 10 days in Europe is I pack half as many clothes as I need so I can carry on my luggage instead of checking a bag. In my itinerary, I plan for doing laundry about halfway through the trip." In addition to the practical benefits of traveling light, this is an excellent strategy for saving money as well. By reducing your amount of luggage and its weight, you may be able to avoid baggage fees at the airport.
If you know you're going to be bringing luggage, consider this tip from Sheila Johnson. "It costs ridiculously more money for heavy bags, so I check two bags and pay a lower fee than a heavy bag fee. If I have a weekend trip, I'll try to pack a carry-on and avoid checking luggage," she says.
"When traveling for work, I pack a small overnight bag (that will [later] slide over the handle of my rolling bag) inside my rolling bag to bring back all the materials and binders," says Felicity Dodson of Houston. "That way I don't have to carry all those heavy materials on the plane, and don't have to pay high overweight baggage fees. This also works well for bringing back vacation shopping finds!"
Our readers overwhelmingly recommended checking with the locals to get the best information about your destination. "I contact tourism bureaus asking for travel guides, brochures, lodging, and calendar of event information. First I contact country tourist agencies to determine what region we would like to visit, then I drill down and contact the state/province, region, and town tourist bureaus," says Carol York of Hood River, Oregon. "I pay close attention to calendars of events when planning our trips—local events provide a wonderful flavor of a region, no matter how small or unusual the event may seem."
"Find out what's free during your visit," says Betty Ryder of Manchester, Connecticut. "A concert in the park, museums of interest, how to make pizza at a popular area restaurant, to name a few. Even in inclement weather, you have some activity to fall back on that doesn't break the bank."
"I always look in the tourist magazines once we get to our location," says Debbie Evenich of Petaluma, California. "We found a wonderful vanilla factory on the Big Island just by looking at a magazine. It wasn't mentioned anywhere in either of our travel books. It was truly serendipitous—a wonderful location and an absolutely delicious lunch all flavored with their vanilla!"
Now that you've heard what these readers have to say, are you ready to put their tips to work? Tell us how these tips worked for you by submitting a comment below. Or, have a great travel tip we haven't mentioned here? Please share your expertise with your fellow travel planners.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Hotwire.)