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Am I getting a good deal? How to avoid booking anxiety

SmarterTravel

What’s your big anxiety about booking travel?

Vacation time is limited and travel can be expensive, so it’s no wonder that booking a yearly vacation (or even just a weekend trip) can be stressful for the average traveler. We’ve identified three common anxieties about booking travel, and come up with ways to quell your fears.

My mother, a woman whose yearly vacation hasn’t changed in 20 years (a drive to Cape Cod the third week in July), recently panicked when booking a flight to San Diego, unsure if she was paying too much. Last summer, a friend stayed at a Florida hotel advertised as “a short walk to the beach” and ended up trekking nearly a mile each way. Memories of such stressful (and disappointing) experiences will give these travelers a healthy dose of anxiety the next time they book.

Like my mother, some people don’t want to miss out on a great price after booking, while others, like my friend, are afraid what they thought was a nice hotel will be a disappointment. Still others get an attack of the butterflies when it’s time to pull out the credit card, despite plenty of planning.

How do I know if I’m getting a good deal?

Unfortunately, you’ll probably never be certain that you’re getting the absolute best deal. But, we can help you ensure you’re getting a good deal, which should lessen your anxiety.

Airfare

To get a good price, you have to put in the legwork it takes to know a deal when you see it. First, compare prices for a range of dates using a flexible-dates search like those on Travelocity, Orbitz, and Southwest. You may be able to spend less by traveling a day before or after your preferred date.

Once you’ve determined which dates are the least expensive (and work for your schedule), check prices from more than one airline. Using our fare-comparison tool can save you time.

We also recommend tracking prices for a few weeks before booking to get a benchmark price. That way, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal for your itinerary, and if fares suddenly drop, you’ll be able to grab them before they disappear. Kayak, Travelocity, and Orbitz offer fare-tracking tools.

If you’re finding high prices for airfare, consider booking a vacation package instead. Sometimes bundling options—airfare and hotel, airfare and rental car, or all three— can be less expensive than airfare alone, particularly when you’re booking peak-season or last-minute travel. The three major online agencies offer packages for both advance-purchase and last-minute travel, and Site59 also features last-minute packages.

Hotels

Comparing hotel prices is also important. Some travelers have also reported nabbing lower prices by calling the hotel.

If you’re not picky about hotels, try using Hotwire or the name-your-own-price option on Priceline. Popular hotels in cities worldwide are available on these sites at rock-bottom prices, but keep in mind that you won’t know the name of the hotel until after you pay. However, both sites have a neighborhood search so you’ll have a general idea of where the hotel will be.

How do I know if a hotel is a good value?

Photos can be deceiving. What looks spacious and luxurious on a property’s website can turn out to be a cramped room with polyester bedding in person. To avoid any nasty surprises, your best bet is to thoroughly research your hotel before you book.

The Internet is a great resource for information, and websites with a solid online community of travelers are particularly helpful for researching hotels. We like TripAdvisor, but [%329815 | | there are others %]. Search for the hotels you’re considering and you’ll be directed to reviews from other travelers about each property. People who have stayed at the property comment candidly about rooms, location, amenities, and any problems they encountered, and can even post photos on some sites. However, remember to take any overly glowing or extremely negative reviews with a grain of salt—people who post on these websites may have a hidden agenda.

In addition, SmarterTravel.com’s [% 277706 | | Travel Guides %] include editor’s picks for the 10 most popular U.S. cities featuring the best value hotels, as well as options for travelers seeking properties that are as cheap as possible, good for families, or gay-friendly.

Researching with guidebooks is another good way choose a hotel. Authors generally visit each property and mention both pluses and minuses in the hotel write-ups, which will help you make an informed choice. Lonely Planet is popular with budget travelers, while Frommer’s and Fodor’s are geared for those willing to spend a bit more. Rick Steves has a comprehensive series of guidebooks for Europe.

When it comes to hotels, the bottom line is that the more research you do before your trip, the more likely you are to be satisfied with your choice when you arrive.

Am I going at the right time?

Seasonality is important in pre-trip preparation. If you’re not aware of the basics, you may be headed for the Caribbean during hurricane season, or plan to visit the Louvre on the day it’s closed. If your travel dates are flexible, you can take advantage of low prices without sacrificing weather by traveling to a destination during its shoulder season, or save even more by visiting during the off-season.

SmarterTravel’s [% 277706 | | Travel Guides %] also have detailed “when to go” information for a variety of destinations worldwide. The seasonality guide identifies the peak, off-peak, and shoulder travel seasons, and lists popular events that may affect how busy a destination is at a given time. Arming yourself with information about when to visit will help you avoid crowds, high prices, and less-than-ideal weather.

The next time you begin planning a vacation, keep our tips in mind. By following our advice, you’ll have an easier time identifying a good deal, choosing the right hotel, and deciding when to go—without the anxiety.

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