For airline tickets, the next week or two will be a good time to buy. At least that’s the advice from Expedia, the largest online travel agency. According to Expedia’s extensive records, the period between November 29 and December 13 is the “sweet spot” for buying air tickets for holiday travel.
Although airfares are up, generally, this year, fares have declined since October, and Expedia expects vigorous price competition for the seats that remain unsold. As a leading seller of combined airfare-and-hotel packages, Expedia recommends that approach as well, but even if you’re staying with friends or relatives, you’re likely to find some air ticket bargains.
(Editor’s note: Want to search for your holiday flight now? Use our exclusive price-comparison tool to find the best fare for your trave dates.)
For rail travel, this is also a good time to buy European rail passes. Online rail specialist RailEurope is knocking $50 off the usual price of France Rail Pass and France Rail ‘n’ Drive Pass, for purchase through December 31 for travel next spring or summer. The number of passes is limited, but some are still available at this writing. Also, if you buy a three-day German Rail Pass by December 9, you actually get five days of travel during a one-month period. The deal is available for the adult and adult/twin passes in first- and second-class and youth passes in second class.
Both RailEurope and BritRail are touting the 20 percent off-season discount available on all BritRail passes for travel now through February 28; buy by February 15.
Hotel prices are iffier. Just about everybody in the business sees hotel prices steadily inching upward, and most believe the trend will continue. October and November rates, worldwide, seem to be at least 5 percent higher than a year ago, with no end of increases in sight. In fact, one trade source reports on an industry conclave where a parade of consultants and managers told the hoteliers, “you should raise your rates right now.” As always, the best way to cut your hotel costs is to use opaque booking sites such as Hotwire or Priceline—provided you aren’t overly fussy.
Also, monitor the major online agencies for last-minute deals and keep looking for hotel promotions. Wyndham, for example, is promoting a variety of holiday season hotel deals, Pan Pacific is running a winter promotion, and you may still have a day or two to get in on Sofitel‘s “50 percent off on your second night” worldwide promotion.
Although camping is big for travel within the U.S., not many of you camp while you’re traveling in Europe. If you like the idea, however, a new website, I Spy Camping, is an English-language price comparison site covering camping in France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Croatia. It also posts some special promotions and discount offers. It’s based in the U.K., so prices are quoted in pounds rather than dollars, but that’s an easy conversion.
Shore excursions are always an important part of cruising. For many years, other writers and I have warned you about the gouge prices the cruise lines charge for their official excursions. To avoid those gouges, we’ve urged you to advance book lower-priced excursions independently. “Sure,” say the naysayers, “but if your independent excursion is delayed in returning to port, the ship won’t wait for you.” That’s true enough, even if rare, and it’s why Viator, the big independent excursion agency, just introduced worry-free excursions in many important cruise ports. If your excursion misses the departure, Viator pays for getting you caught up with your cruise’s next port. Check with the Viator website or your travel agent for more details.
European river and ferry travelers just got good news from the European Parliament: a requirement that member nations develop a consistent legal framework for the rights of passengers traveling by sea and on inland waterways. These rights should include reimbursement for cancellations and delays, assistance during cancellations and delays, and other basic rights that have been available to air travelers but not for those on boats and ships. I don’t know how quickly the new rules will go into effect, but they’re long overdue—and also overdue here.
(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com and Hotwire.)