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Summer Travel, Hotwire Version

This summer, you can look for hotel rates in the U.S. to be up some 7 percent over last year, airfares to be up only 2 percent, and car-rental rates to be down 8 percent, if you buy now. That’s the current finding from Hotwire, the big online agency that does an outstanding job of mining its own database of online transactions. But those figures are nationwide averages, and you remember the old saying “a statistician is someone who drowns wading in a river that averages 3 feet deep.” So Hotwire pulled some detailed conclusions from its data—presented with a few of my own interpolations.

Let’s start with hotel accommodations, where Hotwire expects higher demand and higher prices in most destinations, but fortunately not all the places you might like to visit:

Where to Go: Domestically, rates will be lower in secondary cities such as Minneapolis and Philadelphia than in the “usual suspects,” Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington. Beach destinations in Florida and the Caribbean will be busy but at less than peak-season rates. Hotwire says it shows some really good all-inclusive deals in Cancun and top resort hotels in Cabo and the Dominican Republic. Several sources report that London prices will remain high for the summer; you’ll find better rates in Berlin, Madrid, and Munich.

When to Travel: Hotwire doesn’t single out any special dates for low rates.

When to Buy: Arrange hotels either as soon as you can or wait for last-minute deals. As usual, late-summer prices are better than midsummer rates. And for the big holidays, reserve as quickly as you can—rates are already “spiking.”

Hotwire’s numbers show that domestic airfares are up only a little, a finding that doesn’t quite agree with my quick looks, but I don’t have as much data. Hotwire says international rates may even go down a bit, citing increased numbers of seats on intercontinental flights. Maybe, but it hasn’t happened yet:

Where to Go: Summer discounts look good for Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, noted Hotwire, and it singles out Chicago–Phoenix as “steeply discounted.”

When to Travel: August is “proving to be the most affordable month” for domestic air travel this summer. Summer fares currently posted for Europe are at their peak levels, so you’re obviously better off going quickly or waiting until late summer.

When to Buy: As always, you never know when one or more airlines will mount a sudden sale, so you have to keep on top of any routes of interest. Hotwire says that you usually do best by buying on Monday or Tuesday for flights on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Although current car-rental rates are down, says Hotwire, in the car-rental business—like in the airline business—consolidation will lead to less competition and higher prices.

My take: As usual, renting through an “opaque” agency such as Hotwire or competitor Priceline almost always cuts your costs. Also, beware of come-ons with gimmicks. I recently saw rates as low as $6 a week—including taxes, yet—for some resort areas. But you can bet you’ll have a tough time driving off the lot without paying for “insurance” at $25 a day or more.

Not everybody agrees with Hotwire’s recommendations about when to buy, especially with air tickets. But just about everybody does stress the needs (1) to be flexible about as much of your trip as you can, and (2) to keep checking with a variety of sources—airline and hotel websites, big online agencies like Hotwire, and third-party travel resources. And when you do find a good deal, says Airfare Watchdog’s George Hobica, “pounce” on it; don’t sit around hoping to see something even a few dollars better.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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