Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Travel Tips

I have spent such an ABSURD amount of time looking at airfare lately, so I thought I'd share a little of my hard-earned travel wisdom with you guys! (Using the word "wisdom" is probably going to come back and bite me when I get stuck at a ski resort and have to work there for the next year before I can afford to come home, but we'll come back to that.)

The reason I've put SO much effort into finding an airfare plan that actually works is that if you search for a flight from where I live to Montreal right now, it comes up $1225. For less than half of that, I'm going to Montreal AND Toronto. (YES, I decided to add on a 3rd show! I AM SO EXCITE.)

So here is tip #1- Search EVERYTHING. This can take a while, but as you can tell from the numbers, it can be SO worth it. Instead of booking one flight, I broke it up into segments and booked those as I could afford to. I'm flying from here to Chicago, spending the night, flying from there to Toronto where I have a 3 hour layover, then to Mont Tremblant which is a middle of nowhere airport near a ski resort in Quebec, and from there to Montreal. (The day after the 2nd Montreal show, we're all taking a train to Toronto, and then I'm flying home from Niagara Falls/Buffalo, with an overnight in Chicago again.)

The funny thing is that when I searched for a flight from Chicago to Montreal, it was around $400. But when I searched on the SAME airport's website for a flight from Chicago to Mont Tremblant, and then a separate one from there to Montreal, it came to a grand total of $233 for both flights. The only way I stumbled upon this was by checking prices one by one for EVERY airport that the little airline flies to, which is admittedly only about 10, but still took some time. When I found the super cheap Chicago to Mont Tremblant fare, I searched to see if there was a flight from Mont Tremblant on to Montreal, and there was- one hour from when I land and $71. SCOOORE.

I was a little freaked out about flying into a place I've never even heard of in a part of the country where my grasp on the language dates back to a few years of high school French. I was also kind of worried that I'd be the only one on the flights or something, and they would be canceled. That brings us to tip #2! When you're shopping around and are narrowing it down to a few options, continue as if you're going to book the flight until you get to the section where you get to pick your seats. (Unless you have to pay first and then pick seats, obviously.) For most airlines, that will let you pull up a little map of the plane to see a) if you're flying on a tiny puddle jumper or a jumbo jet and b) how full your flight is going to be. My flights to the airport I'm lovingly calling Mont Middle of Nowhere (Although "Mont Tremblant" is a pretty kickass name- it means "trembling mountain".) each have about 25 people on them, on planes that seat around 70-80. That means a) they probably won't cancel my flights due to lack of people and b) I GET A WHOLE ROW TO MYSELF, WOOT.

Tip #3 applies to more than just flights, you can use it for hotels, car rentals, pretty much anything, and that is to check for promo codes or coupons. There are sites like Retail Me Not where you can just type in what you want a discount for, and it pulls up a list of available discounts and codes. These are admittedly kind of hit and miss, since they're user-posted, but it's how I found the code that got me 30% off two of my flights.

Tip #4- You can sometimes save a LOT by flying into an airport a short distance from your actual destination. For instance, flights into Plattsburgh, New York are generally at least a few hundred dollars cheaper than flights to Montreal. Once you arrive in Plattsburgh, you can take a bus to Montreal that takes an hour and costs $20. I ended up finding something cheaper than this option, but I'll generally give up an hour to save $200 any time!

You really do have to weigh cost vs convenience on that kind of thing, though. For instance, flying into Burlington, VT is usually even cheaper than flying into Plattsburgh, but instead of an hour bus ride it's a 2.5 hour one. (and $30 instead of $20) While I'm more than willing to spend an hour on a bus to save $200, I'd be way more hesitant about spending two and a half hours on a bus.

And finally, Tip #5- When you're comparing prices, factor in every detail. For instance, if you're looking for a hotel near the airport, and Hotel A is $50 and Hotel B is $55, and they're both boring chain hotels that are going to be pretty much the same, you're probably going to pick the $50 one. However, if Hotel B offers a free shuttle to the airport that saves you a $15 taxi fare, it's obviously the better deal. Flights are similar- if Airline A is $20 cheaper than Airline B, make sure Airline A doesn't charge $40 per checked bag.

Oh wait! The ever-important Tip #6! Pack a lightweight zippered tote bag or something similar. If you end up buying too much stuff on vacation, or if your stuff just ends up doing that magical thing where even though it is exactly what you brought with you, it now will totally not all fit back in your suitcase, you have something extra to bring things home in. On a similar note, packing a couple of bottles of water (in zip-lock bags, to be safe) or a small amount of snacks can not only save you from spending the higher fees for that kind of thing at a tourist destination, but can come in handy if you arrive at your hotel late at night when all of the restaurants are already closed! Plus, you then have the empty space where the food or water was as extra room for your trip home.

Any other tips to share?

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