BUYER BEWARE – NOT ALL "DEALS" ARE GOOD DEALS
Black Friday Sales are upon us. So, can you really get a better deal on travel? Answer: That depends. There are some deals out there, but a lot of what I call “bait and switch” deals too. Do you know how to spot them? I would strongly recommend, of course, that you use a professional travel agent to book travel. Kinda like using a realtor to buy a house. You can do it yourself, but a professional will know the ins and outs of the industry and may actually save you money in the long run. In the travel business, in most cases, you don't pay for the travel agent anyway, the venue does. So you are getting a professional service that someone else pays for. Score!
Ok, so you want to do it yourself? Not recommended, but I also realize that the internet has made it easy for lots of people book their own travel. My best advice, do your research. If they offer a hotel, ask the name and look it up. Often the hotel isn’t close to where you want to be and you’ll spend all the money you saved on cabs or Ubers back and forth, not to mention the waste of vacation time. If airfare is included, ask which airline, how many stops, and how long is the flight. Finally, as with anything else, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some of the things we see out there:
1. I saw an ad for a resort offering over 80% off bookings within the next year! I didn’t dig into it, but logic dictates… why would anyone offer to sell you a room for 20% of the going rate? Too good to be true? Again, I didn’t get the details, but something doesn’t ad up.
2. An ad for Bora Bora was promoting a price that was about ½ of any prices we could find. We called the tour group advertising and were told the sale was for one small hotel that is booked “for the foreseeable future.” But guess what... You can get this other hotel that has availability, for even more than the regular prices we were seeing elsewhere! Easy to offer a super deal when there is no availability.
3. I am working now on a group trip to Alaska. Of course, as time gets closer, the prices are going up. The cruise line is advertising 30% off, plus $600 off. Guess what… The “sale” price is the same price that I got when I booked without the sale. I called the cruise line and was told that sale only applies to specific sailings, dates, and specific room categories. I asked which sailings were available for that price, and they told me that they are selected by their marketing department and there is no way to tell. Yeah, some sale.
4. All inclusive resorts are good at this too. Read the fine print. Lots of them offer super deals, but require you to sit through a membership or timeshare presentation. If you don’t mind spending ½ a day in a high pressure sales enviroment (and some don't), then go for it. But don’t believe it’s “only an hour.” You say, “Well, I will just leave in an hour.” Most require you to receive a certificate at the end of the presentation to get the freebies or discount. Well you aren’t getting that certificate until you have been through at least 2-3 sales people. Trust me, you aren’t getting out of there in an hour. Again, if you have the patience, go for it.
5. Often “deals” boil down to how flexible you are, or how much you are willing to tolerate. There are some 3rd party sites out there offering discounted airfare, which everyone is looking for. But the discounted flights are seldom direct, and often have 2-3 stops, over several hours of travel. If you are flexible, and don’t mind spending the day dealing with airports and luggage, and you have the extra time, yes you can save money. Sometimes a significant amount of money. But you are rolling the dice, expecially in today's market of canceled and delayed flights. I see each stop as another opportunity for the airline to lose my luggage, or to miss a connecting flight. So you need to weigh, how much are you willing to tolerate vs how much will you save. If you are super flexible, airlines will offer you huge credit and another flight to give up your seat on those overbooked flights. So if that's you, don’t be afraid to ask.
I’m not trying to be a negative Nellie. All deals aren’t “bait and switch” or bad deals. We just booked a 4-day trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. Came with airfare from the Boston, hotel in a great location (It's not the Ritz for this price, but nice), free breakfast, and an excursion to see the lights… $1500 a couple! Yes, for 2 people! We live near Austin, so add $500 for 2 people, round trip to Boston from Austin. Still $2,000 for 2 people to travel to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. So there are deals out there. You just need to know where and how to look.
What about last minute deals? It makes sense that venues would offer huge discounts at the last minute. I mean, its an empty room. Some cruise lines, hotels and resorts do offer such discounts, and if you are flexible enough you can save a ton. Most are listed in 3rd party discount sites. Oddly enough, airlines don't typically offer last minute discounts. Here's one example. A young man working the cruise line parking lot told me that he and his girlfriend keep a bag packed and "just show up" on sailing day. He said if they have empty rooms, he gets on for $100! They live close, so if there are no rooms, they go home and try again on the next ship. We flew one airline that, if you bought a coach seat, you could “bid” on upgrading to an empty first class seat. Rolling the dice, but we got upgraded to first class for ½ of what it would have cost to buy the first class seat.
Bottom line, during Black Friday and the coming Christmas season, beware of deals that seem too good to be true. Not saying to avoid them, just be cautious. There are ways to travel cheap or save money, but don’t fall for the bail and switch. If you insist on doing it yourself, do your homework. Ask questions. Google can be your friend. Some 3rd party discount sites are helpful, but many are too random for me and drown you in emails. Be careful if you are booking yourself. Sometimes what you think is a deal isn’t such a deal after all. Most of all, don't be afraid to say no. If the deal isn't what you expected, say goodbye.
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