Winter turns thoughts to travel

In my last column, I mentioned that I was going to look into cutting costs on cable and the internet. After a lot of research, my head threatened to explode. To avoid that happening, I decided to turn my attentions elsewhere – travel!

You have read about how much I love shopping with my sisters south of the border. How do I get there? I look for deals. When it comes to travel, there are plenty of options. I am sure you have had conversations with your friends and family about points, and how many points they used for the latest flight, and how they transferred those points to this or that person, and then saved them for the new flight, which is costing nothing because it is all on points, which they inherited from their grandmother…and on and on it goes. (Uh oh, I feel my head ready to explode again!)

I have never had an Air Miles card – or any other type of travel card – but this is how I understand it works. You use your Air Miles card at a number of stores. Each time you check out, they swipe your card, adding redeemable air miles to it. Visit the website at www.airmiles.ca and decide if that fits into your lifestyle (I know I could rack up a few points at the LCBO!).

There are many cards available that give out bonus travel points, but the number of options is too overwhelming for me. I use my premium Visa card for all the purchases I make. When I pay for groceries, gas, restaurant tabs, or my insurance bills, all on the same card, the points add up. I can redeem them for a significant discount on travel. And when I use the travel points, I also get 5 per cent cash back on the trip booked. The premium card does cost $95 a year, but I also get travel medical insurance as well as the points perk. It works for my all-inclusive trips and air travel. Convenient and easy is what tempts me!

Now comes the tricky part: booking your flight or trip. It is a good idea to start checking prices months before you plan to travel because prices fluctuate. You need to get a sense of what the price ranges are, of what is a deal and what is a ridiculous fare. Getting the best deal is being on the right website at the right time, because the changes can get crazy at the last minute. And last-minute is not always the best price either, so knowing those price ranges ahead of time helps with the decision making. I have missed some incredible deals because of indecision, and have had to get creative when booking.  For example, I was trying to book a flight to Florida at Christmas, and circumstances forced me to wait until a later date before booking. The price kept going up on the day I was trying to book the flight, and I was beginning to panic. I got an idea to look into booking one-way flights – instead of returns – and was able to save about $250. I had never tried that before, but this time it worked!

There are dozens of travel sites out there, but here are a few. A popular one is expedia.ca. It offers plenty of opportunities for different airlines and all-inclusive trips, but doesn’t offer trips to Cuba (one of my favourite destinations). Some websites are good for hotel bookings only, such as hoteltravel.com and hotwire.com. Other sites offer price comparisons between sites to help you narrow things down, such as travelzoo.com. Price reduction guarantees also exist, but read the fine print. They may be in the form of a credit on your next flight, or they may have to be reported within 24 hours of booking to qualify. So be careful, there are catches!

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. The main message is to start researching prices early so you know what to expect and what is available. I’ve heard that certain times of the week – or even times of the day – have better deals, but I haven’t been able to confirm that. In once recent case, friends and family all booked a destination wedding trip to Cancun on New Year’s Day, for May of that year. The cost that Jan. 1 was $400 per person less than it was the week before. Coincidence? Perhaps, but we grabbed it.

Have fun and enjoy your trip!


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