One of the best ways to score big savings on travel is to be flexible and adventurous. Instead of picking a destination and dates and then looking for options, flip the script on travel planning and let the deals be your destination compass.
Of course, that kind of flexibility is not always possible. But if you have at least some room to play with, here are some tools that can help you book your next travel adventure – at the best possible price.
When it comes to Google, there are multiple ways to find deals beyond simple flight searches. One way is great when you have the flexibility to jump on good deals, and another is perfect for quickly scanning for better flight deals when you have a destination already in mind.
Google Travel Explore – When you have maximum flexibility
Instead of picking your destination and dates, just enter your starting point and then click on the map to see roundtrip flight prices to various destinations around the world. You can refine your “exploratory” search by choosing between weekend getaways, one-week and two-week trips. You can also choose to scan for deals for the next six months or pick specific months to scan. A convenient price list of popular destinations also appears on the side of the page and includes the average nightly rates for mid-range hotels during those periods. And since hotel costs can dwarf the savings from cheap flights, getting a sense of both air and accommodations can help you whittle down your list.
Example search: Calgary to “anywhere,” one-week trip over the next six months
Las Vegas, United States
Return airfare: $149
Nightly average for three-star hotels: $141
Return airfare: $993
Nightly average for three-star hotels: $132
Google Date Grid – When you already have a destination and travel window
If you already know you have to fly to a certain destination for a certain date, then check out the Date Grid feature to easily figure out if shifting your departure/return dates in either direction by a day or two could save you big bucks. I was recently booking a business trip and found that by flying in two days early, the airfare savings would cover the extra hotel nights and still leave me with more than a thousand dollars to spare. Since it was a transatlantic flight, I happily booked the early arrival option to be sharper for the business events.
You can find this option after choosing your destination and travel dates. Make the tool bar that appears above the list of initial flight options your friend. While you can pull up the Date Grid from here, there are other features worth exploring as well.
Using the “track prices” feature has allowed me to pounce on good deals for trips to visit family. You can set it for specific dates or it can just look for the best fares if your dates are flexible. The Price Graph can also help you quickly scan for the best time to fly by adjusting dates and the length of your trip.
KAYAK.com’s new Best Time To Travel tool
Launched just a few months ago, this new feature walks you through three simple steps to find the best time to travel when you already have a destination in mind. For example, someone living in Montreal who has decided they want to visit Rome will first be shown the best month to travel after taking into account three different factors: crowds, weather and flight prices. But if you value one of those variables more than the others, you’re also given some easy-to-digest graphs to help you pick the month that is right for your tastes.
Once you select your month, it then tells you the best dates to travel depending on how long you want your trip to be. And finally, it tells you how soon in advance you might want to make your final purchase before prices go up. You can also choose to get price alerts to help monitor the deals.
Example search: Montreal to Rome, seven-day trip.
Results: It recommended November as the best month to visit Rome based on a combination of prices, weather and crowds. After agreeing to November, it then said the best date to start the trip would be Nov. 29 and to book flights before Oct. 26 but hotels before Oct. 10. (The price for the return flight was quoted at $837, but after clicking through on this option, the final fare was about $890.)
Founder Chris Myden has long been a secret travel discount forager for thousands of Canadians. The various sites operating under the Ydeals banner (YYZDeals.com, YVRDeals.com, YYCDeals.com, etc.) allow you to scan or sign up for cheap travel alerts for your main travel hub. Sometimes the deals are so good that the site includes a warning not to book non-refundable hotel accommodations just in case the airlines cancel the deal because it was a mistake. While the “mistake fares” may not come around often, the regular deals that get posted can provide great savings.
A recent deal was posted for roundtrip airfare from Toronto to Brazil or Colombia for between $366 and $450. As can sometimes be the case, there may be limited seats available at prices like that, so you might need to act fast on alerts.
Warning: Signing up for alerts will kick your wanderlust into high gear.
Preet Banerjee is a consultant to the wealth management industry with a focus on commercial applications of behavioural finance research.