Use the internet to find the best prices for flying and lodging. Plus, your choices for where to stay feel almost endless.
Before the internet came along, you planned your vacation by visiting your favorite travel agent, who would recommend flights, hotels and places to see, and then make all the arrangements. All you had to do was follow the itinerary. These days, thanks to the internet, you can spend as much time as the trip itself researching flights, local transportation options, hotels and attractions. The wealth of choices found on travel websites can mean saving big bucks.
In addition, if you belong to organizations such as AAA or AARP, you may be able to find discounts for lodging, rental cars, restaurants, cruises and more.
If driving, websites such as GasBuddy.com will give you gas prices along your route and plot them so you can adjust your travel accordingly.
If flying, an almost overwhelming number of independent websites, in addition to airlines’ sites, will provide flight prices, times and durations, as well as let you book your flight. You might start with some of the traditional sites such as Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak and Orbitz. Newer air travel websites include Routehappy, Hipmunk, Google Flights and Airfare Watch Dog. Each has strengths and weaknesses, as well as ease (or difficulty) in navigating, so doing a multi-layered search will help you zero in on the best deal for you.
If you’re not in a hurry, domestic train travel is often a less expensive way to travel. In Europe, however, it can be more expensive than local airlines. Plus, seniors can get a discount on Amtrak. For more information, see the Lifestyle article, “How to Make Travel Stress Free, Fun and Safe” in the July issue of Senior Spirit.
Most travel websites also provide rental-car booking options. Before you make a reservation, however, compare these prices to the companies’ own sites for the best deal. However, it can be cheaper and less stressful to get around big cities by mass transit (or even taxi or Uber) than to rent a car and navigate unfamiliar streets.
Places to Stay
Although chain hotels are ubiquitous, they might not always be the best deal, unless you have reward points. Many chain hotels cater to businesspeople and provide amenities, such as computers and printers, that you might not need or want if you’re on vacation. However, you can find deals if you call a chain hotel on the day you arrive and ask if they can offer you a lower price, dependent on whether the hotel has empty rooms they need to fill.
If you can’t afford big cities’ hotel prices, check outlying areas that are connected to the main tourist areas by mass transit. San Francisco, for example, has become an expensive place to stay, as well as live, but with its good mass transit system, you could stay in a town along its edge, and take the train to the city.
Several websites let you compare prices for lodging (and amenities):
- Booking.com. One of the biggest sites for finding hotels and motels, Booking.com has over 900,000 properties globally under contract and deals with more than 900,000 room reservations each day. In addition to listing the big chain hotels, Booking.com also provides information on small, independently owned hotels.
- Hotels.com. The company lists over 325,000 hotels in approximately 19,000 locations. Its inventory includes hotels, bed-and-breakfasts (B&Bs), condos and other types of commercial lodging.
- Priceline.com. This website lets you name the price you’re willing to pay for a hotel in a place for the dates you choose. It finds a hotel that meets your requirements but doesn’t give you the name of the hotel until after you’ve booked.
Many travelers find that renting a house or condo, and cooking in, is less expensive than paying a hotel’s daily prices. Several websites provide rental homes’ general descriptions, prices, photos and reviews:
- Airbnb.com. This business connects people wanting to rent their home (house, apartment or just a room) with those looking for something more intimate than a hotel or motel. It has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries.
- HomeAway.com. This marketplace has more than 1,000,000 vacation rental listings in 190 countries. It offers a comprehensive selection of rentals for families and groups to find accommodations such as cabins, condos, castles, villas, barns and farmhouses.
- VRBO.com. Vacation Rentals by Owner connects homeowners with those who want to rent.
Where to Find Senior Travel Discounts
Retired Brains offers a list of businesses that offer discounts to seniors. Here are a few:
Other Lodging Options
In Europe, B&Bs are less expensive than hotels, and you have the advantage of being able to talk to a local and learn about their culture. Many B&B owners are only too happy to give you tips on where to go and what to see. On top of that, you get a good breakfast with which to start the day. BedandBreakfast.com is one place to start looking, although many B&Bs in Europe are owned by families renting out a few rooms and aren’t listed on websites.
You might think of hostels as noisy places meant only for young people, but not all hostels are equal. In fact, some provide more private accommodations these days. Hostelz.com offers nearly 50,000 listings in about 9,000 cities, and includes reviews from professional and real travelers.
Perhaps the cheapest lodging option is swapping houses with someone who lives in the place you want to visit while they desire to visit your hometown. HomeExchange.com brings the two parties together, and has more than 55,000 listings—about one-quarter in the United States and the rest spread throughout Australia, Britain, Canada, France and Italy.
Generally, when reading homeowners’ descriptions of their rental properties, be skeptical. Does “10 minutes from beach” mean driving or walking? And is it the main beach or something else? How far is “close to town,” and which town? Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either through the website or by phone.
For more information on how these websites work, see Tech 101, “Lodging Websites Offer Great Deals” in this issue of Senior Spirit.
A non-electronic way to find the best places and amenities is to ask friends and family members who have traveled to the same destination for suggestions.
Before you head out for your vacation, research the attractions you want to visit. Museums and zoos often provide a free day once a month, and many places offer a cultural pass that will get you into several attractions for less than paying for them individually. Some attractions offer online deals for buying tickets ahead of time.
Many attractions—museums, historic parks and amusement parks—offer discounts for seniors. Always ask. The best bargain around for older adults is the National Park Service’s $10 card that gets you into any national park for free. Similarly, many state and county parks offer lower fees for seniors.
Restaurant dining can take a big bite out of your travel budget. Take advantage of complimentary breakfasts at hotels or at your B&B. Make one daily meal a picnic, stocking up at the local grocery store with easy to eat and carry portable foods such as cheese, crackers and fruit. You’ll probably pay extra to eat at famous tourist destinations, such as Times Square, so look around the block or elsewhere.
For those who are on gluten-free diets, check out the website Glutenfreetravelsite.com (also available for your phone), which reviews dining options around the world It’s a good idea to pack some food in your suitcase in baggies for when you arrive until you can find gluten-free food.
“Six Savings Secrets for Senior Travel,” Independent Traveler.
“Thrifty 50 Travel Tips,” Rick Steve’s Europe.
“How I Afford Travel,” Travel Paint Repeat.
“8 Travel Tips That Save You Money,” July/August 2013, AARP Bulletin.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors