If you are dreaming of summer vacation, you are not alone.
As more people get vaccinated and more restrictions are lifted, travel is returning in a big way this summer. However, just like everything else, booking your travel will be different, especially if you are looking to find the best deals.
(The CDC recently released updated travel guidelines related to COVID and the vaccine. You can see more of the recommendations for domestic and international travel here.)
Families ready for summer vacations
After more than a year of being stuck in the house and stuck in Houston, Janette Horton, a mother of three from Humble is packing up and flying away to Mexico.
“We are going to Los Cabo, Mexico. I’m very excited. It’s one of our favorite places,” said Horton who is Instructional Specialist for Humble ISD.
With COVID-19 cases finally on the decline, millions of American families are planning summer vacations this year.
“We haven’t been able to take a family trip in quite a while,” said Kingwood mother of two, Nicol Payne.
“We’re just so excited for a change of scenery, a bit of normalcy,” said mom from Kingwood Lindy Schuck.
Nicol Payne and Lindy Schuck are also flying out of Houston with their families this summer and naturally have concerns.
“My concern before the booking was, how open was where I was going, going to be?” said Payne.
“I would want to make sure I could cancel that flight last minute, without any charge,” said Lindy.
KPRC 2 has four tips to help you get the best travel deals this summer.
Tip #1 - Rethink the way you plan
To save a lot of money, shop for the price first, before deciding where and when you want to travel. It’s the exact opposite of how most of us shop for airfare.
“Step one, where are the cheap flights available out of my home airport. Step two, of those places, which one sounds best for my next vacation? And step three, what dates work for my schedule. By setting the price as the top priority, “that’s how you’re able to get a lot of cheap flights,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Tip #2 - Book directly
Tip number two comes from Heather Keller with Perfect Landing Travel. Instead of buying through mass booking sites like Orbitz or Expedia, book directly with the airline to avoid trouble in changing your travel plans.
“All of the major airlines are offering, if not full refundability, they are going to offer you a full credit to change your flight at any time,” said Keller.
“So while you might have marginal savings, the pitfall on the back end of that is just not worth it anymore. We make sure that you’re covered and know exactly what your options are as far as refundability cancellation terms and making sure that you know exactly what to expect. I recommend that you always book directly with the airlines at this point so that you’ve got maximum flexibility with your flights and your trip.”
Tip #3 - Do your homework on the city you visit
Before deciding where to fly, check “the tourism board” for your destination. This is also called a “destination marketing organization.”
“Almost every city and country has their own tourism board website, and they will have exactly what you need to do to enter, to leave, and what’s required once you get there, and they’ll also tell you what’s open,” said Keller. “I feel like that’s a resource that is underutilized by consumers. For example, they will tell you what their occupancy looks like, are they doing indoor dining, things like that, so you have a better idea of expectations as you arrive.”
These destination marketing organization websites can also help you plan your entire trip. You’ll often find special deals and offers you won’t find anywhere else. For example, Travel Texas has a great roundup of Texas cities.
Tip #4 - Always check Google Flights
And tip number four, from travel expert Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights. Use Google Flights, which shows you which days of the month are the cheapest to fly on.
“My favorite place to search for flights is actually Google Flights. It’s a great way to be able to sift through fares and find the cheapest fare across all airlines, but when I actually go to book a flight, I like to book directly with the airline.”
Cheapest flights out of Houston
Just what are some of the cheapest flights out of Houston right now? Scott’s Cheap Flights put this list of domestic destinations together.
Round trip flights from Houston to Phoenix, Denver, Chicago, Orlando, and Miami will cost you just $97.00 now through the end of May and as low as $157.00 June through September
Non-stop flights to Costa Rica, Mexico City, and Cabo are all less than $300.00 bucks roundtrip, now through September.
Good advice, for families not just thinking about getting away... but doing it this summer.
“So we are very excited to get the kids away and make some memories,” said Payne.
“I’m taking my son for celebrating his high school graduation,” said Horton.
“To be able to get out and have a change of scenery,” said Schuck. “It makes you feel normal.”
But what about rental cars?
For some, booking the flight and hotel is the easy part. There is a nationwide shortage of rental cars, so finding a car might be an issue. Keller says many of the rental car dealerships sold off inventory during the pandemic to stay afloat, so there is now a very limited supply of rental cars.
“We are seeing three to five times the price on a rate for a rental car,” she explains. “A lot more people taking road trips and a lot more people are wanting to go further to be further away from people and be safely socially distant. So it’s definitely a factor that you need to consider when you’re budgeting for your trip. It’s something that used to be kind of an insignificant part of your trip when you were running the car. But it really is a big factor in the budget.”
Here are tips for finding the best deals on rental cars.
-Don’t wait to book. Many cities are already sold out of rentals for the entire summer. BOOK NOW.
-Always book “pay later” rates so you can cancel or re-book if you find a better deal.
-Sign up for any rental car company rewards program.
-Consider the website Turo.com, which helps match people with cars for rental. This works much like Airbnb does for properties.
-Get creative. In some cities, people are renting UHAULS to get around.
Keller also recommends thinking about booking a self-contained vacation, like at a resort, so you won’t need a car to get around. If you decide to use a travel expert like Heather to help you book your vacation, they can often find the best deals on rental cars as well as hotels, etc.