We now have the power to be our own travel agent — to find deals, compare prices, and research the best destinations and activities. But sometimes it can feel like information overload. You want to get the best price, maximize your time off, and plan a once in a lifetime vacation. All of that pressure can make it hard to click “Book Now.”
If you’re wondering how to plan a trip without having to worry that you missed something, I’ve put together a list of questions to keep you on track to planning the perfect vacation.
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1. What’s the weather?
You’ll typically find the best savings when you travel in the off-season, but at what sacrifice? Fifty-percent off a tropical vacation is a great deal, but not if you’re stuck inside all day while a tropical storm rages outside! Weather is often unpredictable, but historical averages will give you an idea of what to expect.
2. Are there any festivals or conferences?
Once you’ve determined there are no storms brewing, you’ll want to check your dates against any major events your destination is hosting. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. It could be exciting to be in town during a music festival, but hotel prices might triple.
3. Are there alternative airports?
You’ve confirmed your dates and now it’s time to book airfare. You’re probably already comparing costs between airlines, but you also want to compare between airports. Many sites give you the option to include nearby airports in your search, making it easy to compare the cost. You may find better prices, better times, or even more nonstop options. That being said…
4. How much will airport transportation cost?
Often smaller airports are farther from a city and have less public transportation options. I’ve gotten a great airfare deal before, only to spend more on transportation to and from the airport than the ticket itself! When comparing prices between airports, factor in the cost and convenience of airport transportation.
5. Are there affordable/available seats?
Booking a ticket may guarantee you a spot on the plane, but it doesn’t always guarantee you the seat of your choice. Some planes consider more than half their seats “premium,” and they’re going to cost you.
If all standard “free” seats are booked, you may be able to buy a ticket but not select a seat, meaning you get what’s left and likely won’t be sitting with your travel companions. Additionally, some third party travel websites may charge less for a fare but then make you pay for seat selection.
6. How much will your bags cost?
The free checked bag has gone virtually extinct. Many international flights still include a checked bag, but there’s a rise in budget airlines charging a la carte for everything beyond the bare bones ticket. Some even charge more per bag during peak travel times.
You may also get a discount when you pay for your luggage in advance online. Bottom line, research baggage fees or it could easily cost your family $100 or more.
7. Does a rental car make sense?
A rental car can make or break a trip. If your hotels offers free airport shuttles and there’s a great public transport system, a rental car could weigh you down. But if a city is spread out, parking is accessible, or you plan to take day trips, then a rental could be well worth it.
Car rentals can get down to as little as $10 per day, which means renting a car might be cheaper than a single taxi ride. Check hotel parking rates before booking, though, or your $10 per day rental could cost $50 to park per night.
8. Which credit card is offering the best rewards?
Check rewards, perks, and promotions being offered by your credit cards. Make sure you’re getting the maximum rewards for your trip. One of my cards recently offered a 5 percent cash back offer with Airbnb. I activated the offer, booked the trip, and was able to get 5 percent on top of the 1 percent in regular rewards spending!
9. Should you book direct?
Once you’ve decided on a hotel, do your homework to ensure you get the best price. I like to check coupon codes for third-party travel booking sites and find the lowest price available. Then call the hotel direct and see if they are able to beat that price if I book direct with them. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t — but either way, I know I’m getting the best price.
10. Should you buy a sightseeing pass?
Make a list of all your must-see places, and add up the cost of admissions. Now see if there’s a pass that make sense. Many city passes include public transportation fares, so it could be a good way to save all around.
CityPass offers savings of around 50 percent on main attractions in major cities like San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. You can even find a discount to Disneyland and other theme parks with the Southern California CityPass.
11. What’s the true budget?
When we budget for a trip we focus in on the airfare, hotel, and food, but there are so many other little costs that add up. Get a true idea of costs so you can plan accordingly and not end up in vacation debt. Think beyond the souvenirs, museum admissions, and baggage fees to the costs outside of your trip like a house sitter or boarding the dog.