After you've found a cheap flight online and used social media to scoop up some perks, your next method for scoring the best travel deals is to get off the computer and start asking questions. Whether you're speaking to the gate agent or the hotel concierge, there are certain questions you can pose to score better travel deals. For tips on what to ask and when, U.S. News spoke with Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at Orbitz.com. She gave us the scoop on hotel and airfare upgrades, how to save on attraction tickets, plus the questions to ask yourself when booking.
How flexible are you?
Before you can start asking other people questions, there are a few questions you'll need to answer first. According to Tornatore, determining your own flexibility is one of the easiest ways to sniff out cheaper airfare and lodging deals. If you're looking at flights on a travel search engine like Kayak or Orbitz, Tornatore advised making sure you're searching for multiple days before and after your target departure date. If your schedule allows you to sidestep flying during the heaviest travel period -- usually Friday to Sunday -- you can save just by avoiding the travel patterns of your fellow jetsetters.
What components do you need?
Another question to ask yourself: Am I looking to book flights and lodging? If you need both, you can save hundreds by booking a package. Tornatore also recommended looking for promo codes, especially now when travel booking sites and hotels are running sales for spring break. For example, through March 29, Orbitz is offering a 15 percent discount on hotel stays of two nights or more for travel before Sept. 30. Meanwhile, Priceline is offering up to 25 percent off on select hotels during its "Great Getaway Sale." Hotel stays have to be booked by March 31 for travel between March 16 and April 15.
Are any upgrades available?
According to Tornatore, this can be a fruitless pursuit, especially when you're seeking an upgrade for your flight. Of course, it never hurts to ask the gate agent if there are any upgrades available (either complimentary or at a reduced rate than what you would purchase at booking), but Tornatore said that airlines are much less likely to grant free seat upgrades, unless the traveler requesting the upgrade is a frequent flier program member. Tornatore said you're more likely to score an upgrade at your hotel, especially if you're traveling during the off-season when properties aren't as busy and have more inventory to offer. You can mention that you're celebrating a special occasion to see if that spurs the property to offer a larger room or free amenities, but Tornatore said that being polite and friendly to the hotel's front desk staff can often be your best tool for receiving perks. And if you're a member of the hotel's loyalty program, see if you can leverage your loyalty for extra perks, such as free or discounted parking or complimentary Wi-Fi.
Are there any value add-ons?
Determining if a property offers value add-ons, or vacation extras like free Wi-Fi access, shuttle service or continental breakfast, is another answer you should seek, according to Tornatore. These extras are things you're going to spend money on anyway, so finding out if they're included in the overall cost can help you plan your budget. If you're considering a cruise, check if the cruise line offers any extras, such as free shore excursions or onboard credits for spa services, before you book. Speaking of cruises, see if your chosen cruise line offers a resident rate discount that applies to you. Some cruise lines, including Disney, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, offer reduced rates for residents of certain states with departure ports, such as Cape Liberty in New Jersey and Tampa and Port Canaveral in Florida.
Is there an attraction pass?
Check with your hotel concierge or on the website of the local visitors bureau to see if the destination offers a pass that grants access to several of the city's top attractions for one flat rate. For example, the Nashville Visitors Bureau offers a "Music City Total Access Pass" that allows travelers to choose four attractions for $60, a savings of up to 57 percent. You can also look on sites like CityPASS, which provide combined, discounted admission for points of interest in big cities around the U.S. and Canada, including Boston, New York and Toronto. Beyond attractions, you can find deals on Groupon for local classes, sporting events and restaurants.
What do reviewers say?
Looking at user generated reviews on sites like TripAdvisor is one of the best ways to determine if a hotel, cruise ship or attraction is right for you, according to Tornatore. Sure, some reviewers may be pickier about certain aspects of the resort than you would be, but you can get a general idea about the state of the rooms, the quality of customer service and ways to save by reading a few reviews from like-minded globetrotters.
See: Simple Strategies to Save on Your Next Vacation
About the author: Ann Rivall is a Travel Editor at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, circle her on Google+ or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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