We’ve all learned to use the Internet to not only research how to get where we are going and where to stay on our next vacation, but also to save money on flights and hotels. Even people who don’t exhaustively read up on how to get the best deals typically visit multiple sites before booking a flight. Even reserving a hotel room — which at first was something you did without much shopping around – now typically involves a variety of sites to make sure you getting the best deal on the room you want.
Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity dropping their booking fees was a direct reaction to travelers’ habit of researching flight options on their sites, picking the one they wanted, then booking it directly from the airline because they could get it $5 cheaper. It was easy to do, so not surprisingly most people did. If you were trying to get the cheapest flights, that was the easiest $5 you could save. Some went even further, using multiple sites and trying to find the optimal day and time to save even more on their flights. This behavior spawned a whole host of “meta search sites” like Kayak.com, looking to make this kind of exhaustive searching easier. Hotels came at it from a slightly different direction, but with the advent of Priceline, special packages available only from hotels, and so on, spending time on your room booking can be even more rewarding for a traveler.
Bearing out how advanced the tools have gotten is the great article that the NY Times’ “Frugal Traveler” had on all the best tools and tips for researching travel and getting the best price. Matt Gross, as the Frugal Traveler is known to his parents, referenced sites like Kayak and Hotels.com as well as a number of research options, all of which he uses as a matter of course before undertaking any trip.
But Gross – and most travelers – had no ideas past the point of getting flights and hotels locked in. Despite the fact that the cost of the time a traveler spends in his or her destination often far exceeds the costs of flights and housing, people seem resigned to paying full price. Either the Frugal Traveller sits quietly and economically in his hotel room, or he’s paying full rates to see and do things when he gets where he is going.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Not surprisingly, the Internet offers a variety of options that a growing number of travelers are tapping into to save on their “destination experience.” It is no secret that individual tours and attractions offer deals on their web sites that are available to anyone who buys in advance. And not surprisingly, aggregators of a wide variety of these type of buy before you fly deals are starting to have a growing presence online.
On popular example is Viator.com. This site allows travelers to select from destinations across the world and select from tickets to attractions, tours, events, airport transfers, and so on, often at a significant discount to walk up prices. And travelers might be surprised at the breadth of the offering. Disney, Grand Canyon, Broadway Shows, etc. are all on offer. But so is a Ghost Hunting tour in Edinburgh, skydiving in Australia, kickboxing matches in Bangkok – the list goes on and on.
Obviously committing to specific sites and activities in advance requires a bit of pre-planning. This fact alone has been as much a barrier as anything to more rapid expansion of travelers seizing on destination deals. For those looking to save while preserving flexibility and spontaneity, an ”city pass” (also known as an “attraction pass” or a “sightseeing pass“) like those offered by Smart Destinations could be just the ticket.
The company offers a credit card sized ticket in 14 North American destinations that allows the holder to go into most if not all of the main attractions and tours in that destination for one prepaid price. Perhaps best of all, there’s no need to decide in advance what you intend to see. In destinations such as San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Oahu, San Diego, and New York City, the Pass offers savings that can be as much as 55% compared to buying separate tickets, and that’s not counting deals on shopping and dining that are included in the card.
So as you plan your next trip, make sure you don’t stop with flights and hotels, but give some thought to the things you plan to do once you get where you are going. You could end up significantly lowering the total cost of your trip with just a bit more effort.
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