By Chris Riemenschneider
From Star Tribune
Minneapolis – Traveling in 2022 presents a dilemma. Most of us yearn for distant adventures after tight quarantine. But that pent-up demand has been met by high prices for just about everything, especially gas. Airlines, airports, hotels and car rental companies are often understaffed, undersupplied and overbooked.
“Everything is so weird right now,” Linda Snyder, vice president of travel agency AAA Minneapolis, succinctly summed up. “But it is not impossible.”
A little extra research, planning and – especially important right now – pivoting in your travel plans can go a long way. Here are tips from Snyder and other travel experts for creating an affordable vacation.
Stay close to home. “Obviously we think it’s a smart option all the time, but especially now,” says Amy Barrett, Explore Minnesota’s communications manager. As airfare and gas prices rise, Barrett’s team is emphasizing routes for road trips with just one tank of gas. Minnesota and other Midwestern states have beautiful campgrounds, hiking trails, and paved bike paths.
Start with your plane ticket. “Before you book anything else or request certain days off, always look at airfares first, because right now you really don’t know what you’re going to get,” advises the site’s Kyle Potter. Minneapolis-based web and newsletter. ThriftyTraveler.com. He highly recommends the Google Flights search engine for finding good travel dates, where one-day or one-week flights can be $200 to $300 cheaper than another. “It could push some people over budget before they even get there, especially families.”
Avoid peak hours. Summer is over, but weekends and some busy weeks can be expensive in fall and winter. “Late October and early November are an excellent window,” she adds, distinguishing between Mexican and Caribbean destinations. Flying mid-week is also a great way to save – and that’s also true when you’re not traveling. Speaking of Minnesota’s popular North Shore resorts, Barrett says, “If you can go Sunday through Thursday, you can always find great deals.”
Vacation rentals now more than ever. Besides the fact that you often pay more for less at many hotel chains, there is another important reason to search for private homes or apartments with favorable reviews on Airbnb, VRBO and other rental sites: meals are also become more expensive. “If you’re not a foodie and don’t mind going out to eat a lot, think about how much money you can save by getting a place with a kitchen where you can cook for yourself,” Snyder says. Vacation rentals are often suitable for large families or groups of multiple hotel rooms, as long as everyone can get along.
Europe is a (relatively) good deal. With the Euro falling to almost the same value as the US Dollar (down around 12%), your money can go a lot further across the Atlantic. “A good dinner in Paris right now can cost you $70 instead of $100, which is a week,” Potter says. Some US travelers are still worried about COVID restrictions, but things are wide open, at least as of press time.
Get off the beaten track. “Instead of Italy or Ireland, maybe look at Portugal or Switzerland for better airfares,” says Snyder. Potter points out that South Africa and Iceland have been good travel deals in recent months. For destinations on this continent, he suggests looking everywhere for low-cost airlines such as Sun Country, Spirit, Frontier and now Allegiant fly. “Even though you would never fly on one of these airlines, they drive down the prices of other airlines,” Potter says.
Use those miles and points. Hey, at least your higher credit card bills can add more airline miles. Minneapolis-based frequent fliers John Eichten and Colleen O’Dell saved enough miles on their Chase Sapphire visa in a year to cover the cost of a ticket to London last summer. “Essentially we saved $1,450,” raves John, who also cashed in Marriott Bonvoy points for a four-star hotel in the usually expensive area around the Tower of London.
Public transport is not just for locals and Rick Steves. Car rental prices, too, went through the sunroof. Using trains and buses can save you $100-200 a day, especially in Europe and major US cities. Eichten says of their trip to England: “Petrol is very expensive there, but the prices for trains, buses and the underground haven’t changed.” For those who insist on their own wheels, Potter points to universal search engine Auto Slash to find deals from rental companies, and car-sharing sites/apps such as Turo (think: Airbnb for vehicles).
Get the sea legs: By far, the best travel deals right now are on cruises. Cruise lines have been hit hard by COVID and are desperately trying to bring customers back with great deals while staying strict on COVID testing and vaccine requirements. “Obviously it has to be based on your comfort level,” Snyder says, “but if you’ve ever thought about going on a cruise, now is the time.”
Plan ahead for next year. Yes already. Although gas and other travel costs have fallen slightly since mid-summer, travel experts agree that things won’t stabilize any time soon. Booking ahead can help you avoid inflated costs next summer. “Look for things that are fully refundable, or close to it,” Potter advises. It’s good advice for destinations in Minnesota, too: “A lot of resorts are already filling up for next summer,” says Barrett.
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