A few studies have claimed that getting a discount can be addictive. Feeling like you’ve snagged a great deal can release feel-good dopamine in your body. When vacation hunting, however, you can’t always take those slashed prices at face value. With travel, the old adage rings true: if it seems too good to be true, it may be.
1. Timing is everything
Lower rates off-season are standard for Caribbean cruises and African safaris . But those lower rates may also coincide with the hurricane season that will dampen your cruise and the rainy season that can make it difficult to find the already elusive African lion.
Modern life doesn’t always give us the luxury of packing up for vacation whenever we’d like, but with a little planning and research, you can make sure your trip won’t be marred by persistent storms—unless your ideal trip is tornado chasing through Oklahoma.
2. Location, location, location
Don’t just consider your ultimate destination—consider what you’ll be doing there. Sure, there’s a great deal on that hotel in the Dominican Republic, but if you’re planning on lounging on the beach in Punta Cana, the resort across the city may not be your best bet.
Your great deal on a flight may take you to the airport further away. If you’re a poor student, then that the extra bus ride to city center isn’t going to crimp your vacation style. On the other hand, if you’re trying to corral young children between the further airport and downtown Stockholm after a long overnight flight, it may be worth reconsidering the extra inconvenience and booking through the more convenient airport.
3. Renovations, repairs and construction
Particularly true in cases of hotels and resorts, you may snag a great deal on a well-rated location…only to realize that the magnificent, opulent, fabulous property is under renovation. Loud noises, dusty hallways and “Excuse our mess” signs probably aren’t the elegant vibe you thought you would get when you booked that hotel.
On the flip side, you can get great deals on cruises on older ships. Just beware that your ship may not be outfitted with an awesome robotic bartender yet.
4. Amenities? What amenities?
Amenities can include everything from free wifi and free airport transfers to all-inclusive meals. But buyer beware of the low cost trip. I recently found myself trying to calculate the actual, final cost of several hotels in Rome. One hotel offered free continental breakfast—if you booked the higher room rate. Another had low-cost airport transfers that began after we would need to be at the airport that morning. A third had a dizzying list of amenities that either applied or did not apply depending on if you booked a rate that could be canceled.
Amenities extend beyond hotels, resorts and cruises. With the rise of airlines’ basic economy fares, your great deal can add up quickly if you need a carry-on or do not want to wait for last minute seat assignments.
5. The dangers of online booking
Online deals are everywhere. With the plethora of deal websites and aggregated travel websites offering one stop shopping, it’s tempting to think you’ve seen all the details and snagged the best deal. However, the reality isn’t as cut-and-dry as that. One unfortunate reality of booking the lowest rate from an online source is that when a hotel is overbooked, you’re more likely to be turned away.
Additionally, those great online packages don’t always work in your favor. You may find a fabulous deal for a three-night trip to Washington D.C., but if your hotel is in Virginia, a 50 minute metro ride from the city, you will significantly cut into your time to enjoy museums, cherry blossoms and great dining.
So when is it a good deal?
I love to travel, so if scrimping on some parts means I’m able to save up more quickly for the next trip, I will do it. However, not all deals are created equal.
Read the fine print. Not every deal has a hidden catch. Sometimes last minute deals are just what they appear to be—a great hotel or cruise that just didn’t sell out. Sometimes the drawbacks to the deal don’t matter to you. If you’re just looking for a bed bug-free place to rest your head, you should be able to find that even if the hotel is under construction. Sometimes off-season deals can be great. Taking that African safari in “shoulder season,” the period between prime viewing and the rainy season can lead to better prices and fewer crowds.
The best way to know if you’re getting a good deal—or to find other deals—is to work with a travel agent. Travel agents work directly with suppliers, ensuring they hear about the latest and greatest offerings. They are experts in the business who will work within your budget to piece together the best vacation package for your needs.