Looking for a little vacation time? Destinations like Hawaii, Cancun and Europe often come to mind when trying to schedule some time away from home.
And judging by the way bookings have been going lately, people are ready to get away from home and enjoy themselves for a couple of weeks. A quick look at the various license plates from states all around the country on Main Street in Mitchell is testament to that.
“Interest is very high,” said Judy Gaston, a travel counselor with Jerry Carey Travel in Mitchell. “They call it pent-up demand, and people just don’t want to stay home. As you can see on the roads throughout town, people are just going.”
After a year-and-a-half of staying put due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people with cabin fever are again heading out into the world for both business and pleasure. That means prices on lodging and airfare are up, and with unleaded gas prices hovering near $3 a gallon, there is a definite cost associated with taking vacation time.
“Things are booked up, and prices aren’t particularly low right now because of it. And it looks like it’s going to be that way into next spring, at least,” Gaston said.
But there are factors to consider that can save money over the cost of traveling for business or pleasure, Gaston said. Having been a travel agent since the early 1990s, she continues to book travel for a variety of clients, including 20-somethings looking for an exotic honeymoon to people who simply like to travel. Gaston is familiar with the ups and downs that can come with the often complex world of travel planning.
Of course, the internet has changed the way people around the world shop and do business. Gaston said she is no different, often using internet portals as a comparison tool. But it’s important to note that travel agencies provide experienced professionals to help their clients plan, and that experience is something that discount hotel and airline ticket websites can’t provide.
"It’s a very useful tool. But people are turning back to professionals that can do the shopping for them. That’s what we do,” Gaston said.
Gaston and other travel agents use that experience and their industry access to uncover deals that likely won’t show up on a search of your travel sites like expedia.com, travelocity.com or orbitz.com. Relationships with referred suppliers, airlines and vacation package companies all help provide money-saving options that can make a difference in the bottom line of your vacation bill.
But would-be travelers can do some of their own research that can be useful whether they want to handle their own bookings or if they prefer to have a travel agent do it for them.
“If you’re talking about savings for a vacation, if you look at the school calendar and when kids are off school, those prices will almost certainly be higher around that time, like Christmas or New Years,” Gaston said.
A popular vacation destination, such as Hawaii, combined with a heavy travel season, such as the holiday, can make a considerable difference in how much you could be paying for your flight and accommodations during your stay. Even a couple of weeks' difference can mean a big difference in overall cost.
“I gasp when they say they want to go to Hawaii over Christmas,” Gaston laughed. “I know how much more it can be than if they go in early December.”
Gaston said there are two major areas where advance planning can save you dollars on travel. The first is having a flexible schedule. While many travelers only have so many days a year they can plan on using for vacation, the more you allow yourself to go with the flow, the more the cost of your trip will likely come down.
“The flexibility on dates is the biggest thing that will make a difference in price. If you’re truly flexible, if you have a range of dates that I could pick through, I can find the best days of the week and best times to go. That’s going to get you the best savings,” Gaston said.
The second most important factor in keeping costs down is booking in advance - long in advance.
“The second-most-important thing is booking in advance. If it’s over the holidays, you want to book ahead by several months. I usually tell people to book as far ahead as you can, especially over the holidays. With the holidays you could be talking 9 to 11 months ahead,” Gaston said. “For other times, like for a summer vacation or a winter vacation to a beach, book a couple of seasons ahead. I’ve been doing a lot of bookings for January and February since June, and that’s very common.”
She informs her clients of these benefits, but is hesitant to overly-push alternate vacation dates to people who have had their mind set on a trip at a certain time of year. Travel agents can still dig up savings with shorter advance time, it may just not be as significant, she said.
There is a perception that booking travel through an agent is more expensive than doing it yourself online. That’s not necessarily true, Gaston said. Outside booking services that can save you money, but they also have a trove of travel experience and are able to provide guidance on subjects like the nuances of international travel and regulations.
“A misconception is that it’s going to cost more to go through a travel agent, and it’s not.”
— Judy Gaston, Travel Counselor with Jerry Carey Travel
There is an added value to that that one doesn’t get working by themselves online.
“A misconception is that it’s going to cost more to go through a travel agent, and it’s not. The fee for an airline ticket is about the only thing you would pay more for than what you can get online, especially for an international ticket,” Gaston said. “Especially for an international ticket, I would recommend that a person talk to a travel agent and compare.”
Online outlets for tickets and hotels are still a good way to comparison shop, Gaston said, and with all the travel websites out there, it’s difficult to not give them a look. But for those interested in what a professional has to say on the matter, she recommended giving their local travel agency a call.
That’s what they’re there for.
“That’s where a travel agent can give you some ideas on plans,” Gaston said.