By Chris Gurtenschneider
Minneapolis – Traveling in 2022 presents a dilemma. Most of us yearn for far-flung adventures after a tight-knit quarantine. But that pent-up demand has been met with inflated prices on just about everything, especially gas. Airlines, airports, hotels and car rental companies are often understaffed, underserved and overbooked.
“Everything’s so weird right now,” said Linda Snyder, vice president of travel at AAA Minneapolis. “But it’s not impossible.”
A little extra searching, planning and – especially important right now – panning 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. “Of course, we always thought that was a smart option, but especially now,” says Amy Barrett, communications manager for Explore Minnesota. As airfare and gas prices soar, Barrett’s team is emphasizing itineraries for single-tank road trips. Minnesota and other Midwestern states have beautiful campgrounds, hiking trails, and paved bike paths.
Start with your airfare. “Before you book anything else or ask for specific days off, always look at the airfare first because right now you really don’t know what you’re going to get,” advises Kyle Potter of Minneapolis-based website and newsletter ThriftyTraveler. com. He strongly recommends using the Google Flights search engine to find good travel dates where flights can be $200 to $300 cheaper in one day or week than another. “That could put some people over budget even before they get there, especially families.”
Avoid rush hours. Summer is over, but weekends and certain busy weeks can get expensive in the fall and winter. “Late October and early November is a great time slot,” she adds, highlighting Mexican and Caribbean destinations. Flying during the week is also a great way to save money – and that goes for not flying too. Referring to Minnesota’s in-demand North Shore resorts, Barrett says, “If you can travel Sunday through Thursday, you can still find good deals.”
Vacation rentals now more than ever. Besides the fact that you often pay more for less with many hotel chains, there is another important reason to look for privately owned houses or apartments with favorable reviews on Airbnb, VRBO and other rental portals: the food has also become more expensive. “If you’re not a foodie and don’t plan on eating out a lot, think about how much money you can save if you get a place with a kitchen that you can cook in,” says Snyder. Vacation rentals often make sense for larger families or groups across multiple hotel rooms — as long as everyone gets along.
Europe is a (relatively) good business. As the euro falls to almost the same level as the US dollar (about a 12% decline), your money can go much further across the Atlantic. “A nice dinner in Paris might cost you $70 now instead of $100, which adds up over a week,” says Potter. Some US travelers are still concerned about COVID restrictions, but things are wide open, at least at the time of publication.
Get off the beaten track. “Instead of Italy or Ireland, you might want to look at Portugal or Switzerland for better airfare,” says Snyder. Potter points to South Africa and Iceland as good travel deals in recent months. For destinations on that continent, he suggests looking everywhere for low cost airlines like Sun Country, Spirit, Frontier and now Allegiant fly. “Even if you never fly on one of these airlines, they lower the fares of the other airlines,” says Potter.
Use those miles and points. Hey, at least your higher credit card bills can add up to more airline miles. Minneapolis-based frequent travelers John Eichten and Colleen O’Dell saved enough miles in one year on their Chase Sapphire Visa to pay for a ticket to London last summer. “Essentially we saved $1,450,” enthuses John, who has also redeemed Marriott Bonvoy points for a four-star hotel in the typically expensive Tower of London area.
Public transit isn’t just for locals and Rick Steves. Rental car prices have also gone through the roof. Using trains and buses can save you $100-$200 a day, especially in Europe and major American cities. Eichten says of her trip around England, “Gasoline is very expensive there, but train, bus and tube prices haven’t changed.” For those who insist on their own wheels, Potter points to the universal search engine Auto Slash to find rental deals, and on carsharing sites/apps like Turo (think Airbnb for vehicles).
Get your sea legs: By far the best travel deals right now are cruises. Cruise lines have been hit hard by COVID and are desperate to bring customers back with high offers while strictly adhering to COVID testing and vaccination requirements. “Of course, this has to be based on your comfort level,” says Snyder, “but if you’ve ever thought about going on a cruise, now is the time to do it.”
Plan ahead for the next year. yes, already While fuel and other travel costs have fallen slightly since mid-summer, travel experts agree things aren’t going to settle down any time soon. If you book in advance you can avoid the inflated costs next summer. “Look for things that are fully refundable or almost refundable,” advises Potter. This is also a good tip for Minnesota destinations: “Many resorts are already filling up for next summer,” says Barrett.
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