How to Find the Best Travel Deals on the Internet
Although we travel quite a bit, I can’t remember the last time we used a travel agent to book our flights or make travel arrangements on our behalf. With the help of the Internet and social media, we prefer to do our own research and book with travel websites that have a good reputation in the industry.
But, as the travel industry continues to evolve and rely heavily on the internet, consumers are now faced with the task of searching through hundreds of travel sites and booking engines in order to find a good deal.
Every traveler wants to find a great travel deal, but the search process can be confusing and intimidating. To help simplify the madness, we turn to Chris Myden, the man behind Ydeals.com, a travel deal community for Canadians.
Searching for the Best Travel Deals online – 5 Questions with Chris Myden
Before we get started, please introduce yourself and tell us about your recent travels
Thanks Cam! My name is Chris Myden, and I’m from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
My last two trips were to Taiwan and Belize, and I loved them both! Taiwan because it felt a little more off the beaten path than other countries in Asia, and surprised me with the amount of natural beauty once you got outside of Taipei. Thanks to growing up with ‘Made in Taiwan’ stickers on everything, I think I had preconceptions of it as being very industrialized and not full of awesome mountain ranges, deep gorges, and beautiful beaches.
I also really liked Belize. Being such a small country you can cover most of the country in 10 days! I loved the world class diving and snorkeling, and the Mayan history.
Q1. You spend a lot of time searching the Internet for the best travel deals. What are your 5 favourite websites and why?
- Kayak.com – the best for searching airfares from the major airlines. Prices are always after taxes/fees. Amazing amount of filtering and sorting options and it uses the 3 day flexible date search (convenient). The ‘Dream Maps’ are also a great tool (enter your origin and see where the best deal in the world is)
- Matrix.itasoftware.com – the site that is least likely to be known by the public, but yet I think it’s the most powerful search tool out there. Google paid $700 million to acquire it last year for a reason. It’s the power behind the largest booking sites out there, so you can’t actually book your ticket through ITA, but whatever you discover on the website can be found on Orbitz or Kayak (two of the giants they power). The most useful feature is being able to view airfares one month at a time, and also searching multiple destinations at once
- Farecompare.com – it’s gone downhill lately, but it’s still useful. You can sign up for alerts that cover large regions and it has ‘Getaway Maps’ that show you prices of destinations around the world
- Vayama.ca – offers airfares from consolidators that are often not always covered by other search engines
- Otalo.com – I’ll throw this one into the mix because finding cheap accommodations is the other half of the battle. I came across this site not too long ago, and I don’t think it’s well known yet. It’s harvesting the data from all the large vacation rental sites (VRBO, AirBNB, HomeAway, etc) and making it searchable and sortable, which I think is a very interesting idea.
Q2. Sometimes deals really are “too good to be true”. What are some things people should watch out for when searching for the best deals online?
I think the ‘too good to be true’ deals usually fall into two categories:
- Sites that really are scams – Crappy sites that nobody has heard of, the ones that are offering sketchy timeshares, etc. If the site looks like garbage and nobody has heard of it, use common sense and do further research.
- Legitimate sites that…
— Show one price, but when you actually try to book the price mysteriously increases. Consumers usually see this as ‘bait & switch’ and get mad (“I knew it was too good to be true!”), but it’s actually more of a technical issue. Legitimate sites often cache its prices (they have to, due to the enormous amount of data involved in travel) and when it retrieves the ‘live’ price during the booking process it can sometimes be different from the cached price. You need to make sure you’re a few steps into the booking process to be sure you’re dealing with the ‘live’ price and not the cached price. Unfortunately, what gets displayed on the front page of most sites are the cached prices.
— Show prices that are before taxes & fees – $99 flights to Europe! Whoops did we forget to mention the $700 in taxes & fees?! Hopefully this nonsense will soon be a thing of a past. The U.S. and Europe already have laws forcing the travel industry to only advertise total prices, and Canada will have similar laws by December of 2012. Air Canada has already started displaying ‘all inclusive’ pricing.
People should make sure they are dealing with a legitimate site and make sure to look at the total price after taxes & fees (the only price that really matters). I’ve taken advantage of many incredible travel deals that seem “too good to be true”, so they do exist. I once scored a flight from Calgary to Spain for $97 round-trip!
Q3. With the summer vacation season fast approaching, are you seeing any interesting travel trends or destinations that are offering great deals?
After the dreaded Christmas period (Dec 20 to Jan 7), summer is certainly the least likely period for great travel deals. Everyone has time off. Kids are on vacation. The weather is nice in Europe. Everyone wants to travel and demand is up significantly. Prices will react accordingly.
I’ve noticed Sunwing has been offering some decently priced summer flights to Europe (out of Toronto), but mostly in June.
Condor Airlines (out of Calgary, Vancouver, Halifax) had some good summer deals last year to various European destinations that they fly to. This year, they’ve had some great deals for May and early June, but I haven’t seen anything too interesting for July/August yet.
Air Transat’s flights to Europe are always ones to keep an eye on (since the major airlines *never* drop for summer flights anymore), but they usually don’t start discounting heavily until 2-6 weeks before departure.
A lot of people think that warmer destinations down south might have bargains in the summer, but ironically the deals are usually worse than in winter, as there are less charter flights. So the supply side of the equation is lower.
July/August are probably the two months I travel the least. Most destinations become overpriced and overcrowded, and some have a good chance of receiving bad weather (specifically the Caribbean and Central America). It’s also the one time of year when the weather is actually decent here in Canada!
Q4. A lot of people wait to book flights and hotels because they think a better price will be offered in the future, only to find out that prices have gone up and they missed out on what would have been a good deal.
Would you recommend travel sites that feature “Price Drop Protection”? Is there a better solution?
I can’t say I’ve ever actually taken advantage of ‘Price Drop Protection’ (it seems to be the latest marketing tactic, especially from sites offering packages from Canadian tour operators). It’s something they started doing this year, and I’d love to learn more about it before I can give an accurate opinion.
I know with other similar offerings from sites like Orbitz, your chance of actually getting money back were practically nil. It had to be the exact same flight, same fare class (which can change) and someone else had to book this *exact* same itinerary through Orbitz as well, for you to have a chance of actually getting a refund.
I think with margins in the travel industry being so low, I would bank on not getting any money back once you’ve committed to buying at a certain price. Certainly, the travel sites offering such things must be banking on people not actually calling them on it. It will be interesting to see if it lasts. I’ve seen plenty of threads on forums with people complaining about ‘Price Drop Protection’ being a scam and having issues with actually getting a refund.
I don’t think there’s a perfect solution. Travel prices are like the stock market, once you commit to purchasing at a certain price, or an airline or tour operator commits to selling at a certain price, that should be the end of the transaction. I certainly wouldn’t expect RIM to reimburse me when the stock I bought drops $20/share, and conversely, I don’t think people would like it if an airline asked for more money after committing to a price when the price of their flight goes up.
Q5. Everyone wants to find the best travel deal, but sometimes the endless list of travel sites can be intimidating. Can you offer some helpful tips to simply the search process?
This could easily be a whole article by itself! In fact, it’s a topic a plan to write about soon.
In general, I find that the #1 reason most people waste so much time searching for deals or finding the travel world so intimidating is because they confuse brands with products.
There are thousands of brands (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc) trying to sell you what amounts to relatively few products. For every destination there are *always* only a handful of unique products and prices. The key is learning what those handful of products are, so you don’t waste hours and hours searching sites offering redundant prices. The brands will never admit that they are simply brands – they want you to confuse them with the products.
This is something I want to help people with, but it’s difficult to give suggestions for narrowing down one’s search (with all of the details involved in a specific search) in just a few paragraphs.
A piece of general advice is to be aware of the products you’ve already searched and what sites offer the same products you’ve already reviewed. This way you don’t waste your time looking at the same prices over and over again.
Thanks to Chris Myden for sharing his perspective on finding the best travel deals online. Chris runs www.Ydeals.com, a travel deal community for Canadians, as well as a network of blogs that showcase his favorite travel deals from each Canadian city.
You can follow his websites & blogs: Vancouver – http://www.YVRdeals.com, Calgary – http://www.YYCdeals.com, Toronto – http://www.YYZdeals.com, etc. If you know your city’s airport code, you can probably guess the website address!
Follow on Twitter: Visit http://www.ydeals.com/twitter and select your city.