Early bird gets best rates

Strategies

May 28, 2006|By JANE ENGLE | JANE ENGLE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

This is not the year to get lazy about making summer vacation plans. Airfares, gas, hotel rooms -- nearly every trip expense is going up. Except for occasional last-minute sales, travel experts agree, the sooner you book, the better the deal.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans this year are booking summer trips at least two to three months ahead, according to an online survey of 2,327 adults; 8 percent started more than six months ago. The survey was done April 5-7 by Harris Interactive on behalf of Expedia.com.

Costs are up

As for costs, this summer a family of two adults and two children can expect to spend an average of $261 per day for food and lodging, based on prices at more than 55,000 hotels and restaurants in AAA TourBook guides. Hotels will average $141 per night, up 9 percent from last year.

Some popular destinations will cost more. The most expensive state will be Hawaii, where a family of four will pay $599 per day for food and lodging. The per-day cost in Nevada and New York will be well over $300.

Those totals don't include gas for the car, which as of Wednesday averaged nearly $2.87 per gallon of regular in the U.S., up more than 35 percent over last year, and $2.98 per gallon regular in Maryland, up more than 40 percent, AAA reported.

Costly fuel is hurting the already financially troubled airlines, too. They have responded with fare increases, now approaching the peak of 2000. Business travelers have borne the brunt. The average domestic business fare for the week of April 17 was up 19 percent from last year, versus 5 percent for leisure fares, according to Harrell Associates in New York, which tracks airfares.

Airlines have leverage to raise domestic fares, experts say, because seats are harder to come by. You'll find 4 percent fewer flights and 4.6 percent fewer seats, based on weekly schedules compiled by eSkyGuide, an electronic flight guide.

Internationally, the picture is mixed. You'll find slightly more seats on these flights than last year, according to eSkyGuide. Depending on the route, some fares are up, some down.

How to save

To get the best fares and room rates, reserve well ahead of time and be flexible on travel dates; midweek prices are cheaper.

Packages may save money, too. Be sure to price the hotel and flight separately to make sure you're really getting a deal.

When booking a weekend in a city, consider staying in the financial district, where hotels may drop rates on weekends.

If you're adventurous and flexible about vacation, check out last-minute fares and packages, letting the price determine your destination.

Jane Engle writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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