A rush to book early

August 03, 2008|By Michelle Higgins | Michelle Higgins,New York Times

It may seem early to book for Presidents Week.

But whether prompted by rising airfares or the specter of fewer available flights, tour operators say travelers have been booking unusually early this year.

"We've already booked a large number of our guests for '09," said Edward Piegza, president of Classic Journeys, an adventure travel company based in La Jolla, Calif. Just last month, he said, a family of 18 booked a Costa Rica trip for a year-end vacation - in 2009. "That's 18 months in advance," he pointed out.

Spotting an opportunity, tour operators are rushing the release of their 2009 brochures and prices particularly early this year to capture early-bird reservations - along with deposits. At this time last year, Classic Journeys hadn't posted any of its 2008 itineraries or prices. This year, the company already has posted roughly two-thirds of its 2009 tours online, about three or four months earlier than usual. Similarly, Country Walkers, which normally releases its rates for the following year no earlier than August, made its 2009 rates available online in May.

For the first time in its 61 years of operating, Trafalgar Tours, the large escorted-tour operator, has printed a 2009 Europe and Britain Summer Preview brochure well in advance of its main 2009 "Europe & Britain" brochure, scheduled for release in October. It also published its off-season brochure for European departures from November 2008 to April 2009 several months in advance.

The early releases offer travelers a bigger window to nab Trafalgar's early-bird discounts of 10 percent for first-time bookers.

Travelers who book well in advance can often dodge surcharges that tour operators may add later. In January, for example, Group Voyagers, the parent company of Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways, added a surcharge of about 5 percent to many of its European tours.

Early bookers, who had reserved tours and plunked down deposits before the charge was implemented, were protected from the fee.

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