Tough Times, Great Travels: The Travel Detective's Guide to Hidden Deals, Unadvertised Bargains, and Great Experiences

Tough Times, Great Travels: The Travel Detective's Guide to Hidden Deals, Unadvertised Bargains, and Great Experiences

by Peter Greenberg




Get the best travel deals during the worst of financial times

With airlines cutting service, hotel rates soaring, and one of the most unstable economies this country has seen, the thought of taking a trip might seem out of reach. But in Tough Times, Great Travels, the Travel Detective, Peter Greenberg, lets you in on money-saving secrets like:

-the best day to purchase airline tickets

-car rental companies almost willing to pay you to rent their cars

-the best hour on the best day to book a hotel room

-free activities in 30 cities

-cruise ships that discount cabins on the day of the cruise

-how to redeem airline miles for flights that are supposedly full

-avoiding luggage check-in fees

-places where kids can eat & stay for free

Traveling during an economic meltdown shouldn't result in a personal one for you. With Greenberg's help, you can get packing while the market is crashing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781605296418
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 02/17/2009
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

PETER GREENBERG, travel editor for NBC's Today show, is the preeminent expert on travel and author of The Complete Travel Detective Bible and Don't Go There!, plus several other titles. He is a contributing editor for Men's Health and Best Life and travel editor at large for AARP, and his national weekly radio show is syndicated on 130 stations and XM satellite radio. When he's not traveling, he lives in New York City, Los Angeles, and Bangkok.

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1


IN 2007 AND 2008, there were 45 separate price hikes by airlines, with some fares rising as much as 40 percent.

And then came the summer and fall of 2008. Airlines cut flights, laid off thousands of workers, and, in the process of slashing capacity, slashed prices.

What's the best time to buy airline tickets? Wednesday morning (Tuesday night) when it's 12:01 a.m. in the time zone where the airline's hub is located.

Sound crazy? Here's how it works.

Airlines are still in the business of matching one another, so if one airline raises its fares (or adds a fee or eliminates a service or, these days, lowers its fares), the other airlines usually follow suit.

Airline fare wars usually start on Fridays. An airline announces a fare, a competitor counters with a lower fare, and, by the next day, all of their competitors match it. The going rate then drops more by Sunday night or Monday morning. By Monday night, another airline may jump in and offer an even lower fare to beat the competition, and by Tuesday morning . . . it's over.

Remember, once you book a ticket, you're given a 24-hour hold period to purchase it at that fare. By Tuesday at midnight, the airlines' computers cancel the orders of all the people who booked but didn't buy their tickets by Monday night, and suddenly all those low fares come flooding back into the system for a short period of time. And that's when you £ce. Wait any longer, and the cycle will start all over again on Friday.

Nickel-and-Diming Scheme 1: Saturday-Night Stays

For years, airlines required travelers to stay over on a Saturday night to qualify for discounted airfares; the idea was to gouge business travelers, who tend to travel during the week. This practice pretty much disappeared with the rise of low-cost carriers, but with airlines scrambling to make money, the Saturday-night-stay requirement is back in several markets with American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

Getting Around It

It sounds complicated, but for some travelers, back-to-back ticketing can save significant money. And there is a way to do it that won't piss off the airlines.

Say you have to fly from New York City to San Francisco for a business trip on Monday, April 6, through Thursday, April 9. No Saturday-night stay means you're going to pay through the nose, say $1,200.00.

So, you make that Monday, April 6, reservation from New York to San Francisco, but book the return for 3 weeks later. With the Saturday-night stay, your round-trip ticket will be significantly cheaper, say $400.00. Then you make a second round-trip booking, this time from San Francisco to New York on Thursday, April 9, and returning 2 weeks later.

If you plan it properly, you'll fly from New York to San Francisco using half of one booking and fly back using half of the other. Then you get another trip from New York to San Francisco and back using the remainders of the two round-trip tickets. That's two trips for $800.00 (and double the frequent-flier miles), as opposed to $1,200.00 for one.

Or just stick with budget carriers like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines, and AirTran Airways, which generally don't have Saturday-night-stay requirements and sell one-way tickets.

However, in what is perhaps a reflection of the times, things are changing. I recently looked into flying one-way from Los Angeles to New York. When I priced it on American--an airline that barely markets one-way fares--I was pleasantly shocked to discover that the one-way ticket was priced at an astonishingly low $149.00. And I £ced.

Budget Airlines

If handled properly, budget airlines can be your best friends. But if you don't follow the rules--well, just don't say I didn't warn you.

Budget airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin Atlantic can be credited with lowering airfares across the board. There's even something called the Southwest Effect, a term that was actually coined by the US Department of Transportation to refer to the increase in air travel and drop in rates that took place whenever Southwest entered a new market. Bottom line: Increased competition means lower rates, and we have the budget airlines to thank for it.

Low-cost carriers are also an excellent way to get around cheaply in foreign countries. Traveling in Europe? Fly to London and then get to your destination city on a budget carrier. Two of the best known are Ryanair and EasyJet, but there are dozens of European budget airlines that proliferated in the early 1990s when airlines were first allowed to fly anywhere in the European Union without prior government approval.

Budget carriers have also made their mark in Australia and Asia, so if you can get yourself to a main hub, you have multiple options to choose from.

One big caveat: Travel light. If you show up at a no-frills airline carrying 60 £ds of luggage, you're going to pay for each and every £d over the minimum weight, and it adds up fast. Trust me on this one.

Find out which budget airline goes where at www.which

Tip: Southwest doesn't release its data to travel search engines and aggregator sites like,, and, which means you can't compare it side by side with other airlines.

Secret Flights

Traveling from Vancouver, British Columbia, to New York City? Sure, you could fly Air Canada or United Airlines. But I bet you didn't know you could get there on the Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways--a leading airline that consistently wins awards for its service and comfort.

Welcome to the world of "secret flights": unusual routes flown by foreign airlines that you'd never guess would fly them. Are they really secret? No, they are published, scheduled flights with fares, but they aren't really marketed.

The airlines flying them use the routes as "fifth freedom" flights, meaning that individual countries have given these airlines the right to stop within their borders while en route to and from the airline's base country.

The benefit for you? You're on a nonstop flight that many people are not aware of, meaning fewer passengers and even lower prices--and, if you're on the right airline, much better service.

To fly from New York City to Frankfurt, you could travel nonstop on a United flight that's operated by Lufthansa, or you could travel on the award-winning Singapore Airlines, which stops in Frankfurt on its way to Singapore. Trust me, even in coach this airline beats United by a mile in terms of service, comfort, and food. And guess what? For every flight I compared, a round-trip flight on Singapore Airlines was either cheaper, the same price, or a maximum of $100.00 more than the United flight.

Tip: If you really want to have some fun, log on to It finds fares on several travel search engines simultaneously and shows them in multiple windows on your computer.

Another of my favorite options is to fly nonstop from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to London's Heathrow Airport on Air New Zealand. A quick search on for a sample trip in May even showed that the Air New Zealand flight was the cheapest option! It was at least $200.00 less expensive than flying nonstop on American Airlines, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, or any other carrier. Not only that, but you'll also get to sip New Zealand wines the whole way there, even in coach.

Nickel-and-Diming Scheme 2: Unbundling

The term unbundling, or going a la carte, is just a fancy way of saying that airlines are now charging for everything short of using the bathroom in exchange for (theoretically) lower base fares.

Air Canada is a model for the unbundling system, giving you the option of choosing how many amenities you want included in the price of your ticket. This airline has four fare classes: The highest gets you a refundable ticket, priority check-in, food, and other amenities, while the lowest- priced option buys you only the seat along with the option to pay extra fees for upgrades such as food vouchers, advance seat selection, flight changes, and airport lounge access.

Some examples of unbundling:

* JetBlue charges $7.00 for a blanket-and-pillow kit on flights longer than 2 hours. And you know what? I'm okay with it. When you consider the state of most airline blankets (unwashed), $7.00 doesn't seem like a high price to pay for guaranteed cleanliness.

* Checking bags. See the Luggage chapter for more, but briefly, with American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United charging domestic economy passengers to check their first bag, we're now paying the airlines to lose our luggage! Continental even announced that the $15.00 fee to check that first bag is going to net the airline $100 million a year.

* Delta, Northwest, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Air France, and Singapore Airlines now charge more for exit-row seats. It's a sure-fire way to get more legroom in coach, but at $15.00 to $71.00 each way, I'm not sure it's worth the extra 3 inches.

* US Airways now charges $2.00 for water, juice, and sodas; tea and coffee will cost you $1.00. I'm not a fan, but here's how you can get around it. The airline must provide free water if you need to take medication. So pick up a packet of M&Ms at the airport and explain to the flight attendant that you desperately need to take your medicine. Enjoy the free water.

Then there are the flights from New York's JFK International Airport and Newark Liberty Airport on Jet Airways, which stop in Brussels, Belgium, en route to India. As a way to get to Europe, it's going to be a much better experience--on every level--than flying Delta from JFK or Continental from Newark. And, in most of the cases I checked out, the price on Jet was the same or less than that on Delta or Continental.

These secret flights usually show up on travel search engines like and and on metasearch engines like and Rule of thumb: If you see an airline listed that makes you go "Huh?" chances are, it's a secret flight.

Another handy Web site is, which tracks 660 airlines to tell you which ones fly your preferred route and at what approximate price.

You can also find out which airlines fly where by checking Official Airline Guide (OAG) at Click on Airport Information and select the country, city, and airport to pull up a list of airlines that service it.

Flight Passes

If you're planning to travel extensively throughout a country or region, a flight pass may save you some cash.

The way this works is that instead of standard point-to-point tickets, flight passes allow you to take a limited number of flights within a given period for a flat rate. Flight passes are available from individual airlines, airline alliances, and travel brokers. Take a look at just a few examples of what's out there:

Air Canada has more than 25 passes, which are a series of one-way tickets that you pay for in advance. They cover almost all the destinations that Air Canada flies to in both North America and overseas. The passes usually include 4 to 10 credits (with each credit being valid for a one-way trip, including connecting flights) and are valid for 3 to 12 months, depending on the pass (some offer unlimited travel within a specific time period). Expect to pay between C$640.00 and C$14,000.00 (about $535.00 to $11,000.00) per pass, depending on the cabin class, the region, and the number of credits included.

Air Canada,

Cathay Pacific's All Asia Pass not only gets you to Asia and back, it also lets you wander around 24 cities in nine countries. The pass includes round- trip economy-class travel between the gateway cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York and Hong Kong, then gives you the option of traveling to up to four other "basic" Asian destinations within a 21-day period. Rates for this pass start at $1,499.00 for flights to two destinations on Monday through Wednesday and go up from there to $2,099.00, not including add-ons.

Cathay Pacific,

Nickel-and-Diming Scheme 3: Fuel Surcharges

Airlines went into a flurry of adding fees and surcharges when fuel prices skyrocketed in 2008. That was all well and good when oil cost more than $140.00 a barrel. But the price dropped significantly by September 2008, and we are still paying a fuel surcharge. Why? Virgin Atlantic and British Airways finally dropped them in December, but other airlines haven't followed suit. Stay tuned on this one.

Malaysia Airlines offers the Discover Malaysia Air Pass, which allows you to take up to three flights anywhere in Malaysia (including the provinces on the island of Borneo) within 28 days for a cost starting at $199.00. However, the pass doesn't include the US-to-Malaysia flight, which you must purchase on Malaysia Airlines to qualify for the pass.

Malaysia Airlines,

Qantas Airway's Aussie AirPass is very similar to the All Asia Pass in the sense that it gets you from the United States to Australia and also lets you visit several cities, all for one price. Prices start at $1,199.00 for a flight from Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Honolulu, plus three domestic flights within Australia. Prices go up from there, depending on the season and the zone you fly to.


Don't forget about airline alliances. Both Oneworld and Star Alliance offer multistop and round-the-world options, because you can pretty much fly anywhere in the world on partner airlines.

For example, Oneworld's Visit Europe pass lets you take as many one-way flight segments as you want to within Europe. The segments are priced at a flat rate according to distance, starting at about $85.00 per flight. For example, an itinerary involving London, Vienna, Budapest, Rome, Madrid, and Paris would only cost about â'¬515.00 (about $740.00).

Oneworld's Visit South America option also charges a flat rate based on how many miles you're flying on partner airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, and LAN Airlines (including LAN Chile and LAN Peru). Rates start at $102.00 for a short-haul flight of less than 350 miles and go up to $239.00 for up to 3,500 miles (getting to Easter Island will cost you more).

Star Alliance has 24 partner airlines compared with Oneworld's 10, which means more options--everything from Circle Asia Fare to Africa Airpass to an around-the-world plan. The price depends on how many stops you want to make.


Star Alliance,

Top Airfare-Saving Sites

Airfare Watchdog: My friend George Hobica's site has real people scouring the Internet to find the best deals on the Web.

Yapta: Not only does Yapta track airfares, it also tells you if the price of a ticket you already purchased has dropped. If it has, Yapta will help you get a credit refund for the difference. It recently added a feature that alerts you if a seat opens up on a flight for which you can use your frequent-flier miles.

Farecast: Don't know if you should buy a ticket now or wait until later? Plug in your route and Farecast will let you know if the price is expected to go up or down.

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