Haven’t booked yet? Last-minute tips for saving on holiday travel

WASHINGTON — The best time to book holiday travel? Well, it’s come and gone. But CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg told WTOP on Monday that “all hope is not lost” and shared some tips on how to make the best deal possible in the time you have left.

While the prime window for low holiday travel fares has closed, Greenberg said, the good news is that airfares overall are down 24 to 33 percent from the same time last year — so even expensive fares are not as bad as they could be.

With Christmas being on a Tuesday, many people are taking the whole week off, and traveling on the Friday or Saturday before Christmas, Greenberg said, which leaves the Sunday before Christmas as a good bet to get a decent fare. The same principle of dodging the most popular days holds true for your return trip as well — most people will be coming back on the Sunday after Christmas, so “some back on the following Saturday and you may have a better shot at getting a good fare.”

You may want to skip the Christmas travel and take off for a New Year’s getaway instead, especially since, Greenberg said, a lot of decent fares are available, especially outside the U.S.

Fewer people are visiting the U.S. from other countries, thanks to “the optics involved … perceiving many of the Trump administration’s policies as America being closed or unwelcoming or inhospitable,” Greenberg said.

Those flights that foreign visitors would be taking to their home countries translate to empty flights to Europe and other locations, he said: “I’m seeing airfares to Paris for $500. You can’t even do the Washington shuttle sometimes for $500.” Other prime locations for cheap fares include Lisbon, Malta, Dubrovnik and Thailand.

In some of those destinations, the American dollar is remarkably strong, meaning travelers won’t have to spend a whole lot of money once they arrive. Greenberg cited Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a prime example, saying that the U.S. dollar buys seven times what it would have eight weeks ago.

‘Pick up the phone’

Greenberg repeated some of his favorite advice for all travel, not just during the holidays: Don’t rely on online bookings.

“People who book online do it because it’s convenient; it’s expedient; they can do it at 3 o’clock in the morning; they don’t have to talk to anybody, God forbid. And that’s where they get into trouble.”

Only about 52 percent of the available inventory of seats is online, Greenberg said: “It’s only what the travel providers want to display.”

Research fares online, Greenberg advised, but then “pick up the phone and call the airline, or the hotel, or the cruise line, yourself. Because the inventory that they’re looking at on their screen than the inventory you’re looking at on your screen.”

Greenberg added that traveling on New Year’s Day or Jan. 2 is generally not a good idea, though he pointed out one bright side: “There are a lot of no-shows” on New Year’s Day, he said — “I can’t [imagine] why.”

If you have a ticket for later in the day on New Year’s and you’re willing to take a chance on going standby on an earlier flight, he said, ”You have a reasonably good chance of owning the plane.”

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