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Find Good Travel Deals Even in a Bum Economy

By Neil Bartlett

If you're like most Americans, you're thinking about ways to cut back on expenses-and vacations often are first on the chopping block. An early 2009 USA Today Gallup Poll revealed that nearly three of five Americans who normally take a vacation say they'll either shrink their 2009 vacation spending or not go at all.

But along with the tough economy comes travel opportunity. While finding good deals is a challenge, with a little research and flexibility there are good travel bargains to be had-if you have the money to spend.

Consumer advantage

Thanks to cutbacks due to the economy, business travel is slumping. And that means travel operators are doing more to lure consumers to fly and stay with them. Hotels especially are vulnerable, as their inventory grows because properties, planned several years ago and now built, need to be filled.

Hotel and motel managers are working to place vacation travelers in their rooms. "Everybody's trying to do something to entice you to do business with them," says Tim Leffel, Nashville, Tenn., travel expert and author of "The World's Cheapest Destinations." "No matter where you're heading, you can probably find a bargain."

Flexibility is key

In today's travel environment, if you're flexible, you'll do better. "There's no reason why you need to plan more than two or three weeks out to get a decent deal," says Leffel. "Sometimes waiting until the last minute will give you the best deal of all. It depends on supply and demand." For example, if going to a popular vacation destination is fun for you, plan well in advance. But generally, you can coast a bit. "Most places aren't packed at any time of the year," Leffel says.

Searching for bargains

With the Internet making travel information available at your fingertips, you're in control. "It's pretty easy to set things up to your preferences," says Leffel. "There's no need to spend hours surfing and trying to find things. Let notices come to you." Travel search sites are becoming more sophisticated and more powerful. In February 2009, for example, TripAdvisor.com launched a search engine that pulls flight and fare data from multiple airlines and online travel agencies. Sites such as Airfarewatchdog.com, Travelocity.com, lastminute.com, and hotwire.com post deals for last minute bookings. And if one main airline serves your airport, subscribe to its e-mail newsletter for specials.

With the increased use of the internet in searching for vacations comes the necessity of having a credit card, debit card or pre-paid card. Normally, you can search online for free, but when you are ready to purchase a plane ticket or reserve a hotel room, card information is required. Visit your credit union to learn more about what options they have.

According to the Travel Industry of America, more than 75% of all travelers now use the Internet for their travel planning. Before, you may have gone to a travel agent or local supermarket. Talk to your credit union to find out if they have the services of a travel agent.

Closer to home

With the economic crunch, travelers are taking more "celebration vacations"-a long weekend or a few days close to home to mark an anniversary or other family event, notes Marti Mayne of BedandBreakfast.com, Austin, Texas. If you're planning to vacation closer to home, Leffel advises that you head to your local library for a state travel guide. You'll also find specific guides if you like to hike or bike, for example. State tourism Web sites can provide lots of vacation tips, too.

And closest to home of all is your credit union. It offers tools and services-credit and debit cards, savings plans and loans-that can make your vacation a hit no matter your destination.

Published 09/13/2010



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