While everyone can agree they love a vacation, not everyone can say the same about vacation planning. Yes, it’s exciting to peruse through frame-worthy photos of exotic locations and explore their surrounding activities. However, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of researching prices, booking a reservation, and coordinating transportation, the elation seems to diminish.
A solid planning strategy can make all the difference between taking an unforgettable vacation and missing out on your hard-earned vacation days. US Travel reports that in 2018 Americans accumulated 768 million total unused vacation days. In fact, nearly 25% of those who identify as ‘non-planners’ report not taking a vacation or trip in the last two years. It’s not all bad news, though. Individuals who identify as ‘planners’ travel a full week more than their non-planning counterparts and more than half of them have taken a trip in the last six months!
So how do you work hard and play hard? We connected with a few of our favorite travel experts to compile some of their favorite vacation planning hacks to maximize your PTO in 2020.
Flexible Travel Dates for the Win
In theory, taking a vacation during the holidays sounds like a great time. In reality, it can mean long travel wait times, crowded destinations, and suffering from the “I need a vacation from my vacation” syndrome. Instead of booking your trip during peak travel times, consider being a bit flexible and traveling the week before or after the holidays. Rates will be cheaper, you’ll run into fewer crowds, and you’ll have more flexibility to push for upgrades and other special perks. Resorts in popular destinations like Curacao’s Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort plan to sell out during the holidays and anticipate a slump in booking right before and after them. If you’re flexible with your dates, you can benefit by staying at resorts that are prepared for their busiest week of the year while enjoying the privacy and exclusivity of a boutique hotel.
— Leo Sorcher, Embark Beyond Travel | Instagram @leoandbeyond
Hotels Love When You Book Direct
Ever wonder why hotels encourage you to book directly on their website? The answer is simple—it’s more profitable. Why does this matter to you? Well, you can actually take advantage of this boost in profits via exclusive perks that hotels offer to guests who book direct. For example, Marenas Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, offers guests a welcome amenity and room upgrade, while Miami’s art deco-inspired Cardozo South Beach offers their guests a complimentary bottle of wine, early check-in, and late check-out. Hotels often extend these same types of benefits to select member-oriented travel partners, including American Express and Expedia VIP, and preferred travel advisors from Virtuoso, Signature, and Ensemble agencies.
— Suya Davenport, Corporate Director of Leisure Sales, Benchmark, A Global Hospitality Company
Book Now, Plan Later
If you’re looking to plan a vacation but not quite ready to pull the trigger yet, go ahead and book your hotel room anyways. Most hotels have flexible cancellation policies and won’t even charge your credit card at the time of booking. By booking early, you’ll likely get a better price and save your space during peak travel times like Spring Break while giving yourself time to figure out your plans. Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa, a celebrity-owned boutique hotel on Florida’s east coast, is a popular destination that commonly sells out, especially between December and April. To snag an exclusive spot while you lock down your travel itinerary, book early, and take advantage of their flexible cancellation policy that ranges from 72-hours to 7-days.
Pro-Tip: Set a reminder on your calendar based on the hotel’s cancellation policy, so you don’t get dinged if your plans change.
— Leo Sorcher, Embark Beyond Travel | Instagram @leoandbeyond
Game the System to Find the Cheapest Flights
Despite all the modern technologies we’ve seen emerge in the past few decades, airline systems are one of those things that still seem to exist in an archaic world where the customer experience is left in the dust. Let’s say you and your family of four are planning a spring break getaway to Florida. You’ve booked a week-long stay at the Grand Plaza Hotel, but still need to book your flights to Tampa. There are two seats left at the lowest fare, but if you search flights for four people, online travel aggregators like Expedia and Travelocity will only show you only the lowest fare that has four seats available together, and you’ll miss out on saving money.
Four-Seats @ $318 per person = $1,272
Two-Seats @ $259 + Two-Seats @ $318 = $1,154
Savings Missed = $118
The Hack: Start your search with the total number in your group. Then go back and research the a la carte options to compare. By doing a little bit of backtracking, you might be able to save enough money to cover your tab at Jimmy B’s Beach Bar!
— Brett Snyder, President of Cranky Concierge | Twitter @crankyconcierge
Your Trip is Planned, Now Plan to be Prepared
When it comes to travel planning, hope for the best but plan for the worst. Having a plan b in place will give you peace of mind and avoid a vacation nightmare. Always take two copies of ID, like a driver’s license and passport, and pack them in different places. That way, if one gets stolen, you’ll still have your backup available. In the same vein, carry an extra change of clothes in your carry on in case your checked bag gets lost. Streamline your travel day by checking into your flight the day before, pre-paying for checked bags, and filling out your Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check information in advance. As a golden rule, a smile and “thank you” goes a long way. Showing kindness and appreciation towards the airline staff is not only good manners, but it also might earn you speedier service or even an upgrade.
— Diana Castillo, Owner of Integra Travel Group | Instagram @integratravel
Hacks in Action
Now that you’ve armed yourself with some secrets from travel industry experts, you can successfully hack your way through planning your next vacation. Ready to pack your bags? Learn how to make Packing into an Art – with 5 Pro Tips to Pack a Masterpiece. And be sure to Mark Your Calendar and Start Planning for National Plan for Vacation Day on Tuesday, January 28th. Find out everything you need to know on the U.S. Travel Association website.