A step-by-step guide to finding the best airfares and air/land travel packages for those long weekend getaways your family has been dreaming about.
If it’s Thursday afternoon and I’m promising my son’s teacher he’ll be back in class on Tuesday, most everyone assumes we’re going to a country house. Only our close and disbelieving friends know we’re off again on some crazy weekend adventure. Once it was Los Angeles (Tower, $99 RT), another time Lisbon (TWA, $198 RT), last year Madrid (Continental, $333 RT).
“I can’t help it”, I protest. Any chance to see a new place, try an untried adventure, exchange currency for a few days, and I’ll do it. Afterwards, I’m a refreshed, revitalized soul. And my family? My husband is an intrepid film producer and prides himself on going anywhere, anytime. Our son is a resilient 6-year-old, as curious in kindergarten as in real life, an only child who loves being in the company of adults, a kid who thinks airline food is really cool.
We’re not alone. Life is getting so short that 55% of all travelers polled recently by The New York Times said they prefer 2-3 day vacations! Although it’s only been a decade since the birth of Internet weekend getaway fares, some of you may flashback to the days of People’s Express or the era when TWA sold fixed-duration discount flights from several hubs. Now it’s back to the future, from online E-bookings to travel clubs.
How to Find a Great Airfare
To FTF’s most frequently-asked question, we answer Internet, travel agents, and the print media. Dangling in front of me are Internet offers such as Baltimore-Copenhagen, including two night’s hotel for $398; Dallas-Lima, Peru for $335; Boston-London for $279; Pittsburgh-Frankfurt, Germany for $299. Such bargain “weekend” fares are common, but most deals are published and expire the same week, most depart only from major hubs, few are ever available on appealing international routes, and even fewer exist when you try to book them.
Always check your travel agent first for all-inclusive, off-season package deals. To North Americans, off-season means Western and Eastern Europe in the January-April winter doldrums, the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii in the sultry May-October hurricane season, Asia in the unpredictable February-June low-business season.
If you live near an airline’s “hub” city, chances are that print media will be your best source of great last minute fares, if not packages. Grab the morning paper, some coffee, and 1) Be quick. Have your credit card handy and be ready with a datebook; these deals move incredibly fast. 2) Be thorough. Scour the travel section of your local newspaper; search small ads, contests, auctions, consolidators, tour operators. 3) Be adventurous. East coast residents usually find Europe and the Caribbean, west coasters encounter Mexico, Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. Recently, both coasts and Internet users were offered Hong Kong for two for 5N/6D including hotel, on Cathay Pacific ($999). It sold out in four days. 4) Be bold. Newspaper ads often feature start-up airlines, foreign carriers, or domestic airlines beginning a new service. They usually offer a variety of dates, often a variety of popular destinations, and most will honor the standard discounted international fare for children 12 years and under (67% of adult fare). These deals are your best bet. If you don’t use the non-refundable tickets, you can always get a “refund” by canceling your dates, accepting a travel voucher on the same airline, and paying a $50-$100 surcharge for “changing” your reservations to a later date. 5) Be flexible and you may get lucky.
Define Your Style: The Details
Size up your family and decide: Taxi or bus to the airport? Museums, public festivals or West End theatre tickets? Palatial digs or a few cots and a shower? Key to the short-term visitor are comfort, access, and location. If a luxurious hotel is your idea of a fine vacation, go for it. Use that bargain airfare as a magic carpet to another lifestyle.
Prepare Your Family
Anticipation is another one of the pleasures of travel, so as soon as we’ve “captured” a great airfare, local research begins. If you have time, call the appropriate tourist office to request brochures so you can review pictures and maps of the destination with your children. If it’s last minute, the older kids can borrow a travel guide from the public library, or surf the Net for information on current events of interest. Don’t skip this step; children of any age will accept change much more readily if they know what’s coming.
Learn about the lifestyle/meal times/siestas at your destination and plan accordingly. Then you can decide whether to avoid or embrace jet lag. What we’ve found most effective is to avoid “turning around” as much as possible on shorter getaways. Infants and toddlers don’t need to suffer from jet lag; if you have a stroller or a child carrier in order to sightsee, it will provide a cozy place to nap whenever your child desires. We have found that if you’re desperately trying to keep a child awake, a cool bath often works. Be sure to ask housekeeping to clear the minibar so you can stock snacks (airline breakfasts of juice, yoghurt, cereal, muffins are perfect) for hungry kids who awake in the middle of the night.
And last, but most important, keep it light. Pack lightly. Lighten up on house rules, manners, diets. Lighten that psychic load. You’re on vacation!
Please note: the fares mentioned in this story are dated, but using some of these tips it is still possible to get great rates!
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