At the beggining of every new year my wife and I talk about our travel strategies and wishes for the year. We also end up dividing all our available vacation into something that looks like this:
- 30% of total vacation gets planned for “long term” defined times
- 30% of gets put away friends/family events
- 30% is left alone for any spontenaous ideas or deals that will come up — “short term”
- 10% remains as a buffer for any of the above, emergencies, but usually it just ends up getting lumped to the Christmas vacation
We find the above breakout very useful as it allows us to maintain flexibility but also helps solidify and look for the “big” vacation ideas and deals.
The longer the time frame that you’re typically booking out to, the better the deal. Typically airlines, and even hotels, would rather have empty seats/rooms than give them away at a discount last minute. This not only lowers the brand’s perception but also modifies the customer’s behavior to always wait until the last minute and get a bargain-desparate dump of airline’s inventory. So intstead these guys usually jack up the prices, which tells the customer that they should book ahead of time (good for airlines as they have revenue on the books) and also a lot of business travel is last minute so they know there’s bound to be a business person, whom get’s reimbursed by their company, that will need to get some place last minute and price is no object. So, the best deals are “out” there, literally, and it can be a tedious process to find them all. Thankfully, Google Flights is a very useful, and free, product by Google that pulls this plethora of data and makes it avaialble at your finger tips almost in real time.
My favorirte search in Google Flights is utilizing the Price Graph View, as it allows you to look almost one year in advance in perfect visual comparisson to see where the price of a flight for a specific locaiton is trending.
While I consider the tool very good it’s important to consider that it will pull all flights available, which may not meet your criteria, so keep the following things in mind:
- If traveling with a child consider setting Steps/connections criteria to 0 or 1 maxium
- If you do have to have stops, put a limit on the flight duration
- Check additional fees for budget airlines that have cheepst listed fair vs. alternatives. Often time a “big” airline while costlier upfront may come out even in price if you have to pay for seat selection, carry on luggage and any other fees imposed by the smaller airlines
- If you’re not find a good deal, consider setting “flexible” duration and adjust duration up and down a few days, you’ll be amazing how much of a price difference there could be flying mid week vs. on Friday or over a weekend
- You can’t book flights directly through Google Flights, so make sure you jot down the extact itinerary and then either use the airline directly or your favorite travel website to book the itinerary.
Another great function of Google Flights is that you can actually save all your searches (and if you’re serious about Long-Term vacation planning I strongly suggest you do). Not will this allow you to easily check at different time periods if anything worth while has come up, but you can actually set a notification preference to let you know through email when the fares have dropped into your budget.
The above examples work great if you’re paying out of pocket and utilizing a credit card with cashback awards. If your plan is to get somewhere on frequest flyer miles then pretty much the only option you have is going to the airline’s website and doing a manual search for award travel. People like to complain about the search engines that airlines use, specifically Delta, but I guess because there is no other alternative I actually don’t think it’s that bad.
Below is a search for identical itinerary between Minneapolis and LA for award travel availble through Delta
I strongly prefer searching through the “5 Weeks” outlook view as it allows me to scroll through a full month of availability until almost a year out for a specific destination. Here also, as mentioned above, if we’re doing family travel I will try to select direct flights only, although in some cases direct flights cost almost a 100% premium over a lay-over flight, but depending on your and your baby’s travel comfort that is something that you’ll have to weigh for yourself as you’re deciding.
We’ll discuss the tools and techniques that you can use for “short term” or spontaneous planning in a future post. They’re somewhat different but at as long as you and your family have flexibility you can find some amazing deals.