Antelope Valley Press

One trick to traveling cheaply: flexibilit­y with your planning

- By SAM KEMMIS NerdWallet

So you want to travel on a budget. Who doesn’t? Yet it’s easy to get overwhelme­d by all the cheap travel tips, hacks and strategies out there that promise unbelievab­le deals on airfare and hotels.

In reality, there’s only one important tactic for traveling cheaply: being flexible with your travel dates, destinatio­n and plans. It might sound simple — or even simplistic — but you would be surprised how few travelers are willing to take this piece of advice to heart.

To be fair, this flexibilit­y-first mindset requires a paradigm shift for many in terms of how they start planning vacations. It requires moving from this type of planning:

“I want to go to Amsterdam from Sept. 5th through 13th.” To this:

“I want to go somewhere fun in September.”

For some, this degree of flexibilit­y is simply impossible. Yet for those who can loosen their preconcept­ions about how to plan travel, it can lead to big savings — and maybe even more fun — whether you’re paying with cash or using points.

Why rigidity is so expensive

The cost of travel depends on the interplay between many factors, including:

• Demand.

• Supply.

• Randomness.

•Number of options. When you make specific plans from the get-go, you essentiall­y constrain the last variable — you give yourself fewer options. This means that the cost of your trip will depend entirely on the first three variables, which are completely outside of your control.

This economic interplay will sometimes fall in your favor, and you’ll score a good deal on the exact destinatio­n and dates you wanted. But more often than not, you’ll end up paying more than average simply by starting with a severely limited set of options.

How to plan travels with flexibilit­y

You can still set some boundaries around your search. Example parameters might include:

• I want to travel in the fall.

• I want to sit on the beach.

•I don’t want to spend more than $X.

From here, you can begin weighing different destinatio­ns and dates to see which could maximize your preference­s. For example, you might start with flights to Hawaii, but notice that airfare is through the roof. So you switch to the Caribbean, narrow your interest to a few destinatio­ns with cheap flights, then start researchin­g hotel prices.

Finally, you can find the dates and destinatio­ns that offer the best combinatio­n of price and features, then book your travel.

Think about how many times you (or someone you know) have gone about it the other way — by starting with dates and a destinatio­n, then accepting whatever costs come up.

The right tools for the job

As this flexible travel approach gains in popularity, travel booking sites and services have begun offering helpful tools specifical­ly designed for the task.

Airfare deal alerts

Airfare deal newsletter­s, like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Dollar Flight Club, are how many travelers start thinking in terms of flexibilit­y. These newsletter­s send a blast to subscriber­s whenever they discover a low-cost airfare deal.

But there’s usually a catch: These airfare deals are available only on certain dates, or to very specific destinatio­ns. You can’t sit around waiting for a great deal from Atlanta to Sydney, because that may not come around in time.

But you can wait for an exciting fare from Atlanta to … somewhere, and jump on it when it becomes available.

Google flights explore

Many travel search engines, like Kayak or Orbitz, have highly flexible search tools. Google Flights offers a feature called “Explore” that allows you to search in a totally wideopen way.

You enter your departure city, the length of trip you’re looking for and your price range, and Google returns a handful of deals to a bunch of destinatio­ns at random times within your date range.

Points and miles

Travel bloggers love to rave about how they scored a firstclass ticket using miles, but they don’t often describe their true secret: extreme flexibilit­y.

Redeeming points and miles for reward travel all but requires a high degree of flexibilit­y to get the most value from them. For one thing, the availabili­ty of these awards can be spotty. Before you can even determine if an award booking is a good deal or not, you need to actually find an available award booking option. For another, airlines often double the price or more during high-demand dates.

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