10 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking Your Vacation Online
Become your very own travel agent and start planning trips like a pro using these online booking tips and strategies.
Mistake #1: Not Making The Most of TripAdvisor.com
Tripadvisor.com is a wealth of user-generated reviews and candid trip photos, but if you limit your perusing to positive reviews only, you’re overlooking a crucial resource: the “stealth-positive” feedback.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: “I research using the negative reviews as much as the positive ones. You can determine the resort’s vibe by reading quotes from people who’ve rated it Poor or Terrible. I knew I’d found the right resort for us when I read people complaining about the lack of a swim-up pool bar, no kids’ club, and no nightclub,” says Amanda Eaton, of Toronto.
Eaton recently booked a getaway to St. Lucia with her husband and three kids, and was pleased with the quiet, low-key resort they chose – one several disappointed party people had rated Poor on TripAdvisor.
Mistake #2: Believing Everything Travel Writers Say
Here’s a dirty little secret: contemporary travel writing wouldn’t exist, were it not for the “press trip” or “familiarization trip.” That’s where a resort, resort chain, visitors and convention bureau, or other entity with a vested interest, hosts travel writers at their destination, picking up the travel, accommodation, activities and meal costs.
Chuck Thompson’s Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer offers a hilarious exposé on this subject.
While sponsored trips are necessary – most magazines and websites don’t pay writers well enough to cover trip expenses – do be aware why a specific resort is featured in a story.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Use magazine articles as preliminary research- not booking guides. Research competing accommodations. Resort Y may be just as wonderful and better priced – only lacking Resort X’s PR and marketing budget.
Mistake #3: Booking a “Tenative” Hotel Room Through a Third-Party Website
“If you might need to cancel or change your [hotel] reservation, do not book with a third party website like Priceline.ca – you won’t get your money back” if your plans change, says Tom Waithe, Director of Pacific Northwest Operations for Kimpton Hotels.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Only book through third-party sites when you’re 100% positive of your dates – or if you’re buying trip-cancellation insurance. For tentative reservations, contact the hotel directly, noting potential cancellation penalties when you book.
Mistake #4: Thinking a “Sell-Off” Room is the Same As a Regular Room
Although third-party sites like Hotels.com and the last-minute section of Expedia.ca can offer amazing deals, these are NOT the most desirable rooms. “You will not likely be in the penthouse or on the club floor – last-sell rooms mean least-desirable rooms,” says Waithe. Think: sub-optimal view, close to the elevator, low floor.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: There’s no need to avoid this “mistake” if a small crash pad and extra spending money trump splurging on a luxe room. But if you want to try your luck, see if you can use a great third-party rate as leverage with a hotel. “Call the hotel, and say ‘Hi, I saw a rate of XXX on a web site, would you honour the same rate over the phone?” says Waithe. It doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t hurt, either.
Mistake #5: Not Considering a Travel Agent
“Travel agents often have insight into possibilities and best practices when visiting a specific destination: how much time to spend in one place versus another, how long it takes to travel between two locations, for instance. They also have access to discounts through their relationships and partnerships that simply aren’t available online,” says Jennifer Raezer, of ApproachGuides.com, a series of downloadable guidebooks.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Consult a travel agent for ambitious or complicated trips, like your first backpacking trip across Central America, or your whirlwind around-the-world jaunt. (Don’t sweat it for a one-week resort trip to Cuba, though.)
Mistake #6: Not Hiring a Tour Guide
Exploring a foreign city can be overwhelming, even without a language barrier. But throw that into the mix – along with other factors including, a tight timeline, urban sprawl, confusing public transit, in some communities, potential crime – and going it alone can be less-than efficient.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Hire a tour guide, or join a group tour. You don’t have to sign on for a multi-day commitment, just try a half-day tour to get the lay of the land. The best tours are ones geared to your interests, say, an architectural tour of Tel Aviv, or a culinary tour of New York City’s Chinatown. In certain historic sites, or rugged conservation sites, there may even be local regulations stipulating a guide is necessary. Get recommendations from your hotel.
Mistake #7: Booking an Airline Ticket in the Wrong Name
Don’t book an airline ticket in the name “Julia Haisley Smith,” if the name on your passport is “Julia Haisley McDowell Smith,” says Erin G. McKeon, a travel adviser with 125-year-old travel agency Brownell Travel. You may think it’s not a big deal, but – surprise! – it is!
HOW TO CORRECT THIS MISTAKE: After the fact, “work with your travel adviser to determine if the airline change fees are more or less than an expedited passport correction. A travel adviser can often handle passport changes for updates – or expired passports - within 48 hours,” says McKeon.
You can also tackle these changes on your own, if you have the time. Expect to play phone tag with the airline if you’re revising your ticket, or to spend a few hours at the passport office, if revising the passport.
Mistake #8: Not Buying Third-Party Trip Insurance
Online vacation sellers make it easy to add insurance onto your vacation – but is it the type of coverage you need? Think before you check that opt-in box, suggests DamianTysdal, founder of online insurance comparison site TravelInsuranceReview.net. “Booking sites use simplified language like ‘Protect your investment in case you need to cancel.’ This doesn’t clarify that there are specific covered reasons for cancellation, such as illness of a child, death in the family, or a burglarized home. If you simply decide not to go, or the weather looks bad for your vacation week, these are not covered reasons,” he says.
HOW TO CORRECT THIS MISTAKE: “If you’ve already opted in and want to cancel, you may be able to if you are within the ‘Free Look” period. This is a time frame in which you are able to cancel travel insurance – every reputable insurance company offers between 10 and 15 days to cancel,” says Tysdal.
Next, investigate third-party insurance options using comparison sites like Squaremouth.com. Choose a package that covers medical emergencies, evacuation, lost baggage, and 24/7 worldwide assistance, in addition to trip cancellation, advises Tysdal.
Mistake #9: Not Tracking Your Ticket Price After You’ve Booked
Many US airlines, including Delta, United, American and U.S. Airways, offer rebate vouchers if the price of your flight falls after you’ve booked. Jump on these rebates and you could shave hundreds off your next trip, says Jeff Pecor, a Washington-based frequent traveller.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Sign on with an online fare-tracking service. “There’s a free website called Yapta.com that will track the price of your booked flights. Simply enter your itinerary information and purchase price, and it will automatically track your flight and alert you via email when you’re eligible to be credited by your airline,” says Pecor.
The great thing about Yapta is it only notifies you if the savings go above and beyond your airline’s rebooking fee (since you’ll have to cancel and rebook in order to get the rebate). “Yapta only alerts you when there’s savings on the table,” says Pecor.
Mistake #10: Not Checking the Expiration Date of Your Passport
Think you can squeeze in one more trip before renewing your soon-to-expire passport? Think again. Many foreign-entry requirements stipulate your passport not expire for three, even six months, after the date you plan to depart from the country you’re visiting.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Visit Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada for country-by-country travel reports including entry and exit requirements. If necessary, renew your passport prior to booking your trip (use your new passport number when booking). Bookmark the Foreign Affairs and International Trade site, because it’s also invaluable for its updated travel alerts and warnings, and online Registration of Canadians Abroad service in case you need diplomatic assistance during an emergency such as an earth quake or civil unrest.