Traveling somewhere for the holidays? Better book now.


If you rent a car, be aware of the “All-Inclusive Tolls” scam

It may only be early October, but people are already putting pressure on travel inventory in both flights and rental cars, and demand is expected to be higher this year because of Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on the weekend. In other words, book now or pay the price!

ConsumerAffairs can’t cut you a good deal, but we have found some interesting insights from travel experts, and if you pay attention to what they have to say, it might work to your advantage.

When to travel

Let’s get this pain point out of the way before we go any further: According to Priceline's data, Friday, December 22nd is set to be one of the busiest travel days of the year so prices – and headaches – will be large and in charge. 

According to KAYAK’s data, you’d be smart to book domestic flights for the Christmastime holidays about 61 days in advance to snag a good deal (mid-October). For Thanksgiving, you don’t have 61 days of leeway, so you better do it ASAP. There are still some good deals that ConsumerAffairs found on Google Flights – like Cincinnati to Phoenix – for $175, but you have to leave on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and come back a week later.

KAYAK’s best time to travel planner suggests that if you do the Cincinnati - Phoenix trip for Christmas, you might be better off going on December 19th and returning on Christmas Day.  

If you’ve got enough holiday bravado to make international stops for a holiday celebration, Priceline told ConsumerAffairs that unique destinations like Montreal and Budapest top its most affordable and most popular international getaways.

At $901 round trip, international holiday flights are around $100 dollars cheaper than last year. Plus, returning from your international travel between December 26th and 29th can help you save 25% on airfare, all while avoiding the busiest return day, December 31st.

What airports to avoid

Holiday weather is always a problem – either coming or going – and AirHelp did some homework on what airports have the highest percentage of flight disruptions. Topping the list are two in Florida: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) with 42.63% of flights disrupted; and Orlando International Airport (MCO) with 42.11% of flights disrupted.

“Flying to Florida, the West Coast is the best coast,” a spokesperson for AirHelp said. “Every airport along Florida’s east coast experienced issues with nearly 40% of their flights. Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) are more reliable options. RSW is right next to Naples and only a 2-hour drive from Miami, the airport delivered 70% of its flights on time this summer. ECP, right next to the beach and only 2 hours from Tallahassee, delivered 73.76% of its flights on time, without disruption.”

But if you’re headed to Tampa or thereabouts, AirHelp says that Sarasota/Bradenton Int’l Airport (SRQ) is more reliable and less than an hour’s drive away from the city center. Compared to Tampa International (the nation’s 10th worst airport this summer) SRQ delivered 73.84% of its flights on time.

Next in line are:

  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): 39.19% of flights were disrupted. Use LaGuardia instead, AirHelp’s analysts said.

  • Baltimore/Wash International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI): 39.10% of flights disrupted  

  • Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW): 36.28% of flights disrupted

  • Denver International Airport (DEN): 35.02% of flights disrupted

  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS): 34.6% of flights disrupted

  • Harry Reid International Airport (LAS): 34.26% of flights disrupted

  • Miami International Airport (MIA): 34.23% of flights disrupted

  • Tampa International Airport (TPA): 33.2% of flights disrupted

Road trippin’

Elie Michaels, vice president of Operations at Advantage Rental Car, told ConsumerAffairs that booking a rental car comes down to dates just like air travel does. When it comes to deals, he said there are two steps he’d recommend: book early and shop around.

“Travelers will find the best deal by planning ahead and looking at a variety of different rental car companies. Price fluctuates depending on the number of passengers, time of year, length of road trip, luggage, and reason for travel,” were his suggestions.

He said that – depending on the time of year – there are deals to be had on vehicle rentals. “Slow periods in between holidays will likely be the cheapest time to book a rental car,” he noted.

“Searching more broadly can also help” Ludwig Schoenack, co-founder at Kyte, suggests. “For instance, getting your car in a city rather than at an airport can often save money and be more convenient. Prices are high where demand is high. The summer is the most expensive time to rent a car in most cities in the U.S., and this is especially true in tourist destinations around holiday weekends and around major events. We encourage booking your trip to land outside of those times and during the week.”

We asked Schoenack if car rental agencies offer discounts – either in-app or online – and he said that no matter who you rent with, it’s worth asking them if they offer any “early bird” specials. The worst thing they can say is “no,” right?

'Oh, I didn’t know about those fees'

The fight toward getting rid of legit – or not-so-legit – fees isn’t over, but those fees haven’t been kicked to the curb completely.

Airbnb is still trying to fight the good fight on the accommodations side, and on the car rental side, Michaels confirms that there are still fees there, too. He notes that before you click “book” or sign your name, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of the company you’re planning to rent a car with to ensure there are no surprise fees at the end.

“By doing this, you’ll be able to plan out how much to spend as it’s disclosed ahead of renting the car,” he said.

Here's one not-so-nice thing about car rentals that you should know. about. It is “All-Inclusive Tolls,” a new rental car company scam that could cost you $140 per week. Gary Leff of “View From the Wing” said that toll tracking is one of the more annoying fees that rental car companies impose. Leff names names and suggests how you can get around this ugliness, here.

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