December or no, things aren’t always roses and sunshine in the world of a no-budget traveler. Being human (and not just a blogging robot), even an “expert” is also bound to make mistakes. After the jump, I share three recent travel planning misadventures and the lessons learned from each. Share your own budget travel blunders in the comments.
- MISTAKE #1: Missing the early ticketing for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics
I’ve set attending an Olympic games as a travel goal and decided to shoot for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In order to keep on top of developments, I signed up for all the email notification lists. Two months ago it came: an email announcing the pre-sales of game tickets. They even diligently reminded me when there was just one week left to hurry and make my request. It took a few hours to sort through the schedule day by day and ticket price by ticket price to figure out which events I would like to attend at what cost. On the last day, I had my schedule ready to go and went to the website to order — only to discover that all the announcements (and prices) I had been receiving were for Canadian citizens only. The rest of us were supposed to order tickets from the licensed ticketing agent for our countries . . . and wouldn’t you know it, the U.S. agent had closed their purchase time using EST, not PST like Vancouver. I missed the U.S. deadline by an hour! An email inquiry was met with a cold-hearted reply.
> Lesson learned: Carefully read all the details days (not hours) before such a purchase. If you are considering a trip to the Olympic games, remember that tickets and packages are sold solely by the licensed agent in your geographic region and plan accordingly.
- MISTAKE #2: Buying an airline ticket I couldn’t use
I planned a mid-November trip to Edinburgh, but had to cancel for personal and medical reasons. Luckily, I had booked during a RyanAir “free flights” sale, so the loss on the round-trip ticket was just 10.02 euros.
> Lesson learned: If you’re uncertain about your travel plans, pretend you’re in Vegas: don’t pay out more than you’d be upset losing. With tickets priced so low, I am more disappointed about the missed travel opportunity than I am about the cost.
- MISTAKE #3: Buying an airline ticket months early to save money
Normally holiday air tickets are outrageously expensive, especially the narrower the difference between purchase and departure. I booked a round-trip ticket back to the U.S. months in advance during a fall “sale,” spending $970 (less a 25 euro voucher). In August and September, airlines were adding fees left and right and there seemed to be no end to the fuel price spiral. At this same time last year, tickets for Christmas/New Year’s travel were going for $1200-1500. However, the strengthening of the dollar, the drop in fuel prices and the financial crisis with its subsequent tightening of purse strings have the airlines apparently clamboring for passengers. While tickets on the same itinerary I booked are now going for $1080 (+$110), other equally good flights are available on the same days for as low as $860 (-$110)! These tickets are just over two weeks away!
What is more, a change in personal circumstances means I could depart a week earlier, when a fare on the same itinerary is $955 (-$15) and on other similar itineraries for $885 (-$85). This is on a ticket purchased just 9 days before departure!
As if this weren’t bad enough — it is not possible for me to either standby on earlier flights nor to pay a change fee and take the same flights a week earlier, as the conditions of my ticket (and all tickets on either of these days) do not allow any changes whatsoever. After two moot phone calls to Northwest to discuss the situation, I went searching my favorite airline insider sites and found Airfare Watchdog had a good rundown of the “reasons” why my T-code ticket ain’t getting me anywhere. Phooey!
> Lesson learned: Previous years (and even previous months of the same year) are no sure-fire predictor for future airline prices. On the one hand, I *am* saving money on the same itinerary; on the other hand, I would have been willing to change my routing and flight times to save even more money on the ticket. As always, the airline is the winner.
> Lesson learned: Watch those fare codes and pay better attention to rules! On Northwest, standbys are not allowed on international flights, and they’re only allowed same-day on U.S. flights for a $50 fee. Ticket change fees when possible vary with the type of ticket booked. Once again, airline rules, airline wins.
> Lesson learned: Been saving your money to get to Europe? Right now is apparently a great time to fly! Even on short notice, you will be paying quite reasonable prices for tickets, and with the dollar the best it’s been in five years, everything else is comparatively cheaper as well.
On the sorry state of U.S. air travel:
Tools you can use:
On low-cost European carriers: