Posted Nov 24, 2006 12:35 pm CST
Laura Powell Nationally recognized travel expert Laura Powell has written about travel for more than 15 years and created the TravelGuide television show for CNN.
Candice S. Cook
POSITION Senior director of legal affairs, 320 Sports Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. AGE 27 GOAL to find an affordable way to take last minute vacations
Candice S. Cook loves to travel. She’s not so much concerned about where she goes, just as long as she stays on the go. So far, she’s trekked through much of Asia, the Caribbean and the Americas.
But life as a young lawyer has had an interesting effect on Cook’s globetrotting tendencies. She is now in a position to afford to travel more often, yet she has less time to plan and take her adventures.
Since she started practicing law four years ago, Cook says she’s found herself canceling more vacations than she’s been able to take. “When you are dealing with high pressure litigation, it’s much more difficult because you become very client focused,” says Cook. “I always felt guilty about leaving because there was always something going on. And if you are at a successful firm, there is always something going on.”
Lately, Cook’s work obligations have limited her to the occasional weekend jaunt to attend an out of town wedding or family gathering. But that’s hardly enough to satisfy her wanderlust.
And even though Cook has recently changed jobs and moved to a new city, she still does not see her schedule lightening up enough to allow her to make and keep travel plans made months in advance. “My frustration came in trying to plan trips,” she says. Travel agencies were urging her to book six months out when her situation, she says, allowed for only a fraction of that time.
Cook would love to be able to plan a trip on a few weeks’ notice or even less, leaving on a Thursday or a Friday and returning four or five days later. She has tried to find some last minute travel packages by looking on the most common travel Web sites. But she’s been either uninspired by the usual offerings of trips to tourist traps or floored by the prices attached to more interesting destinations.
“It would be great to go but not have to pay $3,000 instead of the $600 I would have paid but can’t because I cannot plan six months in advance,” she says. “Is there an affordable alternative to make those plans on shorter notice? Then I’d get the best of both worlds without having to compromise.”
A good question, says CNN TravelGuide creator Laura Powell and one that can be answered in the affirmative. But Powell cautions that Cook might have to do a little legwork to take the kind of short notice trips she wants at the price she wants to pay. Because Cook prefers destinations that aren’t tourist traps, she may find that assembling her own vacation package is her best option. And finding deals should be even easier since her recent relocation to New York City has put her near three major airports, says Powell.
The first thing Powell wants Cook to do is register for weekly airline e mail alerts offering last minute airfare deals. The offers typically require leaving on a Friday or Saturday and returning on a Monday or Tuesday. Alternatively, she can go directly to airline Web sites and look for last minute deals that also are searchable by departure and destination cities. “Also be aware that deals, both domestic and international, are posted for the immediate weekend and the following weekend,” Powell notes.
Cook also can find help through her frequent flier and credit card mileage programs. While it’s more difficult to book a flight with the standard mileage award on short notice, it can be downright easy to find a seat on a flight if she is willing to cough up more frequent flier points. “But be aware that many airlines have recently instituted a fee for booking frequent flier seats less than 14 days out,” Powell cautions. Still, given the rising cost of air travel, a small fee is a pittance compared to full fares on airlines, she adds.
Finding lodging on short notice also is not as hard as Cook may suspect, says Powell. If Cook is willing to be adventurous, she may be able to find the best rates by simply walking into a hotel where she wants to stay on the same day. Hotels with same day vacancies sometimes offer their cheapest rates to walk ins. But that is risky, and even if she’s successful, she may not be able to stay in that hotel beyond the bargained for night. Calling directly to a hotel and avoiding central reservation systems also may provide cheaper room rates the closer to the time of travel, says Powell. But Cook’s best bet may be to use a hotel’s frequent guest program. Many big hotel chains now offer these programs, which are kissing cousins to frequent flier programs. If Cook accumulates enough points, she can stay for free or take advantage of other members only offers that give greatly reduced rates for rooms booked on short notice, says Powell.
While Cook tends to shy away from opaque travel sites like Priceline.com, Powell wants her to reconsider them. According to Powell, some of these sites allow users to be extremely specific about areas they want to stay in, thereby reducing the odds of being in a less than desirable spot.
If Cook does not want to be her own travel agent, all is not lost. There are several ways to find last minute vacation packages to a variety of destinations, and the Internet makes it easy.
Powell says there are several lesser known Web sites that cater to the last minute traveler, including Site59, which specializes in packaging trips on one week’s notice. Cook also can bid on last minute trips through Luxury Link, which offers discounts to travelers with flexible schedules. For cruises, she suggests CruiseCompete.
Resorts needing to fill excess capacity also offer deals to the last minute traveler. Some even offer deeply discounted packages if the traveler is willing to let the resort pick the destination. Go directly to the resort’s Web site and look for last minute travel packages, says Powell. Finally, don’t overlook the services offered by credit card companies. Many vie for the business of professionals like Cook by offering free concierge services that include booking travel for cardholders. So don’t be afraid to ask, she says. You never know where it might take you.