A $146-a-day rental> car. More than $300 to stay at the Best Western. And let s not forget the $60 you ll pay just to put two suitcases on the plane. It s back to the future for the travel industry, which is slowly beginning to recover from the recession and raising costs in the process. While many people are still staying home, experts say the economy has forced companies to reduce capacity and get even more sophisticated about managing inventory, opening the door for price hikes. Our tips for keeping your travel budget in check:
Even as the rest of the industry was slashing prices, rental-car rates skyrocketed; the average weekly airport rental rate for a compact car was $335 in 2009, up more than 50 percent over the previous year. What s more, rates may climb as much as another 8 percent this year, says Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group. To save, experts suggest renting at off-airport locations, which are 10 to 20 percent cheaper. For frequent renters, there are also alternatives like car-sharing service Zipcar, which now has cars in more than 65 U.S. cities. The company s occasional driving plan includes a $50 annual fee and daily rates starting at $60.
To survive, airlines have to raise prices, says Rick Seaney, CEO of travel Web site FareCompare.com. Seaney expects steady fare increases and more companies to follow in the footsteps of Delta Air Lines and others that hiked baggage fees this winter. One way to keep fares low is to stick to major airports, where there are still plenty of seats; recently, the average fare from Los Angeles to New York s John F. Kennedy Airport was down 18 percent over the previous year. And as always, travelers with a little give in their schedule can save with the flexible-search option on sites like Bing Travel, which shows the best fares within a one-month window.
While hotel rates have barely budged, occupancy levels are expected to creep up this year, meaning fewer rooms and deals during peak times. Hotels are increasingly keeping their best bargains quiet, says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Forrester Research, turning to what he calls stealth deals. One such option is so-called opaque sites, such as Hotwire.com, which offer discounts to travelers who are willing to commit without knowing their booking details. Many hotels are also trying out flash sales on sites like Jetsetter.com, which offer short-term markdowns.