The struggling economy isn’t stopping many people from planning vacations, but they are looking for bargains and sticking a little closer to home.
That’s according to AAA Arizona and area travel agents. The automobile club forecasts a year of frugal travelers and smart planning as consumers are more cautious with their money.
“People are a little tighter to the pocket right now,” said Brian Korgel, AAA Arizona international travel agent. “They’re still planning on traveling, but they’re waiting a little while before they make their reservations. One other trend is people are really looking at value when it comes to travel right now.”
Some people who originally wanted to go to South America or Europe are now choosing closer destinations like Mexico, he said.
“Mexico is a destination that we may see a rebound in,” Korgel said. “When it comes to all-inclusive trips down there, we’ve been seeing some pretty solid air rates and really it gives you a lot of value because heading down there, all of your water activities, all of your meals, your carbonated and alcoholic drinks, already are included within your price.”
Felice Freed, owner of Pepper Travel in Mesa, said there’s bargains out there, but travelers need to plan early to take advantage of them.
“Cruises are some of the best bargains out there,” she said. “There are bargains, but you’re not going to necessarily find them at certain times of the year when travel is at its peak: March, April and summer.”
Freed said she’s noticed fewer travelers are choosing Europe, and instead are planning to travel domestically, or go on Mexican, Caribbean and Alaskan cruises.
“Mexico is still popular, Cancun and Cabo San Lucas,” she said. “People are looking for the all-inclusive (vacation package) if they can get it when they’re doing Mexico or the cruises because all your food and drinks are included.”
Another way families are looking to save money is by driving instead of flying to their vacation destination, Korgel said.
“We’re seeing more road trips this year, and a big example of that is Disneyland,” he said. “You can load everybody up in the car and drive, and Disney has some very competitive rates this year.”
The earlier you book, the better because there’s more time to take advantage of promotions and save more money, said Pamela Stewart, owner of East Valley-based Stewart Travel.
“With cruises in particular, if you double-check periodically to see if there’s been any other promotions between the time you booked and the time you’re actually going before you pay your final payment, they will adjust the price to the current promotional price with no penalties,” she said. “I know it’s hard for some people to do, but (planning) at least six months in advance is definitely better.”
Typically, booking requires making a deposit of $100 to $500, and then making payments in the weeks and months leading up to the trip, Stewart said. If you need to cancel a trip because of a job loss or other economic hardship, most cruise lines will refund your deposit with no penalties, she said.