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Best Trip-Planning Tips

Planning a Family Vacation

Jason Lee

Any traveler who is familiar with the phrase “blackout date,” paid for a cab fare that’s almost as expensive as an airline ticket, or searched for a hotel deal online knows that making travel plans can be difficult and expensive.

So Travel + Leisure took a look at the current travel landscape to suss out where you’ll find ease and value in the months ahead. We considered everything, from airline fees to loyalty programs to three-star hotels and villa rentals, and came up with 12 essential tips for trip planning all year long.

Not only did we pack these 12 tips with money-saving ideas, field-tested resources, and industry secrets, we also did our research. For airline loyalty programs, for example—a subject typically riddled with dead ends and loopholes, recently aggravated by the disjointed economy—we read through the most recent fine print to find out which plans are the most accessible, flexible, and rewarding for you. On the cost side, hidden hotel and airline fees can end a trip on an unhappy note (who likes unexpected credit card charges?), but—with a few pointers—they can be easily avoided.

While 2009 was a rough year for the travel industry, there is a silver lining: deals, deals, and more deals. Cruises, hotels, and outfitters are not only discounting, they’re also adding extras into packages for singles, couples, and families. Even previous luxuries like business class airline fares are up for grabs: in one field test on farecompare.com, we found that prices for business class flights from New York, Miami, Chicago, and Atlanta had dropped as much as 55 percent from a year ago.

The same is true for hotel rooms. Hotels.com reports that rates in New York and Las Vegas are down an astounding 30 percent, while in European cities they’ve dropped an average of 16 percent. And with fewer people booking hotels for company travel, business hotels have entered the leisure market, offering great incentives for vacationers. Want to rent a villa instead? HomeAway.com, which has a database of more than 185,000 vacation rentals, notes that property owners are including extras like a personal chef or free cleaning services to encourage bookings.

And while it seems like globetrotters have to keep a firm finger on travel industry buzz to get great deals and avoid travel mishaps, it turns out that industry leaders are also keeping track of them. Have a trip-planning problem with Disney, Marriott, JetBlue, or Hyatt? Sign on to Twitter; all those companies have accounts to respond to questions or problems almost immediately.

A trip starts from the moment you block off those vacation days, so get started on the right foot. Read on for relevant and informative trip-planning tips and tricks.

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