What about this summer? Will a weakening demand lead to lower prices and thinner crowds? It's not looking likely, according to travel experts. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Given inflation, a bank crisis and fears of recession, it may come as little surprise that the high cost of travel remains the primary factor influencing Americans’ vacation choices this year, in line with findings from last autumn. Sixty percent of US travelers say inflation will impact their decision to travel in the next six months, according to a March 1 survey from the market research consultancy Longwoods International. That’s up from 52 per cent in a poll earlier in February.

The good news is that beating travel’s stratospheric prices this year isn’t an entirely hopeless endeavor. There are ways to soften the blow - if you can show some flexibility and stay in the know. From destinations enticing tourists back with giveaways and airlines offering promotional fares on new routes, here are the best ways to prevent sky-high costs from putting a damper on your big travel plans this year.

Go where the dollar is strongest

The days of US dollar-to-Euro parity may be over, but there are plenty of destinations where the American currency continues to dominate, a result of steep inflation in those economies. Take Turkey ($1 gets 19 Turkish lira at press time), where tourism dollars are welcome after a devastating series of earthquakes. (It’s worth noting that the devastation was not near major tourism hubs.) South Africa ($1 to 18 South African rand), Argentina ($1 to 200 pesos) and New Zealand ($1 to $1.6 NZ$) are also good choices, says Jack Ezon, founder of boutique travel firm Embark Beyond.

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In Latin America and the Caribbean, Peru, Colombia and the Dominican Republic are solid bets for favorable currency rates; you may even find deals on airfare to some of these destinations, especially if overall tourism demand has not yet reached fever pitch.

Skip the big cities and sights

If you’re eyeing Europe this summer, you’ll want to avoid the bucket-list cities that tourists hit en masse. “Stay away from Rome,” says Ezon, and fly into Madrid, Budapest, Berlin or Zurich, which are tertiary cities that aren’t seeing comparable levels of demand. “Right now there’s still opportunity to snag air under $3,000 in business class to those destinations, whereas last year they may have gone for $10,000 apiece because everyone was so frantic.”

Portugal in particular remains one of the best values on the continent, period. Not only can you get great coastal vistas and city escapes on the mainland, but its outlying islands, such as Madeira, offer an adventurous and peaceful alternative to more crowded islands in the Mediterranean.

Even in popular countries, picking a lesser-known spot can bring super savings. Consider Ischia, Italy, where you can stay in a duplex pool suite at the seafront San Montano resort for $2,500 per night - less than the current going rate for a 200-square-foot, entry level room at the JK Place Capri. “It’s Capri but without the name-brand label,” Ezon says.

Wherever you go, consider routing through London Heathrow. Business demand hasn’t returned to normal levels, and Heathrow has lost its status as a major gateway into the EU since the UK exited the European Union. That’s brought opportunity for better business-class airfare deals.

Look for destination incentives

In an effort to boost tourism recovery and beat the competition, a number of destinations are coming up with traveler incentives. Take Hong Kong: After blows to its tourism economy over the past three years, the destination announced on February 1 that it is giving away 500,000 air tickets through Cathay Pacific. The giveaway, set to run six months as part of Hong Kong’s reopening campaign, will kick off for US travelers at the beginning in May; keep your eyes peeled on the Hong Kong International Airport website - and act fast!

In Antigua and Barbuda, Elite Island Resorts”-which includes the luxurious Galley Bay Resort & Spa and St. James’s Club & Villas”-will give out a $500 air credit to those who visit during the island’s inaugural restaurant week May 7-21, though you’d have to book by March 31.

If you’ve got a safari in mind, such African destinations as Zambia and Malawi have lifted visa requirements for many tourists since the start of 2023.

Waived visa fees can add up to significant savings; a family of four from the US might see a few hundred dollars come off their bills, particularly if their itinerary crosses various borders.

Jump on new flight routes

Do flight prices make your eyes glaze? Aim for an early bird discount by looking for promotional fares on new routes. For instance, Jetblue Airways’ New York to Paris flight, which will launch on June 29, currently has fares starting at $479, 60 per cent less than other major airlines are charging; the airline’s New York - La Guardia Bermuda route will similarly kick off on May 5 with round-trip fares starting at $488. (Direct flights on United and American, respectively, can cost from $600 to $800.)

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Believe it or not, you can also uncover the odd airfare sale, even in 2023.

Boutique airline La Compagnie, whose aircraft contain only business-class seats, will be reintroducing a summer Newark - Nice route; for a limited time, it is offering a promotional rate of $2,550. (Compare that to $5,000 for a business-class seat on United or Delta.) Sign up for La Compagnie’s deals newsletter for tips on similar offers.

Others are anticipated to drop at any moment. “Alitalia is adding a half-dozen more flights in more destinations by summer, which will lead to more inventory,” says Paul Tumpowsky, founder and CEO of travel advisory Skylark. Any time there’s a jolt in supply, he explains, the spike in competition forces prices to taper across the board - with or without explicit promotional offers.

Embrace shoulder seasons and hotel openings

A tried-and-true tip has become even more valuable this year: Take your summer trip in the fall. “You can save around 20 per cent by booking on the fringes of summer in the Med,” says Embark Beyond’s Ezon. “You’re not paying the inflated rates; you’re paying what you would have in 2019, which is around 40 per cent less than in peak season.” Bonus: You’ll also enjoy less stifling weather.

“Fringes of summer” doesn’t mean exactly what it used to, though. The ramp-up and ramp-down periods from peak season, referred to in the industry as “shoulder season,” no longer occur in May and September. Demand has been so high during those typically half-full months that classic Mediterranean destinations are pushing the boundaries of when they open and shut. Previously, you wouldn’t find a soul in the Greek islands on Easter or Thanksgiving breaks, for instance, but that’s changing as weather stays warmer for longer and demand continues to soar.

Take Amanzoe in swanky Porto Heli, Greece. This year it plans to open from early April until the end of November; rates next month start at $1,400, while peak August dates command starting prices of $4,000. By late fall, when temperatures will average around 60F, rates will dip back down to $1,000 - a savings of 75 per cent.

An additional strategy: Just as airlines lure passengers with promo fares on new routes, new luxury hotels in dreamy locations underprice rooms when opening their doors. It’s a way to drum up demand and determine how much they should charge in the future.

Take a look at new inventory in places you’re interested in visiting, such as Avani + Fares Maldives Resort ($463 a night for a sea view studio) and Ikos Odisia in Greece ($366 per person per night, all-inclusive). These deals are sometimes even greater when booked with points. The faux currency lets hotels obscure discounts”-and for longer than advertising a nightly room rate in hard currency would allow.

Stay longer for deals

The persistence of hybrid work makes it easier to carve out time for slightly longer trips, and hotels hope to take advantage. By incentivizing longer stays, they can avert the maligned midweek slump in occupancy rates and offer passive discounts that don’t reduce the average daily rate or cheapen the hotel’s reputation. (Discounting rates at top hotels is sort of like discounting HermAs bags; luxury companies would rather destroy good product than imperil their identity.)

“Prices have gone way through the roof in the last year,” explains Skylark’s Tumpowsky. “And at the same time, hundreds of new hotels have come online. We’re talking tens of thousands of rooms, all fighting for a customer base that has not grown to that same degree.” He is seeing incentivization across the board. “Right now we have a list with hundreds of these that we’re referring to internally,” he says, adding that the deals change week by week.

Some of the longer-lasting deals on Tumpowsky’s radar include third nights free at Esperanza, an Auberge resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, the Carlyle in New York and Malibu Beach Inn in California. (Most of these are available through the rest of the year.) He also cites fourth-night free promotions at Four Seasons Ocean Club, in the Bahamas (which throws in a free airport transfer), and $200 in resort credits per person at Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands. Some of those deals, he clarifies, are available only to travel agents”-a good reminder of why it can be beneficial to use an adviser.

Use travel tech tools

Context is everything, and it’s hard to know what a good deal even looks like today. It makes sense to arm yourself with help from AI. Both Google and Hopper have tools that use both predictive technology and historic pricing to determine whether hotel and airfare prices on offer are low, average or high. When in doubt, check what their algorithms say.

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Click on the “What You’ll Pay” tab in a Google Hotels search, which shows average prices for your dates and desired star rating.

You can find them on Google Flights by scrolling down after you’ve chosen a pair of flights”-look for a small horizontal graph with traffic light color coding. Or click on the “What You’ll Pay” tab in a Google Hotels search, which shows average prices for your dates and desired star rating.

On Hopper, look for similar red, yellow and green indicators on the calendar; they’ll help you know just how much you’re set to overpay or underpay based just on your desired dates. The app also tells you when to jump on the current price so you won’t waste time hedging; according to Hopper - and the personal experiences of these Bloomberg reporters”-its predictions are 95 per cent accurate.