15 Ways to Save Money on your Ski Vacation: Part I: Vacation Planning

Never before has the concept of saving money when planning a vacation been more important to travelers than now as we approach the 2009-10 ski season. According to the latest results from the travelhorizonsÔ survey and the Ypartnership/Yankelovich, Inc National Travel MONITORÔ, 87% of respondents cite being able to check lowest fares and rates as the most important travel website feature.


So let’s take that a step further and look at ways in which this year’s crop of winter vacation planners can save money on their ski vacation. This will be a 2-part article with 5 tips in Part I focusing on the research phase of the planning process, and 10 tips in Part II next week will highlight “Tips from a Local” (i.e. me) which will be more about how to save money when you’re here, because you’re coming to Winter Park, right?


1.      Meta search the airlines: You may be asking “what the hell does that mean”? Well, you might not know exactly what it means, but you might be doing it already. Meta search is the next generation of search which effectively stacks up all the competition alongside each other, across all websites, and displays results to enable pure comparison shopping. The best example in the airline industry is Kayak.com. Plug in your “from and to” airports, dates of travel, and hit Search. As an example, I searched for flights from Chicago to Denver, for travel on January 9th 2010 returning January 16th (oh, if all stays were that long!). In just a few seconds, no less than 514 results came up starting at $209.00 round-trip on either United or Continental with all manner of permutations for departure and arrival times. Aside from sorting by price, you can sort by airline, duration, (a few dollars more might save an hour or more travel time if there are stopovers), takeoff or landing.


Don’t forget to check out low-cost carriers if they match your airports, and also look into checked bag fees because these can mount up.


2.      Check in Online: BIG TIP – and I’m still amazed at the lines of people that don’t do this – check-in online and print out your boarding passes before you travel. Checking your bags will then be a matter of a few minutes instead of endlessly waiting in line and shuffling your bags along. Depending on who you fly with, you can sometimes save money on the checked bag. I recently traveled to Washington DC with United and saved $5.00 each way by checking my bag online. No big deal you might say, but a family of 4 with 1 bag each, that’s a $40.00 saving which is maybe lunch on mountain.


3.      Look for Packages: This can mean one of two things: packages bundled by online travel companies (such as Expedia, Travelocity, Bookit, Orbitz, etc), which combine flight, lodging and car rental, or lodging and lift ticket packages offered by lodging properties such as ours. The online companies use their own commission and discount structure to build in these savings and some show you the savings you can make as against if you booked the component parts separately.


The lodging and lift ticket packages combine the lodging properties own prevailing specials, which often include free nights or percentage discounts, as well as the lift ticket rates offered to them by the Ski Area, which are substantially less than ticket window prices and better the further out they are booked. Plus you have the convenience of picking up your lift tickets at check-in because the lodging company will order and collect those for you ahead of your arrival.


4.      Early-Season (or late season) deals: Virtually every ski resort will offer their lowest prices from opening day until Christmas or pre-Christmas, and again when Spring Break is over. If your plans are flexible, it will pay to wait to gauge skiing conditions as well as take advantage of last-minute offers, because occupancy levels during these time periods are lower – hence the lower rates.


5.      Kids-free Deals: Almost anywhere you go, kids get to ski and rent equipment either free (if they’re under 5) or cheap (6-14). Skiing for kids 5 and under is free at the Winter Park Ski Area, and at Epic Mountain Sports in Winter Park, kids 11 and under rent free with each full paying adult!

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