Are too many discounts and deals adding stress to travel?


These days travelers have never had a wider choice of ways to get deals. On flights, hotels, cruises, rental cars … you name it — deals are everywhere. Plus, there are more sites and apps than most people could have imagined offering discounts. Some provide discounts way in advance and some at the last minute. So it would seem to be a golden age for bargain hunters.

But, it is not. What’s the problem?

Maybe too many deals are just making us stressed and unhappy. An old joke from the time of original airline deregulation had a flight attendant saying, “Fasten your seat belt, review the safety card and don’t discuss your fare with the person sitting next to you.” But now, it’s not just the flights, but the whole travel experience that has bargains, discounts and gotchas.

Since part of travel, especially leisure travel, is the anticipation of a trip, it should be fun. Except that when travelers are constantly seeing emails and online ads for specials, it’s easy to start fretting, “Did I pay too much? Should I start looking for something better?”

Like many travel agents, I’ll recheck cruise prices for a client before final payment, and often hotels, especially higher-priced rooms booked way in advance. And yes, sometimes the price has gone down. Although more often than not, it is more expensive.

Sometimes, too, clients will notice an advertisement or get an email and ask me to double check, which I’m happy to do. But in that case, the most common result is that the special is either not available for their dates or, in the case of several hotel chains, it’s a completely nonrefundable, nonchangeable rate. Or, there’s the dreaded, “For new bookings only.” (And alas, with computers these days, they can check. I did get a hotel, once, to waive the “new bookings only” rule. But, only once.)

We agents are not immune. My husband and I decided to try an Azamara cruise in May when we saw an offer including free shore excursions. It seemed like a good deal and we were happy with the price. Then a few weeks later in our office, we got a message from our sales representative of an even better deal — a $1,000 cabin credit. I immediately checked. Nope, while it applied to most spring sailings, it didn’t include our cruise.

Then my husband, presumably as a member of parent company Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program, got a similar email. Once again, I double checked — no deal for our sailing. Ours was still too full to qualify. By the time I saw the NEXT offer, a double upgrade, it was past the final payment deadline. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t apply; it didn’t. But each time there was the “Did we book too early — should I try to change it?” moment.

(A side note here, too: sometimes cruises, for example, can be rebooked. But after final payment, when cancellation means usually a significant penalty, even a good deal usually isn’t worth it.)

In addition, again using the cruise example, at the same time of year some cruises are sold out with a long waiting list, while others end up with last-minute discounts. This only adds to traveler’s angst and leaves them wondering that maybe for a lot less money they should have booked something else.

I’m not saying that it’s not worth double-checking a price as you get closer, either with an app, your own online work or a travel agent. But at some point, maybe it’s time to relax and make the priority less getting the best deal on a vacation and more on actually enjoying the vacation. Because, just maybe, the “best price” might be the one you stop worrying about.

  • Carchar

    I always book hotel rooms that can be refunded until close to stay-time. As the travel date draws near, I check to see whether my room has gone down in price. If it has, I book the new rate, then cancel the old one.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Janice, brava! If people spent half the time enjoying themselves that they do worrying about what deal the other guy got, the world would be a happier place.

  • MeanMeosh

    I totally agree that people shouldn’t worry about whether they paid too much or not, and focus instead on actually enjoying the vacation they’ve booked. I got burned back in 2008 on an exchange rate difference when booking a trip to Australia for New Year’s. We booked prepaid rooms in March (didn’t want to take a chance during such a high demand time), and the Australian dollar crashed in September after Lehman Brothers, meaning we’d paid about 30% too much. Truth be told, though, we didn’t even think about it. We had a splendid time enjoying Christmas in the Outback and fireworks over Sydney Harbour on NYE. It would have been really dumb to let a few hundred bucks ruin all that, something people really should keep in mind.

    These days, for something like airfare or a cruise, or anything that needs to be prepaid, once I find a price I like and decide to book it, I don’t even bother checking the price again afterwards. If the price at the time I booked was good enough for me, it’s still good enough later. And besides, I’d rather be spending time worrying about better things, like what I want to see on my vacation! The only exceptions I make to this rule are for hotels and rental cars that are fully changeable. Like Carchar, I will usually check those a couple of weeks before leaving to see if the price has gone down. If it has, I simply cancel and rebook at the lower rate.