MONTREAL - If you've been procrastinating on plans for the family's summer vacation, you're going to need to move fast as rising airfares and packed flights have made it tough to find deals, but there are still a few tricks that could help, experts say.
Ticket prices are up one per cent for travel this summer — and that's on top of last year when they were the highest in eight years, said Rick Seaney, CEO of U.S.-based travel website FareCompare.com.
There are several other factors working against late planners, including a number of mega airline mergers in the United States that have put a damper on price competition.
Airlines have also been cutting seat capacity over the last few years in the face of high fuel prices and a weak economy, leaving the industry with fuller planes and less incentive to offer great deals to customers.
"This summer people are going to be shopping for airfares and getting some sticker shock in certain cases," Seaney said in an interview from Dallas.
But he remained optimistic that strategic planning could still unearth a few good deals.
One approach is to plan your trip outside of peak vacation periods, but considering that summer travel season is upon us, you'll have to be a little more crafty.
Consider flying during the last 10 days in August because fewer families embark on big vacations when the kids are about to return to school, which means airlines begin to offer more discounts.
And be prepared to react quickly to a good ticket price, because often they don't stick around.
The best deals this year are Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Spain, while prices are higher on flights to London, Paris and Rome. Korea and Tokyo are cheaper while Australia offers off-season deals.
Prices within Canada are relatively stable because there's just not enough competition to push prices down too much, said Seaney.
Industry observers don't believe that Air Canada Rouge or WestJet Encore will have much immediate impact on fares because they will each operate just a few aircraft this summer.
For travel to the U.S., consider major cities like Austin and San Antonio which are both trying to boost tourism. Fort Lauderdale is in stiff competition with nearby Miami, which often benefits vacationers. There's also last-minute weekend deals and July 4 sales for those who don't mind being spontaneous.
The key to finding a bargain is to compare offers and be willing to take less convenient flights to save the 10 to 30 per cent premium for non-stop flights.
"It's important that consumers shop multiple channels," said Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc.
He suggests passengers look at airline websites as well as online sites like Expedia, Travelocity and itravel2000 and fare aggregators like kayak.com and Hotwire. Flight Network promises to give consumers a credit for future flights if their current flights drop in price.
Neighbourhood travel agents are a handy source for more complicated travel or where advice is needed about specific hotels or cruises.
Another way is to avoid airlines altogether by taking a road trip or booking with Via Rail for travel in the Quebec City to Windsor corridor. Seats have been going for as little as $22 in economy and $55 in business class.
For those who insist on flying, they can avoid higher taxes by departing from an airport in the United States. The decision can save hundreds of dollars for a family, but travellers should be aware of baggage fees, charges to change flights, and other costs not included in the ticketed price.
Also keep in mind that more than two-thirds of all airline sales occur Monday evening, so the best time to shop is between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday evening when airlines try to match lower fares.
Vacationers can also save by travelling on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.
Sometimes procrastination pays off, however, when it comes to booking hotel rooms, packages or cruises as many companies slash prices to fill space.
A weak European economy has made hotels relatively inexpensive outside the main tourism meccas. An alternative is to rent an apartment or even room through websites such as www.airbnb.com or www.homeaway.ca.
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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Sure, Toronto may seem like a ground zero for a battle between Mayor Rob Ford and the local media but for one week in June, the city and its media shifts its focus on Pride Toronto. For nine days, the city of Toronto becomes a massive celebration of all things LGBTTIQQ2SA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited and Allies). The festival is one of the largest in North American, with <a href="http://www.pridetoronto.com/news/" target="_hplink">an anticipated 1.2 million participants this year</a>. Highlights include the annual parade on June 30, 2013 and the street fair which takes over the city's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, U.S.A.
What's summer without a little camping involved? For those looking for a short weekend excursion, America's national parks may just fit the bill. While there are many National Parks spread across the U.S., <a href="http://www.nps.gov/isro/historyculture/index.htm" target="_hplink">Isle Royale </a>stands out for its kayaking, canoeing and scuba diving. Those looking for a true outdoor wilderness experience won't be disappointed as campers are advised to boil their water in case of tapeworm cysts that are prevalent in the area. Not afraid of a little tape worm? Then be prepared to come across signs of wolf packs, moose and beavers which inhabit the park.
The Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
Summer's abundance of sunshine is great for those working on their tan, but that's not the only thing that benefits from the extra sunlight. Spring and fall may be known for their harvests but there aren't many seasons where travellers can sink their teeth into fresh strawberries, peaches and other summertime fruits. Those who prefer to drink their fruits will want to check out the <a href="http://www.niagarawinefestival.com/page/newvintage_event_details?eid=944" target="_hplink">Niagara New Vintage Festival</a> which offers travellers and wine tasters a chance to experience the terroir of over 14,800 acres of Niagara's vineyards.
There's a lot to like about Iceland. After all, few places offer travellers the experience of waterfalls, natural geysers, volcanoes and glaciers all in one island. June marks a great time to visit the country as just about everything is open to travellers. Those looking to get a good tour of the country will want to complete the <a href="http://www.extremeiceland.is/en/the-golden-circle?gclid=CNe8mYzpwbcCFcc-MgodPigAdA" target="_hplink">Golden Circle Tour </a> which comprises of visits to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the geyser and hot spring area around Geysir. Travellers not exhausted from hiking and exploring can use their remaining energy partying and soaking up the night life of Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city.
Sacsayhuamán, Cuzco, Peru
Travellers with an appreciation for theatrics will want to stop at the stone ruins of Sacsayhuamán, located in the region of Cuzco in Peru on June 24. There, they can transport themselves back 500 years to the when the <a href="http://www.lonelyplanet.com/peru/cuzco-and-the-sacred-valley/cuzco/travel-tips-and-articles/77190" target="_hplink">Incans celebrated a day devoted to Inti, the Peruvian sun god.</a> Back then, the festival required a mass sacrifice of llamas but now things are just re-enacted while spectators just watch in comfort. There's music, dancing, lots of costumes and volunteers who pull all the stops to recreate how their ancestors celebrated, even going as far as performing a faux-sacrifice.
The multi-tasking traveller will want to make a trip to Istanbul in June as the city's warm, sunny weather, rich history and culture make for an unforgettable destination. Temperatures in Istanbul hover around the low 20's with an average of 11 hours of sun light during the month. Those looking to dodge the temperatures can take refuge in one of the city's many air-conditioned malls which will be open later during the <a href="http://www.istshopfest.com/en/HomePage#" target="_hplink">Istanbul Shopping Festival (June 8-30). </a>Word to the wise: unlike Toronto, it's better to go earlier in the month as things start to get crowded as July nears by.
May's Destination Unknown
Canada's capital is usually home to members of Parliament and playoff-contending hockey teams. But from May 3 to May 20, the city swells with tourists looking to take in the beauty of the Canadian Tulip Festival. Sometimes known as Tulipmania, the tradition got its roots (no pun intended) after the people of Holland sent over 10, 000 tulip bulbs as a thank you<a href="http://tulipfestival.ca/site/about/en" target="_hplink"> for keeping the Royal Dutch Family safe</a> during World War II. Holland then sent another 20,000 tulip bulbs the following years, turning it into Canada's tulip capital. Fast forward to 2013 and one country's thank you gift to another has evolved into a festival not only involving tulips but <a href="http://tulipfestival.ca/site/highlights/en" target="_hplink">airborne parades, tea parties and event treasure hunts as well.</a>
New Orleans, United States
If tulips aren't your thing, New Orleans offers something for the globe-trotting music lover. For the first five days in May, (and the last three days of April) New Orleans draws thousands of musicians, chefs and craftspeople and welcomes another 400,000 visitors each year. Located in Fair Grounds Race Course near the French Quarter, the festival offers not only the musical stylings of jazz legends like<a href="http://www.nojazzfest.com/" target="_hplink"> B.B. King but also feature acts like The Black Keys, Maroon 5 and John Mayer</a>.
The Algarve, Portugal
For the traveller looking to take it easy, Portugal's most southern point on the mainland has lots to offer. To start, the weather is consistently stellar during May with 10 hours, on average, of daily sunshine, temperatures in the low 20s and little rainfall. The climate's <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/columnists/sophiebutler/5257959/Travel-advice-Where-to-go-for-sun-in-May.html" target="_hplink">perfect for swimming or lounging on the beach -- or a game of tennis by any one of the nearby villas</a>, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Looking for something more Mediterranean? Then head to Greece in May. The island of Crete is at its best this month thanks to its mild climate and diverse geography: hotel views are not only gorgeous but varied between stunning beaches, impressive moutainscapes, rolling valleys and steep gorges. Crete is also divided into four prefectures: <a href="http://www.visitgreece.gr/en/greek_islands/crete/prefecture_of_chania" target="_hplink">Chania</a>, known for its turquoise waters; <a href="http://www.visitgreece.gr/en/greek_islands/crete/prefecture_of_rethymno" target="_hplink">Rethymno</a> known for its sun-soaked beaches; Heraklion, famed for its archaeological sites and museums and Lassithi, with its charming harbour.
Scotland's West And North Coast
For the adventure-traveller, May is the time to explore one of the Europe's underrated regions thanks to the plentiful sunshine and warmth, nurturing the countless blooming flowers that speckle the countryside. Temperatures reach the high teens, making it just right for exploring <a href="http://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/island-hopping/" target="_hplink">the country's three island regions</a>: Orkney, Hebrides as well as Argyll & The Isles, each with their own charms, wildlife and attractions.
May can be a tough time for travellers heading to Asia since most of the continent is entering its down season due to areas with either high humidity or above average rainfall. The one exception during May is Japan, which enjoys mild temperatures accompanied by gardens in full bloom and green mountains. It's best to visit later in the month thanks to <a href="http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2273.html" target="_hplink">Golden Week</a>. The series of four national holidays in seven days makes for hectic travelling. For city dwellers, Tokyo is always a popular choice with a vibrant night life, plenty of shopping in the Shibuya district and a rich culinary experience.
April's Destination Unknown
When it comes to plants, Amsterdam is synonymous with a particular green plant. But during the month of April, cannabis takes a back seat<a href="http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/5/history-of-keukenhof.html" target="_hplink"> to tulips, daffodils and hyacinths</a> during the city's Tulip Festival at the Keukenhof Gardens. The festival technically starts in late March and runs till mid-May but April is the best time to see the flowers in full bloom. Travellers looking for something more engaging can get their share of street entertainment during Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) on April 30. The city celebrates the country's Royal family with concerts and dancing during the night and children's activities and street markets the next day. This year's Koninginnedag is also a special one as it marks the abdication of<a href="http://www.koninginnedagamsterdam.nl/queensday.html" target="_hplink"> Queen Beatrix and the crowning of the country's new king, Willem-Alexander.</a>
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Looking to get your feet wet in Thailand's culture? The Songkran Water Festival is a good place to start — just don't expect your feet to be the only thing wet by the time the three-day festival is done. Think of it as a city-wide water fight where travellers and locals alike arm themselves with buckets, water balloons, hoses and water guns in a free-for-all battle with one objective: leave no person dry. The festival takes place across many cities in Thailand but the one in Chiang Mai is the most feature packed with a mixture of activities like <a href="http://www.tourismthailand.org/see-do/event-detail/158" target="_hplink">religious sermons and prayers by Buddhist monks,</a> as well as opportunities to splash water on strangers.
For those who like to party without the fear of getting utterly soaked, <a href="http://www.spain.info/en_CA/vive/fiestas/sevilla/feria_de_abril.html" target="_blank">Spain's Feria de Abril</a> may be a better fit. Better known as the "April Fair", the festival runs for six days on the banks of the Guadalquivir River in Seville, one of Spain's largest provinces. The festival dates back to the 18th century and started as a livestock fair between two councillors in Spain's northern region. The fair's focus on animals is still very much alive in 2013 as horse shows and bull fighting make up the day-time events. Women dress up in vibrant flamenco dresses and men don short jackets and pants akin to that of matador bull fighters as part of tradition. During the night, locals indulge with <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/mar/16/spain-feria-and-flamenco-seville" target="_hplink">plenty of tapas and dancing and drinking.</a>
Washington, D.C., United States
Want to see the cherry blossoms but can't make it to Japan? Well, for a stunning floral experience that's closer to home, Washington D.C.'s <a href="http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/" target="_blank">National Cherry Blossom Festival</a> is a traveller's best bet. The festival starts in late March but the bulk of the events runs during the first two weeks of April. Aside from the beautiful pink and white blossoms in full view spread across the city's three national parks, there's also a number of family-friendly activities like the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and the Sakura Matsuri, a Japanese street festival with martial arts performances, Japanese cuisine and music.
Las Vegas, United States
For travellers looking to leave the kids at home and get away for an adults-only getaway, Sin City has lots to offer in April. For starters, travellers in search for sun and warmth can look forward to average temperatures in the 25°C to 28°C and up to 13 hours of sunshine. The city is also rife with cheap hotel bookings, plenty of casinos, bars, clubs and lounges for some adult-only fun.
Sometimes the most obvious suggestion is one of the best. Simply put, Paris in the springtime is beautiful. It's not as warm as say, Las Vegas, but warm enough that Europe's chilly weather ought to be nothing more than a distant memory. On top of that, the warmer weather marks the return of book vendors along the Seine River and cafe that open their doors so diners can spill onto the sidewalks. It's an experience that marries the best of Parisian travel without the annual influx of tourists found during the summer.
March's Destination Unknown
Austin, Texas, United States
Had enough of the winter's cold? Head down south and trade in the snow for the sights and sounds of <a href="http://sxsw.com/" target="_hplink">South by Southwest (SXSW)</a>. What started as a tech festival has now evolved into a congregation of music lovers, movies buffs and interactive art. This year's festival will take place from March 8 and run till March 17th. Interactive sessions run from March 8 to the 12, while the film and music go a bit longer, ending on March 16 and March 17 respectively. And of course, when it comes to Southern hospitality and good food, Texas doesn't disappoint.
What's March without a little luck of the Irish to brighten your month? Yes, the Emerald Isle often becomes a hotspot for tourists looking to wet their whistle and for good reason: the parties are wild, and while they may start off inside restaurants, don't be surprised if you find yourself celebrating on the street with a crowd of friendly strangers. For those looking for a St. Paddy's experience closer to home, the Daily Telegraph <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/9897613/Ten-reasons-to-travel-in-March.html?frame=2494645" target="_hplink">recommends a trip to New York, where the great Fifth Avenue parade</a> draws in roughly 200,000 participants — shamrocks and all.
Caye Caulker, Belize
Europe in March can be a dicey situation, as most of the continent is in its rainy season. So for travellers looking for a country with European flair but the forecast of a destination similar to that of the Caribbean, Belize won't disappoint. <a href="http://www.priceoftravel.com/2264/18-cheap-destinations-with-great-weather-in-march/" target="_hplink">Temperatures only dip as low as 23°C and go as high as 27°C</a>. Frugal travellers will want to stay in the town of Caye Caulker, which offers a similar vibe and atmosphere to the more expensive San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, but at a fraction of the price, notes priceoftravel.com.
For the traveller looking to inject colour in their life, there's no better time to visit India than late March. The month marks the celebration of Holi, a time where Indians in the country's northern regions celebrate the arrival of spring by tossing coloured dust at each other. Travellers can also expect to get a little wet as children and adults alike will be squirting coloured dye from water guns, pouring it from buckets and even tossing the odd water balloon or two. It's a fun and colourful affair, but be sure to bring a change of clothes — unless you want to look like a piece of walking art for the rest of your trip.
For a more serene travel experience, head to the city of Yoshino in Japan and take in the beauty of the country's Hanami cherry blossom festival. While the festival starts as early as January, the bulk of the best blossoms happen in March. There's plenty of regions to soak in the pink clouds of flowers overtaking the blue sky, but <a href="http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/travel-tips-and-articles/76349" target="_hplink">Lonely Planet recommends the city of Yoshino as the best.</a> Those willing to stick around can also take part in events like cherry blossom picnics and evening soirees.
Accra Beach, Barbados
A good beach can be hard to find during the month of March, thanks to throngs of young adults partying it up during Spring Break. So rather than take your chances in cities like Fort Lauderdale or Cancun, Expedia U.K. recommends Accra Beach in Barbados <a href="http://www.expedia.co.uk/wheretogo/March.aspx" target="_hplink">thanks to its no-water-sports code</a>. Rainfall is also at its lowest during the year, meaning that travellers can expect plenty of rest and relaxation or an opportunity to work on a tan.
Breckenridge, Colorado, United States
Families looking to squeeze in one last ski trip before hanging up the poles for the year can head to the city of Breckenridge in the U.S. It's a town known mostly for its ski hills but also features trendy shops and boutiques and spas for some variety. March marks a good time for a visit, as there are discounts on resorts and reports that <a href="http://traveltips.usatoday.com/time-ski-breckenridge-13719.html" target="_hplink">snowfall is at its heaviest during the month,</a> notes USA Today. Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ateabutnoe/">A tea but no e</a>
February's Destination Unknown
If you're looking for some greenery in a month typically dominated by white snow or grey skies, Costa Rica has travellers covered. February marks the start of the rainforest-laden country's dry season, giving visitors a chance <a href="http://www.anywherecostarica.com/destinations/rainforest-tram-alantic-costa-rica/tours/rain-forest-full-eco-pass" target="_hplink">to zipline through trees, bird watch and take in the sights and sounds of butterflies and frogs.</a> The country's capital of San Jose is also easy on the wallet for backpackers and has it fair share of weather with highs around the <a href="http://www.priceoftravel.com/1932/17-cheap-destinations-with-great-weather-in-february/" target="_hplink">20ºC and lows hovering at 14ºC.</a>
New Orleans, USA
Travellers heading to New Orleans in February can take advantage of a city swept with football fever as it plays host to the 2013 Super Bowl. According to Travelers Today, it's not too late for sports fans to snag a ticket and a hotel room <a href="http://www.travelerstoday.com/articles/4440/20130131/super-bowl-2013-late-travel-new-orleans.htm" target="_hplink">due to a lack of local interest and high booking fees</a> — just don't expect it to come cheap. Travellers looking to join in on a different type of celebration will want to head to New Orleans for Mardi Gras before the 9th, as the celebration lasts four days in preparation for Feb. 13, otherwise known as Ash Wednesday.
Sabang Bay, The Philippines
Like Costa Rica, February typically marks the time where good weather comes to the the Philippines and typhoons are at a seasonal low. Travellers can expect temperatures to stay between the low 20s and low 30s. So what's the best way to take advantage of such warm, typhoon-free weather? Scuba diving is popular, with stand-out spots including Sabang Bay and The Canyon in the city of Puerto Galera.
Quebec City, Canada
Next to Mardi Gras, Carnival is also another popular festival celebrated in countries like Brazil, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago and Malta. But for those looking for a less tropical take on Carnival, Quebec City takes the best of the popular February festival and blends it with the winter weather. The 17-day festival captures the fun of its warmer brethren, with dancing, partying and even the fashion to a degree, as one of the highlights of <a href="http://www.lonelyplanet.com/canada/quebec-city/travel-tips-and-articles/76314" target="_hplink">Winter Carnival includes a snow dip in a swimsuit.</a>
Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, Canada
For those who do not shy from February's offering of snow and cold, Whistler has tons to offer. The ski resort features over 30 ski lifts and 8,171 acres of skiable terrain to make it the largest ski resort in North America. New this year is a special promotion to capitalize on British Columbia's first Family Day: <a href="http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/plan-your-trip/deals-and-packages/family-day/index.aspx" target="_hplink">visitors can get 50 percent off lift tickets on Feb. 11, 2013 if you're a B.C. resident.</a>
Buenos Aires, Argentina
For travellers looking for a second honeymoon just in time for Valentine's Day, Argentina comes highly recommended by TheKnot.com. According to their ranking of honeymoon destinations based on months, Buenos Aires during February makes sense because of incredible hotel deals, offering travellers <a href="http://wedding.theknot.com/honeymoons/honeymoon-planning/articles/the-best-honeymoons-by-month.aspx" target="_hplink">"5-star hotels and 3-star prices."</a> While staying in Argentina's capital city, lovers can catch a tango performance or indulge in a spa treatment at the Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires.
It's tough to recommend one destination in the Caribbean during February, since there's plenty to offer weather-wise. Jamaica comes to mind when thinking about warm temperatures with highs peaking around 30ºC and lows dipping to 20ºC. If you're looking for sunshine and sand, then <a href="http://traveltips.usatoday.com/vacation-february-12745.html" target="_hplink">the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Barbados, or Aruba</a> come at the recommendation of <em>USA Today</em>.
January's Destination Unknown
New York City, New York, USA
If budget has always stood in the way of a stay in New York City, then January has two things in store for the frugal visitor looking for a place to stay or a bite to eat. Now in its second year, New York City Hotel Week offers visitors stays at hotels that would normally cost about $500 (U.S.) a night. Instead, from Jan. 4 to 16, prices drop to the $100 to $250 range. There's also New York Restaurant Week which offers a taste of the city's culinary scene for a fraction of the price during Jan. 24 till Feb. 6.
The Dominican Republic
A widely popular destination all year round, the Dominican Republic is what Adamo, VP of marketing with Transat, refers to as one of the big three countries for Canadians (Cuba and Mexico are the other two). The Caribbean country has a lot of offer those seeking escape from the cold with temperatures ranging from 20 C to 30 C and plenty of beach resorts for those looking to relax. Adamo adds that as one of the big three countries for Canadians, the Dominican has the hotel infrastructure and airports to handle the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who visit the country year round.
Mexico City, Mexico
The elevation in Mexico City keeps temperatures below tropical levels with lows dipping around 6 C. Still, better 6 C than -6 C , right? Highs hit around the low 20s to keep things warm enough for T-shirts and sandals rather than boots and parkas. The city also has lots to offer culturally, with shopping and night life remaining some of the top tourist offerings.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Are you seeking a beach but not a resort? Then the city of Rio de Janeiro may be up your alley. Rio is home to many famous beaches such as the Copacabana which stretches 4 km from end to end. Still, travellers may have to duke it out for space as January's average high of 32 C and relatively low hotel prices attracts many visitors this time of year. That being said, if you're not going to visit Rio now, you'd better do it before 2014 when the city plays host to the Summer Olympics.
Located in Northern Peru, the city of Trujillo is chock-full of Peruvian culture with pre-Inca and Moche ruins and an assortment of museums which are small but packed with artifacts like coins and pots that showcase the city's rich history. The balmy weather hovers around the low 20 C mark and makes the live salsa music at night a treat to enjoy. There's even the Trujillo Marinera Festival, a national dance contest which showcases the city's dance of choice, the Marinera.
Cape Town, South Africa
There's a lot to like and do in Cape Town during January. South Africa's capital city is in its summer season with temperatures ranging from 15 C to 27 C, on average. Travellers can take advantage of the city's warm weather by visiting any one of the city's three beach regions of False Bay, Atlantic Seaboard or West Coast. For the more adventurous, try your hand at hiking, rock climbing or exploring many of the city's caves. It's worth noting though that January is Cape Town's high season so while hotel prices are still reasonable, a true steal can be tough to find.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Saigon, now more commonly known as Ho Chi Minh City, is the former capital city of South Vietnam before it fell during the country's civil war. Nowadays it serves as a popular destination for backpackers thanks to the city's low prices for hotels and hostels. The city's usually unbearable humidity goes on something of a vacation during January making for comfortable nights — perfect for the city's vibrant night life and cheap street eats. Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/heyitschili/">HeyItsWilliam</a>