You can battle the Black Friday mobs in stores, or with the help of our guests, snag the best travel deals from the comfort of your computer. But booking a trip isn’t always as simple as buying the newest gaming console – you’re going to need a strategy. Hear from The Points Guy’s Katherine Fan and Expedia’s Dan Reed as they share expert tips for getting a smart deal on travel this Black Friday. An unexpected getaway may be right around the corner!
Christie Hudson: Black Friday — it’s synonymous with crazy deals and discounts, and for most of us even the thought of it stirs up a strange mix of anxiety and excitement. Over the years, I’ve personally snagged bargains on everything from home appliances, to kids’ clothes, to mattresses, and these days it’s not just consumer goods. The travel industry has climbed firmly onboard so hotels, airlines, online travel sites, all participating and serving up their wares at a deep discount too, but a vacation isn’t a toaster. To get these deals, you need a whole new game plan. I’m Christie Hudson, filling in for Nisreene Atassi and I’ll be your guest host for this “Black Friday Bootcamp” episode of Out Travel the System. Today, we’re taking a tactical look at how travelers can get the most out of this year’s post-Thanksgiving madness, so get ready as we help you out-travel the system.
Taking us through their Black Friday tips and tricks are two guests. Katherine Fan is the Senior Travel Features Reporter at The Points Guy. If you aren’t familiar with The Points Guy, it’s the website that offers hands-on advice to help people maximize their travel experience. It’s pretty much the place to go for info on how to make miles and points pile up and work harder for you. Dan Reed is our other guest and he’s a colleague of mine, currently based in London. He’s one of our merchandising experts, which means he’s intimately involved in curating the travel deals you see during sales, like the one we’re talking about today.
Black Friday really started off as the kickoff for the Christmas shopping season, but in recent years, it’s just grown and grown. Now we have Cyber Monday, Travel Deal Tuesday, which the travel industry has jumped on as a chance to extend the deals window even further. Dan, I understand you’re a seasoned pro at finding amazing travel deals during these sales. I’ve personally shopped for a lot of things during Black Friday, but I’ve never actually booked a travel deal, so I need the inside scoop. What did you book last year?
Dan Reed: We went to Copenhagen and had a great time with the family. I typically use Black Friday for that special trip that we may not be expecting. I plan ahead on my spring break trip, my summer trip, and we go back to the States every year as well, and so those things are well-planned out for me. I really use Black Friday to take a trip that’s unexpected and so last year, we did the Christmas markets in Copenhagen.
Christie Hudson: I feel like that’s the really nice thing about living in London, is you’re taking a long weekend trip to Copenhagen.
Dan Reed: That’s definitely an advantage of being here in London, about two hours from most major cities in Europe.
Christie Hudson: What are the savings like? For that specific trip, how much did you save on airfare, or hotel, or whatever you booked?
Dan Reed: We booked it as a package, so on Expedia, you’re already saving quite a bit. For flight and hotel, I averaged about $200 savings per person, and that was for a family of four, so quite a big savings for myself and my family.
Christie Hudson: Yeah, that’s a big one. Katherine, what about you? Do you shop during Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
Katherine Fan: I do. I started out purchasing a lot of appliances and larger expenses. I freelanced for a number of years, so I’d buy my camera or my laptop during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but I’ve personally found some pretty solid travel deals as well.
Christie Hudson: Since you work in tracking the travel industry and trends really closely, have you seen this become a bigger thing in the last couple of years?
Katherine Fan: It really has ramped up more on the travel side. It started out as a way for retailers to boost their sales for the year so that they can end the year in the black, instead of being at a loss, and I think the travel industry has jumped on that as well, recognizing that if they can pack in some additional travelers for the rest of the year, as well as front-loading travelers for the beginning of the following year, it’s super effective for everybody involved. One of my favorite deals to look for are flights that come up early at the beginning of the year to go visit family or to hang out with girlfriends for a weekend trip down to somewhere warm in the wintertime. That’s where I tend to splurge a little bit and treat myself and let myself go to Puerto Rico or down to Miami even.
Christie Hudson: I think it’s cool that you can take advantage of these deals and like you said, maybe get your warm-weather trip planned for the mid-winter time, or take a trip you wouldn’t have gotten a chance to take, and you can take it a little cheaper. How do you guys suggest planning ahead? Dan, since you’ve booked a trip recently during this kind of sale, what were some of the things that you thought about ahead of time in order to be able to jump on something you found?
Dan Reed: I have to admit I was never into Black Friday, getting up at two in the morning and sleeping over in front of a Target or something, so thank goodness for eCommerce and websites that we can kind of do this in our comfortable pajamas with a cup of coffee in a nice, warm home. Since the deals are coming out in real-time, you do have to be prepared and ready, like you said. There’s a couple of things that I would suggest. One is doing your homework and knowing who you’d want to fly with, who you’d want to book with and start to check out what potential deals they have. Just as you would if you were going to do this 10 years ago and wait outside, you might want to plan ahead and know what store you’d want to sleep out in front of.
I would do the same thing, even though it’s much easier nowadays to really know where those potential deals are. A lot of them also want you to have the app, so some of the better deals are going to be on the app, so make sure you have that app downloaded. Many of them also want you to be a member of their site, so something as simple as just having your email and creating an account on those sites will really help your odds and your chances of scoring some of those great deals. The other thing that I would suggest is knowing what a good deal is as well, so have an idea of where you want to go and have an idea of what that trip would cost you in the time frame you’re looking at so then you can truly and honestly know whether or not that is a good deal. That’s what I would do in terms of planning ahead.
Know your budget, have some constraints. Obviously, there are some great deals out there and you may want to splurge a bit. This is a great opportunity to do so, but also have that budget in mind so you can be really specific and make sure that you’re booking in enough time to make sure you can score those deals, and then also have options. If you’re looking to go to Miami, would Arizona or the Caribbean suffice? You might find some really good deals and some other destinations that are very similar.
Katherine Fan: One thing I consistently tell my family and friends as well is when you’re thinking about what is a good deal, that’s actually a super subjective statement, and what you should be asking yourself is, “What is a good deal for me?” That is one of the things that we really try to highlight at The Points Guy. We’ve got different departments focusing on different areas of travel because the way that a solo adult is going to travel is drastically different from a couple, and then even contrasting with a family. Southwest is a fantastic option for families because they’re super flexible on change dates, seating, and stuff like that. When I say that it’s important to know what matters to you personally, that also means knowing your lifestyle. Some of my friends hate beaches, so that means Hawaii is out.
Christie Hudson: Is that a real thing, people hate beaches?
Katherine Fan: It is a real thing. I know it sounds interesting. I don’t relate to that at all, but I do have my friends who burn very easily in the sun. They prefer to be more active, they like hiking and stuff like that, or some people just really love cities. It’s really important to make sure that you’re planning travel and purchasing items that are true to who you are and fit your lifestyle. Just because it’s a good deal doesn’t mean you have to buy it.
Christie Hudson: In this instance, what you guys are saying is have that idea, but also be flexible because when you’re trying to take advantage of a good deal, maybe it’s better to go in with a mindset of, “I know what type of trip I want, I know I want to go to a warm-weather destination, I know I don’t want to travel more than four hours, so these are my options.” Is that what you guys are getting at?
Dan Reed: Exactly. It’s the same thing as that you would do 10 years ago, waiting out. Like if you’re looking for an appliance, you’re looking for a refrigerator, you have some options, but it is still specific in that you want a refrigerator so you’re not going to wander off into the electronics and end up buying a computer. Planning ahead and knowing what your budget is and knowing what you really want to get from this is super important.
Katherine Fan: I very much agree and similarly, I would say it’s also helpful to know if you prefer to just have everything taken care of for you. At The Points Guy, you can read up on a whole bunch of different types of profiles for people who love putting together their own packages, or the types of people who only purchase Delta Vacations or United Vacations, or just the whole package from Expedia where you get on the plane and everything’s taken care of for you. You have a rental car or even a driver, or you have the rooms all set up and meal plans.
Christie Hudson: What kind of travel-related deals should we look for, whether they’re vacations or accessories that will help the traveler? Katherine, in your opinion, what should we be keeping an eye out for?
Katherine Fan: I’ve actually seen some cool deals from Expedia. They offered a super fun one last year where it was a tiered system. If you were the early bird, you could book a hotel for up to 90% off, and then that coupon code would be deactivated once everybody had used up the 90% discount, and then you’d get the 75% discount or 50% discount. There was an incentive at every single tier for people to go ahead and have their plans already lined up. A few lucky winners even got a digital scratch-off discount, which is a kind of random roulette. You make a booking and then afterward, you find out what your discount was. I believe a handful of people got 99% off of a booking. Those are more of the fun deals that you’ll see around the Black Friday weekend. Usually, you might get a flat 10% off or $50 off one night or something like that, but I love seeing different retailers, including travel brands, play around with a little bit and make it fun for people to plan ahead and do something fun for themselves and maybe get more money back.
Christie Hudson: Katherine, what other tips do you have for people wanting to get the most bang for their buck during that weekend? I know The Points Guy is literally the bible at teaching you how to use the right credit cards or sign up for loyalty programs. What tips do you have there?
Katherine Fan: One of my favorite tips to always tell people is even if you only fly an airline one time or stay in a hotel chain one time, it’s a good idea to just go ahead and sign up for a loyalty account anyway. The analogy I use a lot is that all of these are like different country currencies. If you go to the U.K. one time and you end up with a few extra pounds at the end of your trip, you probably won’t just throw that away just because you can’t use it. In the same kind of way, it’s a really good idea just to have all of those programs ready to go and one thing you can use are shopping portals. My favorite tool is cashbackmonitor.com because it shows you a whole bunch of different websites that will pay you cashback if you shop through their link.
Christie Hudson: Those are real? Those aren’t like a gimmick?
Katherine Fan: Those are real. Mr. Rebates is a popular one as well. Basically, these websites are earning a commission from retailers like the Gap, Target and Amazon every time they send shoppers through their links, so they’re very highly incentivized to earn your business. Essentially, let’s say they get 10 cents for every dollar you spend, they tell you, “Hey, we’ll give you eight cents of that,” so you get 8% cashback if you shop through that link, and it’s all you have to do. Cashbackmonitor.com again is one of my favorite sites for that, it shows you who’s offering the best cashback, the most miles, the most points for every dollar that I spend. I usually go through there and see what makes the most sense for my budget. I’ve been able to score a round trip international flight before just based off the points I earned throughout a year’s worth of shopping through websites, instead of going to the mall and buying what I need.
Christie Hudson: That’s amazing.
Dan Reed: It’s a really good point though on signing up for reward programs as well. There are so many times that I’ve flown an airline or booked through a certain site, and I go, “I probably won’t ever use them again,” and then lo and behold, I use them two, three, four, five more times when I could’ve been earning points on all that.
Christie Hudson: Katherine, do you have any insights on how this year’s Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday deals are stacking up compared to years past, especially in the travel space?
Katherine Fan: Typically, I think Black Friday weekend is a really good time to upgrade your luggage. Sites like eBags usually offer a ton of incentives like 10% coupons or a $10 off coupon. You get a lot of cashback points if you shop through a shopping portal with eBags, and you can get anything from good basics like Samsonite and American Tourister, which I still have my suitcase from college. I keep hoping it dies so I can buy a new one because it’s not very pretty anymore, but that thing is a workhorse. Black Friday is a really good time to get that kind of a deal if you want high-end luggage as well. There are usually our end-of-year incentives, so this is a good time to buy your packing cubes, your Away or TUMI suitcases, and don’t forget to check places like Nordstrom Rack as well. Nordstrom Rack also has an online store, but they tend to carry a lot of the higher-end brands at up to a 30% discount, so that’s a pretty good saving for a travel product.
One thing that I’ve noticed in the last two to three years is that phones are starting to get discounted significantly over special shopping holidays like Black Friday. Last year, I bought my Google Pixel phone for about $1,000, which was the retail price, but they offered this fantastic deal where for every dollar I spent on the phone itself, I would get that same amount back as a gift card that I could use toward Airbnb, Hotels.com, Southwest, or Delta Airlines. So I still have $1,000 worth of credit ready to use and I have a phone I’d wanted anyways for my travels this year, so keep an eye out for good deals on the iPhone 11, the upcoming Google Pixel 4, anything that you’ve had your eye on. It’s definitely a splurge for you, but you can really justify it with many of the huge discounts and promotions that come out over Black Friday weekend.
Christie Hudson: I love the thought of not only getting a trip during the Black Friday weekend but also just really upgrading your entire travel accessory game. Dan, what’s your game plan this year? Are you going to book anything?
Dan Reed: A European destination. It’s just too easy and we’re kind of making a tradition of the Christmas markets. I’m thinking somewhere a little warmer though than Copenhagen — although fun and beautiful and it really got us into the spirit, we’re thinking potentially Spain or Italy to be a little closer to the Mediterranean, a little bit warmer. It’s been a bit of a rough winter here.
Christie Hudson: I feel you on that, for sure. Katherine, what about you? Are you going to try and go anywhere with these Black Friday deals or what’s on your shopping list?
Katherine Fan: Usually, I kind of keep my eyes peeled throughout the year. This year, we’ve been seeing a lot of incredibly cheap round trip flights from the U.S. to Europe. I believe some of them have been as low as $250 round trip. Some airlines that I also really enjoy trying out over Black Friday specials are Emirates and Singapore Airlines, and both Emirates and Singapore Airlines have offered round trip packages from the U.S. starting at about $450 USD per flight.
Christie Hudson: I feel really good about this advice. It sounds like some of the top tips for people to keep in mind if they want to book a trip this Black Friday or Cyber Monday weekend are do your research, read up on those deals roundups that make the waves on every single site online including The Points Guy, sign up for loyalty programs, download the apps from the airline or the travel site that you want to shop, start planning your trip, figure out your budget and the type of trip you want, but maybe don’t get too bogged down in all of the details quite yet because you’ll need some flexibility. If there was one other tip you want to leave people with, what would it be, Dan?
Dan Reed: Have fun! Travel is supposed to be enjoyable and sometimes we get bogged down in all of the specifics and tactics. Pick a place that you haven’t been to or that is really enjoyable to you because that’s really what it’s all about. It’s about the experience and the fun that you can have while traveling.
Christie Hudson: Katherine, what about you? What’s your key takeaway for everybody?
Katherine Fan: Do yourself a favor, Google shopping portals and figure out a way to transition most of your everyday purchases from in-person to online. Just make sure you’re double-dipping on every dollar that you spend whether you’re buying home goods or everyday products, your phone or appliances. All of those can add up to a lot of points that you can use for future travel, so Black Friday is a great time to find really good deals, but the rest of the year, if you need to travel, those points will help you get where you need to go when you don’t get a good deal on cash flights.
Christie Hudson: Amazing, I’m seriously going to do that. You’re definitely a pro. Thank you so much for sharing all those awesome tips. Thanks for listening to this Black Friday edition of Out Travel The System and thanks so much to our guests, Katherine Fan from The Points Guy, and Expedia’s own, Dan Reed. I’m your guest host, Christie Hudson, filling in for Nisreene Atassi. We’d love to hear your travel questions, tales, and advice, so please find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to join the conversation about travel, and please don’t forget to subscribe. Check out viewfinder.expedia.com/podcast for more info and previous episodes, including an insider’s guide on the best time to book a vacation. With every episode, we’ll have more tips and tricks to help you out-travel the system. Happy travels!
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