Travel deals don’t just fall into your lap anymore. You...

Travel deals don’t just fall into your lap anymore. You have to go out and look for them. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Atstock Productions

It's getting harder to find a travel deal.

Just ask Tracy Hayes, who recently wanted to fly from Little Rock to St. Louis. "The cheapest flight I could find was roughly $375," she says. "That was the one-way fare."

Hayes, a notary public from Little Rock, checked the usual suspects — Booking.com, Expedia and a few airline sites — but struck out. Either she paid $375, or she wasn't going.

She's not alone. Travelers, accustomed to the generous bargains offered during the early days of the pandemic, are waking up to a cold reality. Travel is expensive. These days, it's really expensive.

She checked Amtrak's site, which offered a one-way ticket for just $52. She could relax with plenty of legroom and onboard Wi-Fi. But instead of an hour, it would take her about seven to get there.

"I think with those rates, I will be taking the train a lot more," she says.

How do you find a travel bargain now?

Some tried-and-true sites and apps can help you find the lowest fare or hotel rate. For example, companies such as Google Flights and Hopper will show you the best times to book. Hopper even has a color-coded calendar to pinpoint the lowest fares. And Kayak will alert you when a price drops. You can monitor the airfare for an exact date range, destination or price.

The timing of a deal is tricky.

"Booking in advance doesn't work anymore," says Cornelius Fichtner, president of an educational software company in California. "It's best to wait until a few weeks before your trip."

Industry insiders say their customers started to book their trips at the last minute during the early days of the pandemic because of the uncertainty of travel. They're still doing that, forcing providers to adjust the way they set their prices.

Being a contrarian can lead to deep discounts, too. For example, if you're looking for a discounted cruise or vacation package, a big-box store probably isn't the first place that comes to mind. Maybe it should be. Wholesale stores such as Sam's Club and Costco have earned reputations for offering deep discounts, particularly during the pandemic, according to deal experts.

"The deals posted to their website tend to be anywhere from 10 to 30% less," says Andrea Woroch, a Bakersfield, California-based budget travel expert.

Ashley Lands goes through various steps to find the best price. Lands, who runs a digital marketing agency in New York, checks Google Flights early on Monday or Tuesday mornings. She has noticed lower prices on flights from New York to Orlando, in one instance by as much as $250 for a holiday weekend.

One more thing: In travel, a deal isn't always a deal. It can be easy to go for the lowest price. But you might be following the wrong instinct, says Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.

The bottom line: Read the terms of your purchase, paying close attention to cancellation information and other restrictions.

Then, if it still sounds good, jump on it.

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