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AMEX Agents Report Consumers Stretching Travel DollarsMay 19, 2009 By: George Dooley
Using credit card rewards points and frequent flyer miles, taking advantage of last minute travel deals, and booking closer-to-home trips top the list of money-saving strategies now being used by consumers to stretch their travel dollars, a new survey of more than 600 American Express travel agents says.
The American Express survey suggests that while Americans continue to book summer vacations, they are being savvier travelers and making smart tradeoffs to help offset their travel costs. “In fact, the vast majority of agents polled say their clients are adjusting to the recession by making slight changes to help offset their summer vacation costs," American Express says. "And according to agents (92 percent), topping the list of popular money-saving strategies is using credit card rewards points and/or frequent flyer miles toward the cost of summer vacations.”
"Consumers are looking for ways to stretch their travel dollars," says Tracey Beberman, vice president of membership rewards marketing and partnerships, American Express. "We're certainly seeing this at American Express. Our cardmembers are using membership rewards points to book everything from flights to cruises to vacation tour packages. It's a smart strategy to help get more out of a summer vacation while spending less."
According to American Express agents, other popular money-saving strategies among travelers include booking vacations closer to dates of travel to take advantage of last-minute deals, taking closer-to-home trips, and choosing destinations where the dollar goes further.
“Agents (66 percent) say that their clients simply feel that their summer vacation is too important to their mental health to give up all together, in spite of the economy," American Express says. "In fact, 45 percent of agents say that travelers are booking about the same length summer vacation this year as in the past, and one in four agents report hearing from their clients that they are sacrificing other luxuries in order to go on their summer vacation.”
However, a key determining factor to take that trip is their ability to find a good value and deal. Eighty-nine percent of agents report receiving more inquiries about deals this year than in the recent past.
“While travelers are willing to make cost-saving tradeoffs for their summer vacation, they are more flexible with some elements than others," American Express says. "For example, when asked to rank which trip elements travelers tend to be most flexible on, travel agents say dates of travel, destinations, and types of accommodations top the list. According to agents, travelers tend to be less flexible on the length of their travel and are also very unwilling to take a connecting flight to save money, preferring to fly direct.”
In some cases, travelers are trading up. “Almost half (48% percent) of travel agents report that some travelers are taking advantage of the abundance of travel deals currently available allowing them to 'trade up' or upgrade in other areas of their summer vacation," American Express says. "According to travel agents, the most popular trip elements that travelers are applying their savings from deals and discounts toward are room upgrades, first-class airfare, and a longer length of stay.”
"Our agents (65 perccent) say that their clients are more curious about the travel benefits available on their credit cards this year," says Audrey Hendley, vice president of marketing for American Express Travel. "They're also taking greater advantage of those benefits to help cut costs and upgrade their summer vacations. In fact, we are seeing more cardmembers using the benefits on their cards to have a richer travel experience including complementary room upgrades, continental breakfasts, late check outs and special hotel amenities."
More than half (60 percent) of travel agents polled say that they see more travelers seeking their assistance to help find the best deal this year than in the recent past. Agents are offering helpful tips by type of traveler and destinations, including: use credit card rewards points and frequent flyer miles to offset vacation costs, look for packages with free night promotions, consider a cruise -this all-inclusive vacation option offers something for everyone and helps travelers manage their budgets by ensuring that virtually all costs are included, American Express reports. Finally, be flexible about travel dates. The best travel deals are midweek.