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How to save money on flights and rental cars amid summer travel disruptions

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Scott's Cheap Flights Founder Scott Keyes joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss summer holiday travel disruptions and break down the top tips to save money on flights and rental cars.

Video transcript

- Travelers braced for the worse going into the July 4th travel weekend after airlines were plagued with delays, cancelations, labor shortages, and strikes. Well, to see how travelers fared and what the rest of the summer season looks like, we're joined by Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights. Good to have you back, Scott. So the weekend that was. Obviously, we saw record-breaking travel there on that Friday for air travel. How has the weekend panned out?

SCOTT KEYES: Probably about the best case scenario if we had rewound to June 30, July 1 in terms of delays and cancelations, but still with two, three, four times the normal level of flight disruptions. I think it underscores just what a turbulent summer it's been for air travelers and just how many cancelations there have been throughout the air travel system, both in the US, and especially even more in Europe.

- Did appear to finish on a high note on a holiday, which is rather remarkable given the dire predictions. American Airlines may have been the exception. And it was a bit of a debacle. What can you tell us about this software issue that impacted some 12,000 flights?

SCOTT KEYES: That's right. Look, there was a little bit of a glitch in the pilot trading system in terms of which shifts they were allowed to trade to other pilots, which shifts they were allowed to drop or pick up that, thankfully, Airline American Airlines management caught early and have been able to seemingly rectify. I'm sure there's going to be some sort of price to pay in terms of bonus pay for pilots who caught back up the shifts that they had been allowed to drop.

But again, another kind of bullet dodged, if you will, when it comes to just an ongoing number of flight cancelations and delays this summer. I mean, between that and between the relatively good weather across the country over the July 4th weekend, I think it was a little bit of a best case scenario when it comes to air travel.

- So then Scott, obviously, with that, comes a lot of complaints from consumers. What is the best way to get your voice heard and actually get some recourse? It used to be trying to shame a company, an airline on Twitter. They seem to have gotten a bit numb to that. How do you actually get through to airlines to get some sort of recourse?

SCOTT KEYES: Yeah. That's a problem with good advice. Once everybody starts following it, then it kind of loses its punch. So here are the things that I like to do. First, if you're choosing your flight, try to choose the earliest flight possible. Those flights get delayed or canceled at far lower rates than flights in the afternoon or evening.

Second, if you do need to get a hold of the airline, try calling their international phone offices. American Airlines doesn't just have their main US hotline. They've also got a hotline in Canada and Mexico and the United Kingdom and Australia. And agents in those international offices can handle your reservation just the same as US-based agents can. But it takes a tenth of the time to get through to an agent because nobody else in the US is calling them.

The final thing that I would say is that don't forget that you can negotiate your compensation, that if the airline does need volunteers to get bumped to take a later flight and you have some flexibility in your schedule, don't just take the first offer that they give. Try to negotiate for a higher amount of compensation, maybe a business class seat on your replacement flight, or even make sure that if they need multiple volunteers, that you're getting as much as the final volunteer gets, not just the first volunteer.

- And we recently heard of a $10,000 offer for folks to get bucked off a Delta flight. So give us some suggestions if folks do want to at least try and save money. We know the cost of airline tickets has skyrocketed. And the other cost that has just gone through the roof in recent months has been rental cars. Any tips to save money on flights and cars?

SCOTT KEYES: Yeah. For cars, you want to make sure that you book them as early as possible. And check back on your reservation every week because with car rentals you do not have to prepay for them. And so if you book a $200 car rental and then you check back for the same dates next week and it's down to $150, just cancel your old reservation, book at the new $150 rate, and pocket that $50 difference. You can do that as many times as you'd like. I did that a half a dozen times on a recent trip to Boston and ended up saving 40% off my original price.

For flights, the main thing you're going to want to do is at this point start thinking about your fall or even your winter holiday flights. Booking winter holiday flights is going to be cheapest around now. Just in the same way that buying your winter coats is going to be cheapest in the summer, booking those Christmas, New Year holiday flights is going to be cheapest in the summertime. While everybody else is thinking of summer travel, you're thinking about winter travel and getting those good deals that are happening today.

- As we know, a lot of people are very put off about traveling right now. I know people who are canceling going to different conventions because they just don't want to have to deal with the hassle of perhaps getting a delayed flight, getting a cancel flight, struggling to get their money back. What's the reality on the ground in terms of how people should be viewing traveling right now?

SCOTT KEYES: That's right. Look, there's a perception out there that travel is absolutely bonkers at the moment, that so many flights are getting canceled. And I'm getting questions all the time, Scott, should I just go ahead and cancel my flight preemptively, cancel this trip because I'm hearing about all these flight cancelations? And what I tell them is that, look, while it's terrible every time somebody's flight gets canceled. It really disrupts folks trips. Even on the worst days, it is still 19 of 20 flights that are operating in the US. It's only 1 of 20 that are getting canceled. The odds are still well in your favor.

And on normal days like-- or closer to normal days like today and this weekend, it's more like 97 or 98 out of 100 flights that are operating as scheduled. And so you want to make sure that you don't let the perception of widespread chaos in the air travel system lead you to cancel your plans when, in reality, most likely your flight is going to be fine. Perhaps a small delay. But your actual chance of getting hit by a flight cancelation is still very, very low.

- Scott, you use the word perception. And the perception is that the nightmare has gotten so much worse in recent months. But is there a way to quantify it? Are you seeing that it actually is that much worse than pre-pandemic? Or we just reporting about it, talking about it, feeling it more?

SCOTT KEYES: Yeah. So in a normal year, about 2% of flights on average are canceled, and about 18%, 19% of flights are delayed. And it's certainly been higher than that this summer and for the past month or so, but not dramatically higher. There are some days, some weekends when it can be dramatically higher. And certainly some airlines, Delta has been having real trouble, and American Airlines real trouble over the past month, with more like 5%, 6%, 7%, sometimes higher on some days. But again, that's not the sort of perception that, oh, 20%, 30%, 40% of flights are getting canceled. It's still very much in the single digits and not a dramatically higher number than we see in that baseline of 1%, 2% of flights getting canceled in a normal pre-pandemic year.

- Certainly feels different from this seat. Scott Keyes is the founder of Scott's Cheap Flights. We appreciate it, sir. Thank you.

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