This post previously appeared on Frommers.com
Talk about bargain shopping: Scanning her Twitter stream last fall, Vancouverite Diane Button discovered an Expedia.ca promo code tweeted by @YVRdeals that offered $300 off flight and hotel packages to several cities in the United States, including Las Vegas.
“I was not planning a trip to Vegas, but the deal was so incredibly good that we booked it on impulse and rearranged our vacation days,” said Button, who rounds up travel deals at http://desktraveler.blogspot.com. “We decided to do our outlet mall shopping trip there instead of just across the border in Tulalip (Washington).”
Twitter, the free social media tool that allows you to “follow” messages from companies, publications, or individuals, is still only used to plan trips by a fraction of people — 6.9%, according to a January 2011 report from Destination Analysts called “The State of the American Traveler.”
Still, that number is nearly double the percentage of travelers who said they used Twitter in the company’s July 2010 report, which suggests that consumers are picking up what those in the travel industry know — Twitter is one of the best places on the web to find deals and special offers for airfares, hotel specials, and vacation packages.
For the uninitiated, the first login to Twitter can be perplexing. After you choose a handle (and yes, it’s OK to use your real name) and fill out a basic profile, what comes next? Follow these Twitter tips so you can use the social-media service to plan trips and search for deals:
Go for the familiar. If you’re already a frequent traveler, you probably have favorite websites where you search for low airfares or hotel discounts. Chances are, these websites have a Twitter account under the same name.
Let’s say you get e-mail updates from Airfarewatchdog (www.airfarewatchdog.com) already. At the bar across the top of Twitter, choose “Who to Follow” and type in the name. Click the Follow button and the company’s updates, known as “tweets,” will appear on your homepage.
Other familiar travel companies that you’ll want to follow right away: The airlines that you fly the most, hotel chains that you often you stay at, and your favorite cruise line. Almost all of the major brands in travel have Twitter accounts, and some offer special deals that you’ll only find on the network.
Target a destination. I’m plotting a trip to Portugal, a country I have yet to visit, this fall. So I typed “Portugal tourism” into the Twitter search bar to see if the Portuguese National Tourism Office has an account. Sure enough, @visitportugal came up, as well as @golisbon and @Portugal_Travel, the press contact for the country. I followed them all.
My search also found @Pousadas, described as “a network of more than 40 establishments synonymous with leisure and culture that include the best traditions of Portugal.” I also added several Portuguese hotels to my list. That way, if they offer a discount or special in the next few months, I’ll see it and jump on it.
Make lists. Now that I have all these Portugal contacts, I need to organize them in a way that makes it easy to keep track of them. Twitter has a List feature that you can use to group people you’re following. So you can have one list for airlines, one for hotels, and others for specific destinations.
And once your trip is over, feel free to “unfollow” your country-specific sources. Unlike Facebook, it’s OK to follow and unfollow companies and people on Twitter that are no longer adding value.
Move fast. The best Twitter sales end up being “retweeted” so often that the cheapest seats can quickly sell out. If you have a destination in mind — or if a fare comes through your Twitter stream that makes you squeal — be ready to hit the buy button.
Be flexible. These cheap fares can be easy on your wallet — and full of restrictions. “You have to read the fine print to make sure you can use them when you want to and you know what is included,” cautioned Button.
Don’t be afraid to engage. Twitter is a social network. Most travel companies on Twitter have people monitoring it for “mentions.” So if you have a question or complaint, feel free to send it out — it may the best way to get a response.
And who knows, you may make a friend. In 2009, I asked the Twitterverse for Rome recommendations, using the city’s “hashtag” (#Rome). Travel writer @MissExpatria responded with suggestions, and set up a “Tweet up” for a drink. I’ve been a Twitter addict ever since.
© 2011 by Wiley Publishing Inc