Last year, Robert Reid wanted to book a flight from his home base in New York to Melbourne, Australia. As the U.S. travel editor for travel-guide publisher Lonely Planet Americas based in Australia, he knew he'd find the best travel deals by scouring his favorite websites. But when he checked Twitter, he couldn't believe his luck.
He found a flight on Virgin Atlantic Airways on Twitter that was $300 cheaper than he had seen on any other site.
It turns out that Reid isn't alone. Increasingly, frugal travelers are turning to social networking sites such as Twitter to find the best travel deals on airline tickets, hotel reservations and other travel-related purchases. Twitter members "tweet," or communicate in messages of 140 characters or less. They can follow the tweets of other users who specialize in a particular topic or who offer travel deals and other consumer bargains.
"Social media sites like Twitter are a much more immediate, effective way of snagging sales," says Ann Lombardi, a travel consultant in Atlanta who runs The Trip Chicks. Using a Twitter account is free, and you'll likely find offers that aren't available elsewhere once you get the lingo down, Lombardi says.
Follow on Twitter
If you have a favorite travel website, chances are it's also on Twitter, so it's a good idea to start by following it. Next, you can use Twitter to branch out by following airlines, hotels and even destinations.
Locate deals near you by following your nearest hub, Lombardi says. Simply add the "@" symbol to your hub airport's three-letter abbreviation. For example, if you live in Los Angeles and fly out of LAX airport, you'll want to search for "@LAX" on Twitter. Once you find it, simply click "Follow."
But as you add more travel specialists to your follow list, Lombardi says it's good to organize your Twitter feed into separate groups, setting up specific lists for airlines, hotels, destinations and any other category you intend to use while traveling. If you don't organize your Twitter travel feed, you'll have a hard time sifting through a seemingly endless array of tweets and links, Lombardi says.
Make a Twitter Search
While many people just use Twitter to follow, preferring to have an approved list of providers push information to them, there's no reason you can't go out and search for travel deals.
"You can locate coupons or special discount codes by (entering terms) into Twitter's search box," says Lombardi, who advises travelers to refine their searches by adding a hashtag (#) before their query. For example, if you're looking for deals in Atlanta, you might search "#Atlantadiscounts." Or, if you're looking for hotels in Berlin, you could enter "#Berlinhoteldiscounts."
But don't expect perfect results from these searches, says Pete Meyers, vice president of Over There Interactive Inc., a company in New York that runs the travel website EuroCheapo.com.
"We've found that using Twitter purely for search purposes, like searching for cheap flights on Twitter's home page, can be a little daunting," Meyers says.
The results are often too wide. But if you're keen to hunt through some irrelevant results -- and you understand the unique lingo that allows people to communicate in 140-character bursts -- searching Twitter can yield some real bargains.
If you need an incentive to look for that needle in a haystack, Lombardi says some travel vendors issue Twitter-only discount codes that are usually cheaper than other deals they offer.
Ask for Advice on Twitter
While searching and following on Twitter can deliver amazing travel deals, many travelers gush over the site's ability to connect them with all kinds of local information. That can include advice on local hotels, tour operators and restaurants. The information can save you money, but it also can help you get value for your dollar no matter what your budget is.
Last summer, travel writer and blogger Ben Reed based in Orlando, Fla., says he ditched his guidebooks on a trip to Victoria Falls in Zambia. Instead, he turned to Twitter because the platform offered more up-to-the-minute details on local attractions and accommodations. But, Reed warns, using Twitter isn't always intuitive.
"You need to know where to look because it's not as simple as sending a tweet, saying, 'I need help with Victoria Falls,'" Reed says. "I discovered that people who talk about Victoria Falls on Twitter use the hashtag #VicFalls at the end of their tweets. So that's what I did."
See a deal? Act fast
No matter how you use Twitter to find that great deal, you have to act fast once you find it. Twitter-only travel deals from airlines, hotels and other vendors are likely to be strong enough to get people talking, but short-lived enough that they won't be available for long.
"If you snooze, you truly lose, especially in the world of travel discounts," Lombardi says. "Discounts can disappear in a flash."