Everyone loves saving money. One of the more difficult expenditures people can’t seem to save even a few dollars towards is travel. Navigating the ins and outs of planning your next vacation can get pretty confusing but it doesn’t have to be. Travel writers know how to find the best deals and it’s not magic.
Travel writers plan a LOT of trips. Long trips, short trips, something in between, getaways, business trips, you name it, travel writers have done it. Sometimes, they pay for their own travel, other times it’s paid for by a host or magazine. Either way, saving money is on everyone’s agenda. Here is some of the best advice this travel writer can think to give to help you save as much as possible on the travel part of your vacation so you can shop like a rock star after you arrive.
1. Develop brand loyalty. The lowest price shouldn’t always be your first option. The airline and hotel loyalty programs require you to collect points for free plane tickets and hotel rooms. If you belong to Delta’s SkyMiles program but their fare is $30 more than another airline, go ahead and spend the extra money because it will pay off in the long run. I’ve read comments on travel related articles posted online where people tell of flying around the world using their points. Also, even if you don’t have enough points for a round-trip flight to Paris, you might have enough to buy coach and use the points to upgrade to Business- or First-Class. When it comes to hotels, again, even if you don’t have enough points for a “free” room for the duration of your vacation, you might have enough for several days. Also, there are tiers of loyalty for the hotel chains. Using the Marriott Reward program as an example, by staying with their chain more than X number of nights a year one becomes a platinum member. Platinum members are upgraded to the next level of reservation and gain entrance to their concierge level (when available). You also earn extra points when staying at any of the hotels in the Marriott chain. At some of their locations, you might get a freshly baked warm cookie when you check in.
2. Traveling during off-peak can save a bundle. The off-peak season in the travel industry means room rates at a fraction of the peak rate and lower airfares to reach your destination. Okay, to be fair, the weather might not always be ideal but, trust me, it’s FAR better to be rained on in Ireland than in Arizona. But traveling during these times can save you a bundle and you’re chances of seeing a place you might not otherwise see are increased dramatically. For instance, there is a lovely hotel in downtown Dublin, the Harcourt Hotel. By anyone’s standards, this is a stunning hotel and its being so near public transportation, while still affording guests the quiet of being on a side street, make it an optimal choice for vacationing couple or family. The room rate can include a full Irish breakfast and “Continental” it isn’t (if you’ve ever seen a full Irish or English breakfast, you’ll know what I mean). During the tourist season in Dublin, the rooms at the Harcourt can reserve for €70 to €90 per person. While that’s not awful, during the off-peak season the rate starts at €22 per person (Triple Room) up to €49 per person (single room). Also, using Tucson (my home airport) as the example for airfare, during peak season, a flight to Dublin was just over $1,000. For the month of March (off-peak), the same flight, with the same layovers, on the same airline, are now just over $500.
3. Buy your tickets directly from the airline. While the opaque sites such as Travelocity and CheapTickets are fine for locating fares, if anything goes wrong with your trip either before you leave or once you traveling, good luck getting any help. You’ve now added a layer of defense between you and your air carrier. Also, ordering your tickets directly from the airline’s website might garner you discounts not available through the opaque sites; all the airlines will post “Web only” fares but you have to go to their site to see them. When I’m planning a trip, I’ll use one of these sites to find out which airline has the most flights with the lowest fares to my destination but then I’ll go to that airline’s website for the ticket, usually saving $15 to $50 in the process.
4. Don’t be afraid to use a travel agent. If you’re planning a cruise, the trip of a lifetime or one that has a complicated series of segments, go see a travel agent. Travel agents know the industry like no other person in the world and purchasing through them won’t cost you more but it might cost you less due to their ability to delve into the world of travel fares. They’re also going to know about unadvertised specials not released to the public. Travel agents are the ones to help you find any information you need if you’re traveling out of the country. A friend of mine owns a travel agency and she has a really good post to help explain how it works. One of the more important aspects of your relationship with your travel agent is their being the one you call if for any reason you need to make changes to your itinerary. Somewhere along the way, the public began to believe travel agents could only be used by the beautiful people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Using a travel agent is a bit like having an insurance policy. You do it because it lends a level of security and comfort. If nothing ever goes wrong, you wonder why you bothered but when things DO go wrong, and eventually they will, you’ll be glad you did. The next time you’re stuck in the Istanbul airport because your flight was cancelled, the opaque sites couldn’t give two flips because they already have your money and have moved on. A quick international call or a well-timed e-mail to your travel agent will fix everything because your AGENT wants you to come back, again and again.
5. The more expensive the trip, the more you need travel insurance. This might seem like a luxury item but after several months of reading a column by travel ombudsman Chris Elliott,I’m becoming more of a believer in the need for this. Time and again, I read people’s requests for help because the opaque site they used didn’t do things right (or rather, the traveler didn’t but they are asking the travel SITE to make things right) and they lost a ton of money, sometimes in the thousands. Both Chris and his commentors will, at some point, state travel insurance would have taken care of the problem. But not all travel insurance is the same; carefully check coverages and limits before purchasing. This is also something a reputable travel agent can/will recommend and can/will help you with.
6. Sign up for fare alerts. I always forget this one myself but when I was planning a trip to Europe 18 months ago, I signed up for a fare alert for the city in which I needed to land. I had completely forgotten about it until just over a week ago when I got an e-mail telling me fares were a quarter of what I’d paid during peak season. Suddenly, I’m thinking I might like to go again. I couldn’t get my husband to agree to it so we didn’t go but, it was sure nice to think about. There are several travel sites offering this service, both online via e-mail and via text messaging and apps on your tablets and smartphones. If you can be flexible and take some days off with less than a month’s notice (maybe take a long weekend?), fare alerts are a great way to plan a vacation or quick getaway. It’s tantamount to walking up to an airline’s ticketing agent and saying, “Give me two tickets on your next flight out, I don’t care where”. Some of the sites offering this service with sign-up are FareCompare, Kayak and AirFareWatchDog.
7. Sign up for travel site newsletters. Let’s say you really love spending time in West Virginia. The state tourism office for West Virginia is great about putting out notices to their subscribers about upcoming specials. Destinations are famous for their e-mail blasts and if you’re okay with getting several a week (assuming you’ve signed up for more than one or two places), some excellent deals can be found inside these messages. Glenwood Springs, CO, has an active marketing campaign that gives great deals throughout the year. The Loews Resort chain is also good for this and their locations offer a number of specials and all-inclusive specials year-round, but on special holidays, they can make it easy to plan a weekend. A suggestion would be to create a GMail or Yahoo account just for these e-mails, if you really don’t want them in your usual inbox. But check the e-mail often enough you don’t miss out on something great. These e-mails are also famous for including a coupon or coupon code giving discounts to subscribers only.
8. Don’t pack light, pack together. Airports are the worst place to be bogged down with luggage but checked bag fees cause people to feel they need to put their household into one small carry-on bag. I’ve taken my son with me on several of my assignments and we’ve flown Delta (MY brand loyalty). I really don’t like to pay to check a bag but at the same time, I’m already boarding with my purse, my camera bag and my laptop bag. My son will carry one of them, in a pinch, but he’s generally carrying HIS laptop bag and, maybe, a carry-0n suitcase. I grew weary of this on a particular trip and made the decision to no longer encumber myself unnecessarily. Now when my son travels with me, we bring one large suitcase and pack our stuff in there, together. I check one bag and enjoy not having to carry so much weight going from one terminal to another and we are much more relaxed when we travel. Once, I was behind a family of four who wanted to save on checking a bag. Mom, Dad and both of their smaller children each had two carry-on bags with which to board the plane. They were a nuisance to the rest of the passengers due to their taking up so much of the overhead bin area and the plane was late leaving the gate because of all the jockeying of their bags. Wouldn’t it have been easier on them AND the rest of us had they just packed it all in one large suitcase? Sometimes, it’s worth it to spend the extra $25 each way.
There are so many ways to save money while traveling and I’m sure I’m leaving out so many other tips that would be beneficial. However, this should be enough to get your confidence up. If you have any suggestions I haven’t included here, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Oh, and Safe Travels!