With over fifteen years under my belt as both a writer and a traveler, I can attest that following these basic tips will guarantee you will save money when planning your next trip.
- Be flexible on your travel dates, if possible. Many destinations have peak periods of travel, which means this is when they’re the busiest. Travel off-season and you could literally save hundreds…per person! General rule of thumb is warmer climates are generally busiest from December through April, when winter-residing travelers seek the sun. Climates that experience the four seasons are generally busiest during winter months, when snow sports enthusiasts are out in force, and summer, when local tourists flock to escape their towns. Spring and fall are generally the best months for travel to these destinations.
- Be flexible on your searches. Make sure you check each of the big three – Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity – as each forges different partnerships with the travel providers. Also look at smaller travel search engines like Booking Buddy and Mobissimo, which sometimes turn up deals the others miss.
- Then search some more. Once you’ve checked with the above, and found a good deal, head on over to the actual airline or hotel site to see if you can do better. Often you’ll save at least the service fee charged by the search engine booking sites (from $5-$10) but many companies offer a “best rate” guarantee. Which means if you can find a cheaper rate elsewhere, you can present it to them and they’ll match it and often better it. This has saved me over $100 at times.
- Sign up for mailing lists. Sign up for a free email at someplace like gmail, yahoo or hotmail. Then use that email to sign up for mailing lists at airlines, hotel chains and even discount travel sites like Travelzoo. This way, you’ll be emailed as soon as the discounts are available. Be ready to jump on a sale to your chosen destination because as fast as the sales pop up, they’re sold out.
- Consider bus and rail instead of air for getting there. If you have a few extra days to spare, why not make getting there part of the experience? Bus lines like Greyhound and rail lines like Amtrak can often offer considerable savings, and offer weekly discounts on routes that are having trouble selling seats.
- Compare packages to doing it a la carte. When trip providers such as airlines and hotels put together packages, they can often save you money – provided you need everything in the package. It’s great to save money, but if you aren’t going to use the wakeboard rentals or breakfasts in bed, you should compare the prices of just putting together a package on your own, with just the things you need.
- Use consolidators. If price is the most important factor of your trip, consider using consolidators like Priceline and Hotwire. They all take unsold inventory from the airlines and hotels, and then package them together at a discount. The trade-off is while you can specify where and when, you often don’t know which airline or hotel you’ve booked until you’ve paid for it. Hotels.com is another consolidator that offers discounted hotel rooms, and you actually get to pick your hotels.
- Consider all-suites hotels. Traveling with a family or small group? Instead of renting two or more rooms, it might be better to try an all-suites type of lodging like Marriott’s Residence Inn chain or Hilton’s Homewood Suites chain – there are a dozen or so chains that criss-cross North America. Most of these have basic rooms which will accommodate up to six and come with a kitchenette to save money on food costs. Some, like Embassy Suites, often throw in free hot breakfast, too.
- Consider alternate forms of lodging. Sure it’s great to stay in a cushy hotel room, but there are other options. Bed and breakfasts are a great way to meet the locals and meals are often included. Hostels are bare bones, but also dirt cheap. If you’re adventurous, you can even try something like Couchsurfing, which is a matching service for people looking for a place to crash with people offering a place to crash. Of course you’ll want to use discretion and research whomever you choose to stay with, but it’s a great way to save money and hang with the locals.
- Use the solo share option. If you’re traveling by yourself on a cruise or on a packaged tour, consider asking the company to match you up with another solo traveler. This way you can save on that nasty solo supplement that some companies like to charge. Yes, you’ll want to take care with your valuables in any shared spaces like the rooms, but you may make a good friend and save money to boot.
Now that you’ve saved money on getting there, my next article will show you how to save money once you’re at your destination.