Last Updated on February 4, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Who doesn’t want to save money on travel?
After all, saving money – or getting more value for it – can allow you to travel more often and more comfortably.
In our next few issues we’ll be sharing tips on how to do just that: cut your costs, travel more intelligently, and, hopefully, enhance your experience. This week includes money-saving tips on planning your trip and booking your flight.
Future issues will include other topics. For example, do you know how to increase your chances of being upgraded at your hotel? Or how to get a premium airline seat at no cost? Or have money put in your bank account when there’s a flight delay – without having to fill out forms?
Planning Your Trip
1) Know Your Limitations
Rule #1: don’t always try to do it alone if you don’t know the lay of the land. Some are skilled at it, but many people wouldn’t try to fix their car, or make their clothes. Ditto for travel. When you’re planning a big trip, especially an expensive one, get a travel agent. A good agent can not only greatly enhance your trip – getting you better rooms in a hotel, a knowledgeable guide, and into the places you want to see – they pay for themselves. More importantly, they’re only a phone call away to fix things if something goes awry.
2) Travel During the Shoulder Season
Time your travel for the shoulder season when the crowds are gone, prices drop a bit and the weather still good. But “shoulder season” means different things in different places. In the Caribbean, for example, it is late spring and fall, the same as in Europe for non-skiers. But in Bali be ready to find hotels filled with the Japanese in May and Australians in January, both times reflecting those country’s vacation habits/schedules.
Unless you’re a frequent business traveler, you likely have trouble sticking with one airline and one hotel brand all over the world. But you can still pick up reward points in loyalty programs hosted by online travel agencies (OATs) such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. Book your air, hotel and car rental on those sites to earn points to use for future travel.
4) Double-Check Your Arrival Airport
Discount airlines pick out-of-the-way airports to keep their landing fees down, which helps keep their ticket prices down. But that can cost you plenty. So if you’re booking a budget carrier double-check your arrival airport. Ryanair, for example, flies from London to Frankfurt, Germany, but it doesn’t land at the main Frankfurt airport. Instead, you’ll be brought to Hahn airport almost 80 miles away from Frankfurt and, in fact, closer to Luxembourg then your intended destination, which could result in a pretty pricey taxi ride.
5) Time Your Travel For the Best Experience
There’s nothing worse than laying out a lot of money for a trip only to have your vacation ruined by bad weather. Avoid both by knowing when to travel. The Caribbean is best in January and February, although prices are high then. The weather is best in Central and South America January through March, the same months you’ll also avoid muggy months in Southeast Asia.
Head for the Greek Isles and much of the Mediterranean during May and early June (before the crowds arrive) and Alaska mid-May and June (when you’ll avoid the huge summer crowds and, hopefully, high-season prices). Looking for the famous “White nights” in Scandinavia, Russia, and Iceland? Then be prepared to travel in July and August, the same perfect months for making a transatlantic crossing on a cruise.
If you want to miss the summer crowds in Hawaii and the South Pacific, time your travel for September and October. If it’s the European Christmas markets you are looking for, plan on spending time on the Rhine and Danube in November and December.
6) Click That “Package” Tab
On online booking sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity many people spend a lot of time looking for the best deal. But they often don’t think about checking the cost of an air and hotel package combination. It doesn’t always work for everyone but at times it can save you a bundle, sometimes providing you the airfare and hotel for the price of the airfare alone. It can be quite a savings.
7) Don’t Just Search the Big OTA’s for Bargains
Airlines and hotels don’t like to tout sale fares because it diminishes the perceived value of their brand. What they do instead is to bundle airfare and hotel costs, and perhaps a car rental or something else, into a package. And for some great values you won’t find with the large OTAs – also look at the packages offered by the airlines themselves. Check Southwest Vacations, United Vacations, American Airlines Vacations, and others. Also check smaller online agencies such as Gate 1 Travel and Apple Vacations.
8) Make Use of Travel-Planning Sites
One incredibly good site I use often is Rome2Rio.com. Enter your starting city and your destination and it will near-instantly tell you how to get there, as well as show you the means of transport (car, bus, plane, etc.), the cost for each, and the travel time. Sometimes you’ll see that a plane isn’t the way to go. It’s a great app to plan any trip. Make it your first stop online.
9) Investigate All-Inclusives
If you’re budget-conscious, you may want to look at an all-inclusive resort where you will pay just once for your entire vacation including hotel, meals, outdoor activities and other perks. They can be great cost-saving alternatives if you’re traveling with children or grandchildren. You’ll find them even more attractive in the shoulder seasons.
Two-for-ones aren’t only offered in the supermarket. Some airlines give you the option of a free stopover in a hub city when you’re en route to another country. On British Airways, for example, you’re often allowed a free stopover in London on your way to another destination.
11) Follow the Rising Dollar
Vacation in those places where the rising value of the dollar brings the overall cost of your travels down. One well-known area right now is Europe where American travelers are enjoying the lowest prices in years. But look elsewhere as well – especially in those places that are normally considered expensive, such as Tahiti where the rising dollar has driven down costs almost 15%.
12) Sign Up for Free Email Alerts
Signing up for free email alerts from sites such as airfarewatchdog.com, Expedia and Travelzoo can provide you with a variety of money-savings options. You’ll not only learn when airfare and hotel prices drop, but you’ll also get early access to sale fares and flash sales. If you don’t want these alerts cluttering your inbox set up a special email address on your computer to which all such emails will be sent.
13) Be Flexible
You’ll enjoy the greatest savings if you can be flexible as to where you’ll vacation. Come up with a budget for your airfare and use such tools as Google Flights, Adioso or Kayak’s Explore. You enter your budgeted airfare, and each will show you all the destinations you can reach on that budget. They’ll also send you email alerts about good deals (Adioso will even send you alerts if you tell it something vague such as find a flight that “leaves on Friday and returns on Tuesday.”)
14) Check for Last-Minute Packages
Booking a flight at the last minute can be quite expensive but there’s an alternative – booking a vacation package that includes both flight and hotel, and sometimes a rental car. Tour operators sometimes drop the cost of the package at the last moment to get some income from unsold packages. You’ll usually find the best on major online travel agencies sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity.
15) Look Overseas
The price of all travel products, especially airfares, are constantly changing. Sometimes you’ll see the cost change as you’re booking a flight. To ensure that you do get the best price go to an international airline’s foreign site, preferably its home country. By changing your “home country” to that country, you’ll see your flight then listed in the local currency. Then go online and find out the conversion rate and do the math. Sometimes the difference will be negligible, sometimes quite a bit – just be sure that the credit card you put it on doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.
Time is money, especially when you’re spending your hard-earned vacation dollars. Get stuck in an airport by a flight delay and you could miss your connecting flight to London or your cruise in Miami. One wise thing to do is to check on which airports around the U.S. are most prone to flight delays and which have the best on-time records. A simple Google search “best worst US airport delays” will bring up some articles on the subject in publications such as Time and Travel & Leisure that will give you the stats.
17) Choose Your Dates Carefully
Carefully choosing your travel dates can provide some bargains. For example, late January and early February, a perennially low travel period, is usually a good time to travel if you want snare a bargain. Likewise, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days and eves. You’ll also, of course, want to avoid school holiday periods to popular places, such as the heavily traveled summer season when places like Disney World are bursting at the seams. Also consider the time of day – few people like to travel on a redeye or very early in the morning; that’s why you’ll usually find the greatest bargains at those times.
Booking Your Flight
When you’re looking at flight options on an airline’s website check the same flight on different days of the week (and different months if your vacation schedule permits). Often you’ll see that traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will provide good savings.
19) Look To the Startups
New carriers that have entered the American market are now offering substantial fare savings on flights to Europe. These low-cost carriers include Norwegian and Wow, which have offered economy fares as low as $99 to Europe. If you’d rather fly business class look to La Compagnie, which offers all-business-class flights between Newark and Charles de Gaulle in Paris at fares well below those of other carriers.
20) Put Your Airfare on Hold
You legally have the right to change or cancel your flight for free within 24 hours of booking. So when you find a good deal put it on hold and then keep looking. If you find that your on-hold fare has dropped within that 24-hour window, some carriers will either charge the lower fare or refund the difference (although it may be in the form of the credit to use at a future time). United will charge you $6.99 to keep your fare on hold for either 72 hours or seven days before you finalize the booking.
21) Know How Far in Advance to Book
To get the best bang for your buck, you need to know how far ahead to start searching for deals. And there’s no one answer – it all depends on your destination. According to Kayak, if you’re off to Europe start looking 26 weeks ahead, to Asia 5, Africa 9, the Caribbean 2-4, to Central and South America 3-6, and within North America 4-6 weeks in advance.
22) Choose Your Seat
As we all know most carriers charge fees for premium seats. Others, especially the highly discounted carriers, charge extra for any seat you select. If you’re flying a discount carrier, make certain you reserve the seat online since some will charge you double if you choose it at the airport.
23) Finagle a Seat
If you’re looking for a good seat but haven’t found one, courteously inquire at the boarding gate if one may be available. If there is one you’ll likely be given it for no additional fee. The same holds true in a carrier’s lounge such as American’s Admirals Club where the helpdesk will try to find you a desired seat at no additional cost.
Some of those rock-bottom fares on discount carriers can look awfully good. Just be aware that they are rock-bottom because you have to pay for everything else. Always do the math ahead of time and add the cost of seat selection, fees for checked bags, the cost to travel to your final destination from a different airport, etc. and it may wind up being not such a bargain after all.
25) Use Several “Fare Finders”
There is a plethora of online tools for researching flights, each with its strength. Kayak Explore helps you determine how far your flight budget can take you; Google Flight Explore shows the best dates to fly; Expedia offers money-saving tips and Momondo includes low-cost carriers. Use them all to find the best deals.
26) Get Notified of Price Drops
If you find the fare you purchased has dropped in price, some airlines may give you a refund if you request it, and often in the form of a credit. Others will not. You can make life easier for yourself by using Yapta to book your airfare since it will track any price changes and notify you when there is one. Interestingly, since most airlines charge a fee to make changes, Yapta will only alert you if the money you save on the new fare exceeds that fee.
Read the rest of the series: