This story is part of our Travel Nightmares series, featuring helpful tips, hints, and strategies so you can travel stress-free. Read our other Travel Nightmares stories here: 10 Free Things Your Hotel Provides, How to Avoid Baggage Fees & Other Costs, What To Do About Flight Cancellations, Your Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, How to Troubleshoot 7 Common Travel Problems, and 6 Resources for Fear of Flying. Bon voyage!
If you sat in the middle seat on a flight and asked the passengers to the left and right of you what they paid for their tickets, you’d probably get two very different answers. In any scenario, of course, you just hope you paid the least. But the reality is there are so many variables to getting travel deals, it almost feels like you’re playing a big game of roulette!
You may begin wondering, did you get the lowest airfare possible? Does your hotel room actually look like the pictures? Did you really need the rental car?
There are so many strategies that can help you save money and plan the best trip possible. That’s a good thing, but with so many options, how do you know what really works? Here are 11 of my favorite no-brainer tips for how to get the best travel deals — next time you travel give them a try!
Tip #1: Hack your fares
A round-trip ticket is not always the best deal. Compare the cost when you combine two one-way fares on different airlines. It can even be beneficial to hack together your own two-leg flight. For example, East Coasters headed for Hawaii might save booking a flight to the West Coast and then one to the islands.
But keep in mind, since you’re booking flights separately, the airline isn’t obligated to help you out if you miss a layover, so make sure you have ample time between flights!
An online booking site like Travelocity may be a big help when comparing one-way and round-trip flights. Be sure to check for any Travelocity promo codes to add onto your savings!
Tip #2: Travel during shoulder season
Everyone wants to vacation in the heart of summer, so hotels raise prices accordingly. If you have some flexibility you can save hundreds (or even thousands on a European vacation) by traveling during shoulder season. That’s the time between high and low season, typically April through mid June, September, and October.
Weather will be pleasant, the crowds will be smaller, and the prices will be lower. Many schools get out in late May or early June, so even if you’re traveling with kids, you may be able to take advantage of shoulder season’s tail end.
Tip #3: Don’t count out apartments
You can book serviced apartments through travel sites that work similarly to a hotel. You’re not staying in someone’s apartment, it’s exclusively rented out to travelers and there’s typically a front desk that can help you throughout your trip. There may be some differences like weekly housekeeping as opposed to daily.
The major money saving advantage here is that they typically come with a kitchen so you don’t have to eat every meal out.
If you feel you can do without the housekeeping services, you may want to check prices for apartments and homes for rent on Airbnb — and save with an Airbnb coupon code!
Tip #4: Look at business hotels
Business hotels may take you away from tourist sites and into the financial district, but the savings could be worth it. These hotels are typically slower during summer and weekends, which is prime time for leisure travelers. If a hotel has several facilities for conferences and meetings, then it’s a good sign they’re targeting business travelers.
Take a peek at deals for business hotels on Hotels.com — the prices may surprise you, and you may also be able to save a little extra with Hotels.com coupons.
Tip #5: Ask for a corner room
You’ll typically get more square footage for the same price. Some hotels consider their corner rooms a premium space and do charge more, but there are plenty of hotels out there that don’t bother. Put in a special request when you make your reservation and then follow up the week of you trip to see if anything is available and can be confirmed.
Tip #6: Sign up for hotel loyalty programs
It’s second nature to sign up for frequent flyer programs, but you should have the same attitude about hotel loyalty programs. Most chains have them and racking up those points can lead to free nights, upgrades, and extras like free breakfast or Wi-Fi. If you prefer boutique hotels to chains, you can still take advantage of loyalty programs by booking through third-party travel sites.
Tip #7: Consider curbside check-in
Some airlines offer curbside bag check-in for free (though tips are encouraged). Others will charge around $2 per bag, but that nominal price may be worth it if you can skip the lines inside. If you plan to check bags curbside, check-in online before you arrive at the airport and have your boarding pass printed. Not all airlines require this, but some do, so it’s better to be prepared.
Tip #8: Utilize the 24-hour rule
Most airlines allow you to cancel within 24 hours without any penalty. So if you see the deal of the century, book it! A fare could double in just an hour’s time. This gives you 24 hours to discuss the details with your spouse or continue your research and make sure it truly is the best deal out there.
Not all airlines offer this, so read the fine print before booking. As an alternative, some airlines allow you to hold a fare for 24 hours without payment.
Tip #9: Book rental cars for longer than you need
Photo by Tupungato
Most rental car companies start offering weekly discount rates when you rent for a minimum of five days. Even if you only need the car for four days, it could pay off to book it for longer, qualify for the weekly rate, and then simply return it early.
Tip #10: Do you fly or drive?
Destinations that are five to eight hours away by car fall in that grey area — do you fly or drive? Use a travel calculator to determine the true cost and time investment of both options — the results may surprise you!
Factoring in extras like airport transportation and baggage fees, a three-night trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in July was $600 for a couple to fly compared to $72 to drive — and driving only took an hour longer.
Tip #11: Splurge on the airport lounge
Photo by Sorbis
Most of us would never even consider this luxury, but in some circumstance the price of admission is well worth it. If your flight is delayed or you have a long layover, treat yourself to your airline’s VIP lounge. Price and availability varies by airport, but Virgin’s LAX lounge is only $30 for a day pass.