When it comes to shopping, you could buy something at the closest store you can find, but that might mean you’ll pay more for it. The same goes for travel. In both cases, it pays to do some research to make sure you are getting the best price. I’m not talking crazy couponer-level research, but especially with travel, due diligence could save you hundreds of dollars. Here’s what I do to save money on travel.
Deciding where to travel
If you’re trying to decide between a few different destinations, key details could really affect your trip, financially and otherwise:
- If you have a set month when you can travel but aren’t sure where to go, Google “best places to travel in April.” Countless posts will pop up to help you narrow down your list.
- Have a few places in mind? Check the weather: watch out for rainy season or the dead of winter unless that weather is conducive to the activities you enjoy.
- Determine when “shoulder season” is. This is neither high nor low season. The weather is usually pretty good, but it’s more affordable and less crowded than high season.
- Find out what the exchange rate is if you’re planning international travel. It may be inexpensive to fly somewhere, but the exchange rate could cause you to blow your budget. While you’re at it, look into food and accommodations pricing. For instance, my husband, daughter and I have been dying to go to Iceland, and while it’s not too expensive to fly there from where we live, the lodging and food are pricey (plus it’s freezing when we want to travel). Another time.
Unless your travel plans are last-minute, scope out flights well in advance using tools like Google Flights and Hopper. Both platforms allow you to track flight prices and they will alert you to spikes and dips, and provide a sense of whether you should buy now or wait. Hopper will also suggest alternate destinations or dates if a good deal is available.
Once Google Flights or Hopper gives you the thumbs up to buy, take an extra minute and go directly to the airline’s website to compare prices. There could be extra savings you can take advantage of by booking direct.
Before you book your flight, pay very special attention to the flight time and the number of stops. A direct flight is always best, but sometimes the cost outweighs the benefit. If there are stops, look at the total flight time as well as the layover times. Long layovers can really eat into your trip, but layovers that are really short—like under 90 minutes—give you no wiggle room if your first flight is late.
What time you land is also important. If you would arrive at your destination in the middle of the night, don’t do it, even if the price is right. If it’s in the early morning, only do it if you’re staying with friends or if you can store your luggage until check-in, which is typically in the afternoon.
Lodging shouldn’t only be determined by the price. Research different neighborhoods to find options that are right for you and your family. Take a look at several sources, from large travel platforms, like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, to personal travel blogs. Do you want to be where the action is or would you prefer to be a bit removed? What about public transport or parking? What’s the street noise like? It is safe?
Read about amenities carefully and think about how they might affect your price. Breakfast is a good example of this. When I travel with my family, we love the convenience of a free breakfast on-site, but free breakfast often means that the hotel is more expensive (meaning that breakfast isn’t really free). We also find that having a room with a mini-fridge or kitchenette can be a big money saver. You could eat one meal per day in your room and you can also enjoy leftovers.
Parking and a swimming pool can have a similar impact on the rate, so you need to determine what’s worth it and what’s not.
Staying a while?
If you’re staying more than a few days, a vacation rental might be a better option than a hotel. We’re currently researching a trip overseas and for the length of our stay, a quick comparison between hotels and apartments showed that an apartment will be much less expensive. The price is not only much better, but an apartment gives us more space, a kitchenette, and laundry. We don’t feel like we need someone to make our beds and clean our linens.
We found that Airbnb.com was the best place to search because the search filters were great, allowing us to search by neighborhood, price, number of beds, washer/dryer, etc. We also looked at VRBO, but at least in the city we were researching, we couldn’t search the way we wanted to.
Book early, if you can. That way, you’ll have your pick of properties and you may be able to save some money. Some properties on Airbnb, for example, offer “early bird” discounts as well as full-week discounts.
Ultimately, whether you’re looking at hotels or vacation rentals, read reviews – lots of them. Read the best and the worst, and look to see if the host responds to the comments. If they do, you know they’ll respond to you should you need them.
Are you planning to visit multiple locations during your trip? Two popular locations might look close on a map, but Google “travel from x to y” and see what comes up. You might find that it’s a breeze to get there by bus, train or car in under an hour, or there could be a mountain range in the way that could take you a full day to navigate. Case in point, we were excited to visit some beach towns outside of a city that we’re researching, and while it looked like it was easy enough to rent a car and get there in 2.5 hours, we read on a few smaller travel blogs that the tolls are almost impossible for foreigners to navigate. So, we decided on destinations we could reach by train instead.
How to pay
You’re probably planning to pay for the bulk of your trip with credit cards, but make sure you’re using the one that offers the best benefits, whether it’s airline miles or cashback. And if you plan to use a credit card overseas, use a one that doesn’t charge international transaction fees. One of my favorite cards for travel is the United Explorer Mileage Plus from Chase, which lets me earn miles on United, provides some travel insurance and there are no foreign transaction fees. Use my referral link to receive 40k bonus miles after you spend $2000 in your first three months.
A good no-fee card is the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card from Chase. I use this card for my Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, but it’s also good for international travel because there are no foreign transaction fees, and it offers some travel protections, like lost luggage reimbursement and travel accident insurance.
Lastly, before you go, get a sense of whether you should bring a lot of cash with you or if it’s easy to use credit/debit cards. And where should you get cash? At your local bank in the States? At the airport when you arrive or at exchange kiosks as you wander about?
We may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. In addition to a handful of affiliate networks, TrueTrae.com/TraeBodge.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.