Here's the dilemma. You dream of traveling more, but you don't have the dinero to jet set off every time the urge strikes. Perhaps you can afford multiple vacations, but would prefer NOT to pay full price! Whichever your economic station in life may be, EVERYONE can benefit from applying these tips to save money when planning a vacation.
Before I dive into these tips, let me tell you, I'm not going to suggest things like "stay in a hostel" or "couch-surf".... that may be great for some people, but my travels consist of romantic getaways or traveling with a family of 6. Yes, we bring the whole damn fam! Who would want six people on their couch? I mean, who even has six couches in their house? See the problem with couch-surfing?
So, let's talk about these 5 travel tips to save you money!
1. Credit Cards
Yes, you heard that right! You can receive free flights and hotel rooms using credit card points. But let me interject with the fact that you have to choose the RIGHT card and pay it off RESPONSIBLY. Before going this route, DO YOUR HOMEWORK, it can payoff big time!
I am totally kicking my backside for not doing this sooner in life, every year I travel at least four times for work (my "other" job) and I never used just one card, I would go back and forth between Hilton, Starwood SPG, Marriott, etc, rather than using one card for everything to build my points faster. BIG MISTAKE. Interesting note: using the SPG Amex at Marriott will result in 5X the points!!
My personal favorite is the Southwest Credit Card (surprise surprise!), One of the biggest perks of this card is when you hit 110,000 points within one year, you receive a companion pass so your companion flies FOR FREE, WHENEVER, NO LIMIT!! That pass is good the rest of the calendar year and the whole NEXT year. Right there, your flight savings are cut in half and you can use the 110,000 points toward your plane ticket or vacation packages.
Make sure to check out my post regarding the Southwest Rapid Rewards program and the companion pass: click here
Things to look for in a Credit Card:
Multiple ways to achieve points, through online shopping, hotel stays, programs like rocket miles, and more. Sometimes you can stack points by booking through a partner site AND using the credit card at the same time.
To maximize your points, open 2 credit cards (you/your spouse, or a personal/ business card) and transfer points. When I fly with the kiddos, we transfer their points to my account to accumulate the most points. (they also don't pay for sh*t)
Wait for the right special, they change periodically throughout the year in terms of how many bonus points are offered as a sign-up incentive.
The best time to enroll is the beginning of the calendar year (especially for Southwest)
Make sure to check out different airline credit cards. And figure out which ones, based on your spending, flying habits/locations, would suit your needs best.
Also, consider, that most reward cards do charge a yearly fee, but the yearly fee is nothing compared to the travel savings you can accrue during the year.
2. Discount Sites For Travel
Yes, you can find unbelievable deals on some of these discount sites! Last year, we found a 4-night trip, including flights to the Grand Cayman Island (staying at the Marriott on 7 Mile Beach) for $499 pp (that is usually the price for a competitive flight alone!). You can also find discount group tours to other countries, for those that are a little weary going it alone!
A few things to remember when booking through these sites:
Make sure the airline is a reputable airline. Some of these discount sites charter planes and they are a disaster; travel times change, bad service, lost luggage. You don't want to start your vacation on a sour note.
Make sure to double check the resort or hotel with ratings on Trip Adviser or other reputable 3rd party sites. The monetary discount will not matter if you are staying in a roach infested resort, or if your beautiful blue ocean is littered with seaweed and you can't even dip your toes in without looking like you crawled out of the ocean deep! These are what I call "vacation killers".
Be sure to check the price to fly from another city. Either an airport 1-2 hrs away or book a flight to a cheap city and and then book another flight to your destination. One time it was cheaper flying from Newark to Miami, then onward to our destination (on another airline), rather than a direct flight from Newark to our destination.
3. Travel Dates Matter
If you are flexible for your travel dates, you have a better chance of finding a cheaper flight and hotel stay. Most of the time, flying during the week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays) will reap you the most savings. Hotel stays are usually cheaper during the week than a Friday and Saturday. Use fare calendars to find when the cheapest dates to fly.
When booking your flight, you can find the cheapest flights around 6 weeks from your departure date for flights in the U.S., 12 weeks for flights to Mexico and 14 weeks for flights to the Caribbean (estimated).
Tuesdays around 3pm is usually the best prices to book flights.
Make sure to clear your cookies or use a VPN when searching for flights. Airlines use dynamic pricing, which means the more you look for flights, the rates will climb higher (those sneaky little suckers!)
4. Best Apps / Sites for Travel Discounts
Travelzoo - one of my favorites! Make sure to sign up for the weekly top 20. They will email you their top 20 discounts, and if you see something, grab it! Top 20's sell out quickly.
Cheap Caribbean - I've booked vacations through them and had great experiences. They offer a wide range of resorts with flights included.
Expedia - Who doesn't love Expedia? Need I say more.
Skycanner - What I love about this app, is that if you are undecided on a destination, you can plug in your departure airport and type in 'everywhere' for your destination, add a date range, and you can click on the map and see what the flight price would be for various destinations (You caught me, sometimes I log on here for fun and see where I will travel for the day... in my daydreams!)
Skiplagged - These experts expose loopholes in airfare pricing, including hidden-cities and layovers. You can also search for cheap hotel stays.
Hopper - This app is great for when you want to make sure you purchase your tickets at the best price and the right time. It will predict the future price of your tickets if you should buy now or wait for a better price and notify you on your phone.
5. Planning activities / food
Before you arrive at your destination, make sure to have an idea of places to eat and activities to do and see. You can utilize sites like AAA, Groupon, Living Social, and Travelzoo to find discounts on food and activities. Again, make sure to look for a review on Trip Adviser before booking anything.
Another great tip is to eat on 'off' hours. Either before the dinner crowd or later at night. Sometimes restaurants offer discounts early, because they want their tables to look booked when the dinner crowd is out and about.
I hope these tips help you plan your next successful vacation! It never hurts to save a little green.
Wishing you 'BERRY' safe travels!