When I plan a trip I want to see, do and eat everything. All of my vacations don’t start out as budget trips but I do always try to save money on the big costs so I can spend more on the fun stuff. That means I must secure the best rates for flights, transportation and lodging. Just because you are saving money on your bookings, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. In fact, getting a great deal often allows us to stay at nicer places than we would have otherwise.
Tip: In order to save the most money on a trip you need to start planning early so that you have time to do the research. Research is key to knowing what your needs for the trip will be and for finding the best deals.
There are several ways to get good prices on flights. The first tip for finding the best price on your airfare is to try not to wait until the last minute to book. Whenever possible, give yourself a 3 to 6 month window for fare shopping. Before you book a flight, you should also check the policies for the airline to see if you can change your reservation if you find a lower price later or if you will be charged a change fee.
Tip: If your dates are somewhat flexible, when booking use the airline fare calendars to find the cheapest dates to fly. Rates are usually higher around major holidays and more affordable during the shoulder or off seasons.
Booking your trip during a big fare sale can save you a lot of money on the cost of your airfare. Subscribe to the newsletters for your favorite airlines so that you get alerts when they are launching a sale. When you find a great sale, don’t forget to check the rates for any other trips you have on deck as well as the one you are currently booking for.
Join the loyalty programs for your favorite airlines. You may even want to sign up for an airline credit card if it has plenty of perks to offset the annual fee. Pay attention to promotions to earn bonus points, free upgrades or companion fares. Using program perks or loyalty points when booking a flight can save you a bundle.
Tip: Use Fetch Rewards to save on airfare. All you have to do is download the app and scan your grocery receipts. They assign you points based on your regular purchases. When you have enough points in your account, you can redeem them for a gift card. Although I like to save my points up to use for Delta or Southwest airlines gift cards, they have a variety of other travel options you can choose from as well.
Car Rentals and Transportation
The biggest way to save money on a rental car is not to book one at all! So the first thing you need to do, is determine if you will actually need a car during your trip. I prefer to do most of my site seeing on foot. Many large cities offer a myriad of transportation options that can be much cheaper than a car rental would be.
When calculating the total cost of a car rental, don’t forget to consider there could potentially be additional fees on top of your quoted rate.
- Miles Overages – Whenever possible, secure a rate with unlimited miles. No limit, no worries!
- Rental Car Insurance – If you book your reservation with a credit card that has primary or secondary car rental protection, you could decline the insurance and save and average of $11 per day.
- Tolls – Don’t stress if you will be in an area that doesn’t have any tolls. But if it does, either set your GPS to avoid toll roads, use the cash pay lane (if there is one) or inquire about a toll pass when you pick up your rental. Otherwise the rental agency could charge you ridiculous amounts for any unplanned tolls.
- Gas – If you fail to return your car with a full tank of gas (at least as full as it was upon pickup), you can get charged a much higher price per gallon at the rental agency for refilling the vehicle. If you know you will be pressed for time when returning the car, it may be in your best interest to agree to the slightly cheaper refill rate offered when picking up your rental.
You will also want to factor in any hotel parking fees when you are calculating your rental car budget. These fees can add up quickly. On our trip to Portland, my daughter and I were able to park in a nearby city garage and subsequently paid half the amount we would have spent on valet parking for 2 nights at our hotel.
If you do rent a car, use Autoslash for the best rate. Autoslash is a free website that searches for the best car rental deals and matches them with discounts you probably wouldn’t even know exist. Once you make a reservation using Autoslash, you can request that they track your booking. If the price drops before your trip, they will notify you so that you can rebook your reservation at the lower rate. I have used their service several times and saved a considerable amount of money on my car rentals. Two of my best rental deals were for trips to Portland, Oregon and Oahu, Hawaii.
In Portland we booked a car for 5 days with unlimited miles for only $75 total! Having unlimited miles was priceless since we ended up putting over 450 miles on the car while driving from Portland to the ocean one day and exploring the Columbia River wineries and waterfalls the next day.
For our trip to Hawaii, we divided our stay with 3 days in each Waikiki and the North Shore. After much consideration, we only booked a car for the 3 days that we stayed on the North Shore. Booking a car in Waikiki would have meant paying the rental rate for those days plus a large nightly parking fee at our hotel. We saved over $240 by opting not to book a car for those days. For less than $60 total, we grabbed a taxi from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the car rental facility a few days later. As it turned out we walked everywhere and never missed having a car while in Waikiki.
We initially booked our 3 day North Shore car rental through Autoslash with unlimited miles for $126. Just a few days before our trip they notified us of a new lower rate, and we were able to rebook our reservation for only $105. Once again the unlimited miles was awesome as we didn’t have to worry about miles overages while we drove around exploring the island.
Tip: We discovered it was about $8 cheaper to book a Flat Rate taxi instead of one with a meter. To save even more money, when we returned home, I used the purchase eraser feature on my credit card to cover the cost of our taxi fares.
Tip: In larger cities, you may be able to secure an inexpensive pass for the bus, trolley, rail or subway. Most of these forms of transportation offer options for one way, one day or multi day rates. Just pick the one that makes the most sense for your travel needs.
On a day trip we took to San Antonio, we used a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus option to move between the sites that we wanted to visit. We bought a flat fee ticket for $29 that gave us all day access to explore at our own pace. It even included a river boat cruise that was very relaxing after a full day of site seeing.
Before booking lodging for any trip, it is important to know what your needs will be for that stay. On some trips, you are exploring all the time and never in the room. Don’t waste your money on a fancy hotel room that you never plan to be in if all you really need is a clean and affordable place to shower and sleep. For trips where you are celebrating a special event, planning to lounge at the hotel or to utilize the amenities, you will want to consider a more sophisticated choice.
Whenever you visit a chain hotel, you should join their loyalty program. It never hurts to start banking some points toward a future trip. Sign up for their newsletters so that you are alerted to booking promotions and discounts. If you are loyal to a particular chain, you may even want to sign up for their credit card in order to obtain tier status, free rewards nights and other valuable hotel perks.
Tip: If you travel to the same area on a regular basis, sign up for their tourism newsletter. These newsletters usually come out monthly and provide helpful information, special offers and local promotions.
Don’t miss out on the freebies! If you are booking a multi night rewards stay with a hotel, check to see if they offer an additional free night option. IHG hotels has a book 3 reward nights and get the 4th night free offer, while Hilton and Marriott both have a book 4 reward nights and get the 5th night free option.
Tip: If you have a credit card that earns Membership Rewards, Thank You Points or Ultimate Rewards, you may be able to transfer points to your hotel loyalty account in order to book a reward stay.
Think about redeeming points like the song The Gambler, you have to know when to hold them, and know when to use them. You always want to try to get the maximum value for your hard earned points or rewards certificates. For example you get a whole lot more value using your Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate at a $400 a night destination hotel than you would at the $99 Hampton Inn. Sometimes you can even get more value earning points by paying for a $99 per night room than you would spending the required points for a free stay. It’s a bit subjective and just depends on your current needs and your future travel goals.
Tip: If you know you are planning a big trip down the road and are thinking about using points for your stay. Now is the time to take stock of what you have, what you need and formulate a plan to obtain additional points if you don’t already have enough.
The most important aspect of saving money on travel for me is stretching my travel budget further so I can travel more often. I hope you find at least one useful nugget that helps you save some money on your next trip!
These tips are just a few of the possibilities available for saving money on your trips. There is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming. To stay on top of these of it all, I follow the travel companies that I use most frequently on social media, sign up for their newsletters and regularly read articles posted by the best travel websites.
Dream, Plan, Save, Adventure!