Planning and booking a vacation can be incredibly frustrating and overwhelming. But when it’s time to click and commit — to book a flight, hotel or rental car — I’m not always sure I’m really getting the best deal.
Thankfully, travel pros are here to guide us on all the insider tips and tricks for making the most of your money when heading out on your next adventure.
Let an app do the legwork
Before you book your next airline ticket or hotel room, consult a travel app, like Hopper.
The Hopper app analyzes billions of prices a day to predict the best time to book your flight and hotel. It boasts a 95% recommendation accuracy up to a year in advance. “Flight and hotel prices fluctuate constantly, which means there are great deals available, but consumers miss out because they’re only spot-checking prices when they shop online,” says Liana Corwin, Consumer Travel Expert at Hopper.
It’s super easy to use. All you have to do is input the days you’d like to travel and Hopper will tell you to “buy now” or “wait” for a better price. It will even predict how the price may vary up until your departure date. When the price is optimal, Hopper alerts you.
If you’re renting a car, check out AutoSlash. The service scours rates at the major rental brands to compare prices and find discounts you’re eligible to use when you reserve a car. It alerts you if it finds a better deal than the one you’ve booked. This app actually helped me save hundreds of dollars during a recent vacation to California. (Bonus tip: Since there were only two of us on the trip, I rented the smallest car possible and used the GasBuddy app before filling up to save even more.)
Don’t book too early
Waiting too long to book your flight can be costly, but so can booking your flight too far in advance. “Booking more than six months ahead can cost you, since airlines set their initial prices conservatively,” Corwin says.
Her advice: Book your flight at least 25 days in advance, but no more than 150 days prior to takeoff. Hotel prices, too, can fluctuate just as much as flight prices in the months leading up to a trip. She says the best time to book a hotel stay is two to three months in advance.
Booking on a Tuesday isn’t always best
One common money saving booking tip is to fly out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which are the days with the lowest demand for tickets. However, another “insider” practice — booking your ticket on a Tuesday — may not do you much good.
“We looked at over 20 million flight searches from over a four month period. We found that, on average, Tuesdays around midnight is the cheapest time to book a flight, with savings around 6%,” Corwin says. “However, this is applicable to only 1.6% of U.S. routes.” So while you might save money, chances are, the savings probably won’t pertain to your trip.
You’re better off using a price monitoring tool than relying on old booking misconceptions to save money.
Subscribe to a super saver’s newsletter
It can take hours of online research to find the best travel deals. With the Scott’s Cheap Flights newsletter, the deals come to you. According to founder Scott Keyes, the email subscription service — which offers both free and paid memberships — saves people around $550 per ticket on their airfare. (The service doesn’t earn commissions or get kickbacks on fares their clients purchase.)
Keyes started his business after scoring a super-cheap “mistake” fare. “I was working as a journalist and looking to travel, but I didn’t have a lot of money,” he says. “I got really good at finding cheap flights and found the best deal of my life: a round trip ticket between New York City and Milan, Italy for $130.” These fares happen when an airline accidentally sells a ticket for much less than it meant to, due mostly to human error. Friends and coworkers heard about his amazing deal and asked to be notified when he found others. His simple email list eventually became the Scott’s Cheap Flights service.
Plan around very loose dates and destinations
The more flexible you can be with your travel planning, the more money you can save. Keyes says the best deals can be had if you…
- Widen your travel date range to encompass six to eight weeks instead of limiting it to days within a single week.
- Search for deals by region, not a specific destination if you aren’t particular on where you want to go. For example, if you want to go someplace warm in the spring, search for “Caribbean” instead of “Aruba.”
- Travel from larger airports. Larger hubs have more flights, therefore more chances to find a deal. Taking a bus or a train from your hometown to a larger airport may be a little more hassle, but you could save a lot by doing so.
- Create two itineraries for pricey overseas trips. First, book the cheapest flight between the U.S. and that country. Then find a cheap flight from your home base to the airport where the overseas flight originates. For example: Let’s say you live in Iowa and are traveling to Spain. The cheapest flights to Spain originate in New York City. Book the NYC to Spain flight, then, on a separate itinerary, find an inexpensive flight from Iowa to New York City. It’s a little more work, but could save hundreds of dollars.
Set up a travel-only savings plan
Brian J. O’Connor, author of “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese,” says the best way to save for travel is to set aside money for it on a schedule. “This money then becomes your budget,” he says.
Start by figuring out how much you’re going to need for flights, overnight accommodations, entertainment, tickets, and a daily food allowance. You can gauge how long you’ll need to save if you do some simple planning and math.
This is exactly the approach my family used when my husband and I decided to take the family on a Disney vacation: I set up an automatic deposit each week from my checking account to a special “vacation” savings account. (These five budget vacation moves will help you save even more money on the road.)
Get the entire family to chip in
Planning a family trip on a budget? You don’t have to do it all on your own. O’Connor suggests having a family discussion about the proposed vacation and coming up with ways everyone can help save for it. “Make the vacation a part of a family Christmas gift. Plan a family garage sale where everyone has to donate some of their belongings to sell to help pay for the trip. It’s a great way to impart some financial lessons and responsibility,” he says.
See more and save with a multi-city flight
A multi-city flight is one that doesn’t follow a typical “there and back” scenario. It goes from Point A to Point B to Point C (and on… up to six destinations).
For example, Icelandair’s “Icelandair Stopover” takes advantage of multi-city flights to get people to stopover in Iceland when flying over the Atlantic. And it doesn’t cost extra. Here’s how it works: Book your flight with Icelandair (which serves 15 destinations in the U.S. and Canada and 24 destinations in Europe) and choose the “Icelandair Stopover” option instead of the “one way” or “round trip” selections. You can stay for one to seven days in Iceland before you catch a flight to your final destination. It’s a great way to explore Iceland without adding to your ticket price.
(Rack up even more travel savings!: Here are nine ways to use your credit card to pay less for your next vacation.)
Use a travel agent
In the world of DIY, you may think piecing together your own vacation will save you money. But you might be wrong. Travel agents oftentimes have access to discounts that you won’t find online. They also know the tricks to getting upgrades and have access to group discounts.
Travel can also save you stress and money, especially if you encounter unexpected complications on the road. “We can help with snowstorm delays, airline strikes, and give advice on where it’s safe to travel and where it’s not,” says Mary Ellen Lessard, travel consultant for AAA Travel. They can also help you find the right tour operator and suggest the best local guides to use. “You never know with these online specials who will be there to help you when help is needed,” she says.
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