As you're reading this article, you might be planning your next vacation, thinking about the multitude of things you must do before D-day – be it how to book the cheapest yet safest flight, whether to stay at a hotel or consider an alternative lodging facility, how to stay within budget, and who can assist you throughout the process.
Finding proper answers to these questions is important, but planning a trip shouldn't be a difficult process, an exercise that makes you anxious and stressed rather than happy – which you normally should be, given that you are taking some time off.
To save money on your next vacation, do your homework and start tracking travel deals. You also should consider using a travel rewards card, think about timing, ponder lodging alternatives and figure out the best way to book your ticket and save some cash in the process.
How Do I Track, and Seize On, Travel Deals?
A friend of mine who is always on the road says the best way to save money for vacation is to start early, track deals, track them and track them again. She says you should consider three sources of travel deals: transportation companies, travel agencies, and online travel sites. Transportation companies, such as coach companies, cruises and airlines, are a good starting point, so talk to a customer service representative of your favorite airline as frequently as possible. That way, you know in advance things like upcoming deals, available upgrade options, and terms and conditions of specific deals.
The next place where you can grab some good ideas about travel budgeting and saving is your travel agency. Your agency rep has access to an expansive database of flights, deals and season offers, so talking to him or her frequently may help you land a lifetime deal, say, paying zero cent to travel to Egypt to see King Tut One's tomb.
The third option is to visit the websites of travel information aggregators, such as Expedia and Travelocity. These online travel agencies – that's what they are, if you really think about it – generally have information about the best deals that are available during specific times. Select the dates you're interested in, and see how things like airline fare, hotel and car rental offers vary.
I like to play with the dates and time as well as departure and arrival airports to see the best combination, financially speaking. For example, if you live in New York City or its vicinity, you can try to depart from John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport or LaGuardia Airport, and figure out which airport helps you save money. Don't depart from an airport that is too far from your home, though, lest you lose the ticket savings to exorbitant taxi fares.
Can a Travel Rewards Card Help Me Save Money?
The answer is "yes." With a travel rewards card, you can accumulate points whenever you make purchases, be it at a store or online. Some credit card companies ascribe reward prominence to certain spending categories, meaning, for example, that you earn more rewards by buying a movie ticket than splurging on your favorite Cappuccino. Check with your card company to see whether you qualify for a travel rewards program. The program's benefits include things like VIP service at hotels, airports and car rental agencies. If you do it right and are lucky, you might even fly for free, especially if the rewards you accumulated is equal to or exceeds the number of points the airline requires for an economy or business class ticket.
What Difference Does Peak Season vs. Off Season Traveling Make?
The difference is clear: more travelers and more demand mean more expensive tickets. This is the basic law of supply and demand, which is so near and dear to economists' hearts. Peak seasons generally carry higher prices on everything from hotels to air fares to car rentals to alternative lodging outlets. So it's better to plan your trip in, say, February, May or September than trying to join the horde of diehard tourists and occasional trekkers who barnstorm airports in December, during Spring Break and in the summer.
How Can I Save Money on Lodging?
If hotel rooms don't fit within your budget, consider alternative lodging facilities. You can do home swapping, rent a vacation home, stay at a hostel, or sign a collective rental agreement with friends and relatives, who are also heading to the same destination country. Home swapping entails the exchange of your house with someone else's residence, typically in two separate cities, metropolitan areas or countries.
Check the U.S. State Department's general guidelines to learn more about home exchange and overseas travel. A hostel is a cheaper substitute for a hotel, so you might find it appealing if your budget is on the lower end of the income spectrum.
What Is the Most Cost-Effective Booking Technique?
When it comes to travel booking, I suggest you talk directly to the airline or cruise company, or visit its website to make everything from reservation to meal selection to car rental to hotel. Some airlines have agreements with hotels and car rental agencies, so you could reap big savings by contacting the airlines rather than going through a middleman – an online or real-life travel agency – who would charge a commission. One technique I've successfully used over the years is to browse flight data online, identify the deal that I want, and go to the airline's website to book my ticket.
You can save money foryour next vacation by booking directly with the airline or cruise company, enrolling in a rewards program, or travelling during the low season. You also can put a cap on your travel costs if you stick to your budget, plan in advance, figure out the best deals available out there, and consider the best substitutes for hotels if the latter are pricey or somehow don't fit within your travel plan.