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The tricks to traveling cheaply

Airfares are sky-high, but there are good deals on places to stay.

By Money Staff Apr 28, 2014 1:26PM

This post comes from Andrea Coombes at partner site The Wall Street Journal.


The Wall Street Journal on MSN MoneyGot a yen to hit the road this summer? Bargain-basement deals are hard to find at the height of the season, but there are ways to stretch your travel dollar.


Here's the rub: Saving money on summer travel means a lot of homework. Plus, if you're locked into specific travel dates it will limit your ability to slash costs.


Couple Taking Self Portrait in New York City © Radius Images/Getty ImagesAirline-industry trends may crimp your budget, too. "The airline consolidation juggernaut has really pushed airfares up," says George Hobica, president and founder of Airfarewatchdog, a low-airfare alert and advice site.


"We don't have Northwest competing against Delta, Continental competing against United," he says. "People have to rethink what a low airfare is."


You also should rethink a widely cited cost-cutting strategy: the popular idea that the airlines post the best airfares on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. That's urban myth, Mr. Hobica says. "We see sales on Fridays and Thursdays and Mondays."


But timing does play a big part in stretching your travel dollars—specifically, your departure and return dates, where flexibility pays. Mr. Hobica cited a recent fare of $720 round-trip from Chicago to Beijing, for travel the first week of May. Any other week, that fare is closer to $1,500.


Here are some strategies for saving on travel expenses.


Airline deals

Airfare usually is the biggest travel cost, so it makes sense to shop carefully and to pounce on a good price. Useful websites for comparing airfares include Momondo, Adioso and Airfarewatchdog—and all of them offer email alerts. (Unlike most websites, Airfarewatchdog includes Southwest and Allegiant Air.)


Bing.com/travel and Kayak offer "price trend" tools to estimate whether a particular airfare is likely to rise or fall, helping you to decide whether it's a good time to buy.  Google.com lets you easily see how fares vary by travel date.


Keep an eye on lesser-known carriers, including Allegiant Air for domestic trips;  Norwegian Air Shuttle for trips from select U.S. cities to Europe; ArkeFly for direct flights to Amsterdam from Miami and Orlando; and XL Airways France for flights to France from various U.S. cities.

One caveat: Booking with a low-cost European airline can pose challenges if you need to make changes. They might be "hard to get in touch with if something goes wrong," says Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer Guides.


Skip the hotel

These days, your accommodation may be your most adventurous travel choice. "When I'm traveling on my own I hardly ever stay in hotels anymore," says Reid Bramblett, founder of travel-information website ReidsGuides.com. "The alternatives are always more interesting and usually cheaper."


You could stay in a monastery or castle or on an Amish farm. Click on "Stay in alternative lodgings" on ReidsGuides.com for more ideas.


How about renting a room at Oxford University (UniversityRooms.com) or the London School of Economics (Lsevacations.co.uk)?


During school holidays "a lot of universities and colleges open up their dorms to make a little extra money," Ms. Frommer says.


A current listing on UniversityRooms.com offers rooms in Rome for one person starting at 33 euros ($46) a night and double rooms for 85 euros ($118), including continental breakfast.


Seeking a more rural experience? Switzerland's Schlaf im Stroh program (Schlaf-im-stroh.ch/en) literally lets you sleep in the barn, starting at about 20 Swiss francs ($23) for an adult, including breakfast. Don't worry: The animals sleep elsewhere.


If you prefer a hotel, consider Booking.com and Venere.com, Mr. Bramblett says, for family-owned and boutique hotels.


A number of companies—Airbnb and others—offer low-cost stays in private homes. While some cities have been cracking down on this practice, the new rules have had little impact on travelers so far.


"I don't want to tell anybody to break the law, but it doesn't seem to affect travelers," Ms. Frommer says.


Currency considerations

Some countries are great deals simply because the exchange rate is in your favor. For example, for an international adventure a little closer to home, consider Canada.


"The loonie has been dropping against the dollar," Ms. Frommer says. "It may be the summer to go to Canada."


Plus, flights to Canada are cheaper this year, according to Kayak.com data on searches in January through March for summer travel.


The average fare from U.S. cities to Toronto is down 7 percent, and fares to Vancouver are down 9 percent compared with last year. The U.S. dollar has also strengthened against the Japanese yen and Argentine peso, making both countries more affordable.


Time it right

For domestic travel, consider national parks toward the end of August, Ms. Frommer says. "Many schools now start in August, so a lot of very popular family destinations like national parks and the communities that surround them empty out the last two weeks in August," and hotel and other prices drop as a result, she says.


If your dates are firmly in June or July, consider destinations less traveled during the U.S. summer. Going to Mexico, the Caribbean or other popular winter destinations can bring your travel costs down, particularly on hotel stays, says Cindy Nelson, a manager in the leisure-travel division of Carlson Wagonlit Travel  in Minneapolis.


"Hoteliers will discount their rates in the summer to attract visitors there," she says.


For European travel, go in May, September or October. Same goes for Alaska. "It's a really popular summer destination," Ms. Nelson says. Alaskan cruises in September "generally will be better priced than the midsummer dates."


Be strategic

Think carefully about how you get around at your destination.

For example, renting a car for a big-city stay is usually a budget-buster, Mr. Bramblett says, while paying for a packaged day tour can save money by delivering you to popular tourist sites for less than the cost of public transportation.


Try a cruise

The recent spate of bad news for cruise lines—shipboard illnesses, accidents—may be good news for bargain hunters.


"All the problems in the cruise industry have lessened the public's trust in cruise vacations," Ms. Frommer says. "I would guess that that will lead to some good last-minute discounts on cruises this summer."


If you book within four weeks of the departure date, "when the cruise line is getting desperate and deeply discounted, you can often find cruises for $50 or $60 a day that way, and that includes meals," she says.


Another tip: Sail on older ships, says Mark Murphy, founder of TravelPulse.com, a travel-news website.


For example, Royal Caribbean's Voyager class ships "are still in great condition, with great features," he says, "but you'll find a dramatic difference in price going out on one of the older ships."


More from The Wall Street Journal

22Comments
Apr 28, 2014 5:39PM
Apr 28, 2014 4:10PM
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Beware of Allegiant Airlines-they are like Spirit in the respect that you save on flights, but the charges for carry-ons, snacks, bags, etc. negate the savings.
Apr 29, 2014 12:20PM
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Just climb up into the wheel well. That's traveling pretty cheap.
Apr 28, 2014 6:31PM
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You can travel with us cheap....but you won't be the same, when we let you out...
May 3, 2014 9:14AM
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Just hide in the landing gear compartment of a jet,...better bring something to eat,..they won't be serving snacks,..or oxygen. Bon voyage!

If your're from the 3rd world, the media will frame it in a cute and endearing light,..just a harmless stunt,..if you're from a civilized country - you WILL go to jail.
Apr 29, 2014 2:26AM
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If by travel, you mean vacation, look for tours where the air, hotel, and meals are included.  The air cost of my trip to China was much lower than anything I could get on my own.  There are sites like budgettravel.com you can scan for great deals.
May 3, 2014 3:22PM
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Anyone here tired of the people who use every thread as a billboard for their personal political problems?
Apr 29, 2014 10:48AM
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I flew out of Minneapolis to Boston, booked my flight on Delta three months in advance and saved $400.00. Of course I had a stop over in Detroit where I had a turnover and a coke waiting for the plane. On the second leg, I had a coke with ice and pretzels compliments from Delta. That night in Boston, I had an sever attack of food poisoning. How, when and where I got it? - don't know but saved $400.00 by booking really early. Maybe next time, I'll skip the ice.
Apr 28, 2014 7:47PM
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The article did not mention hostels.  I have stayed in them in several European cities; Dublin, Stockholm, Prague, Oslo, Vienna and Budapest and all were clean and comfortable...dorms are dirt cheap and private rooms are way less then hotels in same areas.
May 3, 2014 11:51AM
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Last year, I flew from DFW to Denver, round trip, for less than Greyhound wanted. Actually, I was to fly from Denver to Pueblo, too, but my friends were willing to make the extra 20 minutes to Denver to pick me up. I got my tickets from cheapo air. My only complaint is that they wouldn't refund the un-used portions from Denver to Pueblo. They could have sold the return one, anyway; possibly the trip down as a space-available. Still cheaper and faster than the dog.
May 3, 2014 1:26PM
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...Just some facts: Poverty is up under Obama Debt is up Salaries are down The workforce has shrunk The rich are MUCH richer  Food stamps are up to record highs Wall st fat cats have made a fortune There isn't any "recovery" under democrat control, only a false media narrative

May 3, 2014 1:42PM
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Remember to vote out every lying anti-American socialist democrat in November U know, the ones that lied for three years to steal your healthcare Make the socialist filth pay dearly Take the country back

Apr 29, 2014 3:52PM
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Always remember: democrats knowingly lied for 3 full years In order to steal your healthcare freedoms. Make the socialist scum pay dearly in November  Vote out every filthy lying democrat.......

May 3, 2014 7:41PM
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there is no need for venture out, if you are comfortable at home. if needed venture for the day and come back home for sleep.
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