4/12/2013 6:30 PM ET|
21 secrets to saving on travel
Follow this handy guide to bagging the best bargains on your next vacation.
Your budget need not restrain your wanderlust. With our travel tips, you can save on airfare, lodging, vacation packages and cruises and get gone without breaking the bank.
Save on airfare
No. 1: Fly when no one else wants to. Fares rise and fall with air traffic -- so says the law of supply and demand. So plan to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday afternoon to bag a cheaper plane ticket (and possibly a less hectic airport experience). Early mornings and late nights are also less popular and more affordable times to fly, as are Thanksgiving and the eves and days of Christmas and New Year's.
No. 2: Be flexible about where you go. You can use Kayak's Explore tool to pinpoint on a world map all the destinations you can visit within your airfare budget.
No. 3: Use Kayak.com -- our favorite among fare aggregators -- to quickly scan hundreds of travel websites for the cheapest airfares. Check fares on Southwest.com separately -- Kayak doesn't include fares for the budget airline.
No. 4: Sign up for airlines' free email alerts to get sale notifications and coupon codes delivered straight to your inbox. Or visit AirfareWatchdog, where the site's staff sniffs out, aggregates and shares those promotional codes and special offers.
No. 5: Make sure you're buying at the right time with Bing Travel's "price predictor." Just enter your itinerary, and the site will return a list of fares with a recommendation to either buy now -- because it expects the fare to rise -- or wait for a likely fare drop.
No. 6: If you're booking a last-minute flight, consider buying a vacation package. Online travel agencies lock in lower fares early and combine them with cheap hotel stays. At the 11th hour, when fares may spike elsewhere, these bundles may cost less than purchasing the flight alone.
No. 7: Keep an eye on fares, even after you book. You have the right to change or cancel your flight plans for free within 24 hours of booking, thanks to rules introduced by the Department of Transportation in 2012. So if you find a better fare within that window, you can snatch the savings with no penalty. After 24 hours, if you find your booked fare has dropped, some airlines may be willing to refund you the difference. Use Yapta to track any price changes on nine major airlines and score any cash back you deserve.
No. 8: Avoid the extra baggage fees that most airlines charge. Southwest continues to allow two free checked bags; JetBlue permits one. See SmarterTravel for a comprehensive list of fees from 16 major airlines. And weigh the costs of carrying luggage versus shipping it.
Save on lodging
No. 9: Book directly through a hotel's website. Many places offer lower rates for online booking. You can also sign up to get hotels' emails about special promotions and discounts. Just remember the lowest rates are usually prepaid and nonrefundable. If you think your plans might change, it's better to pay the higher, more flexible rates.
No. 10: Double down on tip No. 5 and be flexible to save on a high-class stay. Private-sale sites, such as Jetsetter, offer deep discounts on luxury hotels for a limited time. But the destinations are random and most sites only offer a few deals at a time.
No. 11: Book blind for rock-bottom rates. The "Priceline Negotiator" and Hotwire's "Hot Rates" can cut up to 50% off regular hotel rates. With either site, you specify your length of stay, preferred neighborhood and a guaranteed minimum star class. But you won't know the exact hotel or location until after you pay -- an especially big risk when visiting unfamiliar areas, particularly overseas. (Blind booking works fine for car rentals, too; a sedan is a sedan is a sedan. But it's a bigger gamble for flights because you won't know exact departure times or airlines.)
No. 12: Fight the fees. Call your hotel to confirm an online reservation -- especially if you booked at the last minute -- and check to see whether you're being charged additional fees. Hotels may be willing to waive fees, especially for frequent visitors or rewards-program members. Also, request a copy of your bill the night before you check out so that you have time to dispute any extra charges.
No. 13: Keep an eye on lodging rates, even after you book. If you see a lower rate on the same type of room at your hotel, call the front desk and see if they'll match it. Tingo specializes in this kind of cash-back courtesy -- if you book a "Money Back" room through the site, it will track the hotel's rates and automatically refund you if the price drops.
More from Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine:
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