Cutting costs on air travel
8. Start early and shop around for flight cost savings. Compare prices on online travel sites to find the lowest flights for your trip—and be willing to book a flight on any carrier, including the discount airlines. Start early because you may be able to get a lower price today than you can shortly before your trip.
9. Be flexible with your travel dates and times. Your travel days can make a big difference in the price you pay for a ticket. Search around to find the cheapest days to travel—and then dig a little deeper to find the cheapest times of departure, whether early in the morning, mid-day or late at night. Direct flights are always faster and more convenient, but if you have the flexibility to spend a few extra hours getting to your destination, you may be able to get a better price on your flight by agreeing to a stop or two.
10. Travel off season and look for special deals on flights and package deals. Travel prices tend to be higher during winter and spring break periods when more families are traveling. Travelers who can take their trips when most others can’t, and visit popular destinations in the off season, may enjoy substantial savings on their flights and lodging. For instance, Icelandair offers roundtrip flights from Chicago to Iceland for just $519—if you fly in January.2 But that’s during the dead of winter when daylight shrinks to five hours a day. If you take that same flight in June, the price is an extra $300 or more.
11. Pack snacks from home and bring them onto the airplane. Some airlines offer no snacks on flights or a minimal selection, and airlines that do offer a wider selection often charge a premium price for those snacks. If you bring packaged food to the airport, you can eat what you want rather than what the airline is willing to give you or sell you.
12. Don’t overpack. The cost to check a bag is typically $30 or more. If you can pack light, you can carry on your luggage and avoid the baggage fees for most airlines. Be aware, however, that some carriers will charge for carry on as well. For instance, for domestic flights, Spirit generally charges at least $26 for a carry-on bag versus $35 or more to check a bag.3 So while carrying on will probably save money, it won’t always be free.
13. Find a friend or relative to take you to the airport and pick you up—and be willing to return the favor. Parking at the airport can cost well over $100 a week, and cab rides can often be $50 or more each way. If you’re on a tight budget, that hurts. If you have a friend who’s willing to give you a ride to the airport—and you’re willing to return the favor—you’ll both be better off in the long run. If you can’t get a lift from a friend, try to find public transportation that can get you there (if you can handle your luggage), or drive to a “park and ride” lot where you can park at a discount and ride a shuttle bus to the airport.
Getting around on the ground for less
14. Use public transportation to cut costs and get a real feel for the city. Buses, trolleys, subways, and trains can be an inexpensive and interesting way to experience a side of the city that not all tourists get to see. (But ask around before you go—some routes may be more suitable than others.) And try to think beyond the normal travel modes. For example, in Portland and San Francisco, you can skip the tourist cruises and hitch a ride on one of the commuter ferries at a fraction of the cost, and with essentially the same scenery.
15. If you need to rent a car, shop around. Rental cars come in all sizes and price ranges. You can find a number of websites that list the prices of various cars at the leading agencies. If you don’t expect to spend much time in the car—and you’re on a budget—there’s no sense renting anything beyond the most economical options.
But if you have several passengers, an upgrade may be advisable, especially if your passengers are sharing the bill. You may also consider upgrading if you expect to log a lot of miles over several days.
You may also want to check out peer-to-peer rental sites to book a car from someone who lives at your destination. It may be an interesting way to meet locals, get tips about the area, and get a discount over the rental agencies. Two of the leading websites for peer-to-peer rentals are Turo.com and Getaround.com.
16. You may be able to rent a car at your hotel or resort. Many hotels and resorts have access to rental car services. If you can take a hotel shuttle to your hotel, you may be able to get a better rate there. In fact, you might opt to rent there on the days you need a car but not on the days you plan to stay in the area. If the hotel doesn’t have a car rental service, you may be able to find a rental car agency nearby that would drop off a car for you at the hotel.
17. Use discretion with the extras. The rental agency may offer add-ons, such as GPS and satellite radio that can add up to a hefty extra cost. They may also hard sell you on adding insurance to cover your car during your trip. But many car owners have riders on their auto insurance that also cover their rental cars. Some credit cards also provide auto insurance for your trip if you use your card to rent the car. Before you leave for your trip, find out if your auto insurance or your credit card covers your rental car. If so, you can save a nice chunk of money by declining the high-priced rental agency insurance.
18. You may be able to save by using Uber for some of your travel. Instead of renting a car for the entire week, it may be less expensive to rent it for a few days—for longer sightseeing trips—and then use Uber to get around on the other days. For instance, a quick online check of car rentals in the Tampa, Florida, area showed that renting a car (from economy to full size) costs from $418 to $447 a week. If you rented for only 2 days, it would cost around $127 per day, or $254 total.4 For the rest of the week, when you need to make a short trip to a mall or restaurant, or back to the airport, a 20-mile round trip via Uber could cost less than $30.5
Saving on where you stay
19. Stay with friends or relatives. Traveling to visit friends or relatives is a great way to see another part of the country and catch up on your special relationships. It’s also a great way to save money on both your accommodations and your meals. But it’s not necessarily free. Try to be a good house guest by bringing a gift for your hosts (it doesn’t have to be expensive) and contributing to the cost of the groceries and beverages. Better yet, take your hosts out for dinner. It may cost you a little money, but still save you a great deal over a hotel bill while showing your appreciation for their kindness.
20. Find a better deal on a motel after you reach your destination. Some of the lesser-known or lower-priced motels and hotels may not be easy to find in your Internet searches. But once you reach your destination, you may be able to find a better lodging value by checking around at nearby motels or hotels.
21. Look for a hotel with free breakfast—or, better yet, three free meals a day for you and your family. Many hotels and motels offer a free continental breakfast that can save money for you and your family. Some hotels also offer a package that includes all of your meals. If you have that option, compare the cost of the hotel meal package with the anticipated cost of eating out for you and your family. If the savings is negligible, however, you should consider foregoing the meal package. Being compelled to return to the hotel from side trips and site-seeing adventures for every meal could prove to be a major inconvenience.
If you’re ready to see the world, many wonderful and spectacular venues await you. And fortunately, you can enjoy most of them without busting the budget if you plan ahead, save in advance, and follow some of these time-test tips for cutting your travel costs.