The world of airline tickets, tracking cheap flights, and navigating deals on hotel rooms is, quite frankly, a pretty strange one. We’re all left wondering if there is a top secret formula savvy travelers use to score the best flight deals and discounted hotel rooms—and it’s not always clear what that formula is exactly. Where do we (us normal average travel folk) begin? And why do I somehow always end up in the middle seat? While there isn’t one magical answer, these simple tips and tricks will help you achieve affordable travel. And may even take the stress out of trip planning. Happy travels!
1. Last minute deals
The borderline obsessive planner in me cringes at this, but there are some incredible last minute deals to be had. Sites like Expedia or Cheap Carribean have entire sections dedicated to travelers looking for a quick turnaround deal. Hotel Tonight specializes in last minute hotel bookings (you can book up to seven days in advance) that are both affordable and stylish. Whether you need a hotel, flight or an all-inclusive vacation, the travel industry as a whole offers deep discounts for these last minute bookings to avoid unsold rooms or empty seats. If you don’t have a strict timeline or find yourself wanting to get away on a whim, this option might be perfect for you. Remember, last minute travel doesn’t mean you can’t go on a well-planned, thoughtful trip! The key is simply to be ready to book at a moments notice (and be flexible!). Maybe good things really do come to those who wait.
This website is a lifesaver. If you’ve never heard of it, do yourself a favor and bookmark it immediately! Skyscanner compiles flight data from hundreds of airlines in order to provide you with the best deals on flights. In addition, the site allows you to customize your search depending on how flexible you are on dates and locations. For example, if you want to take a vacation in the month of March and have a few destination ideas in mind, Skyscanner will do all of the legwork for you. Simply enter your home city and the dates (exact dates or review prices for a whole month) and set the destination airport to “everywhere.” The site will show costs to travel to just about any city in the world. This feature is helpful when you have a budget of say, $500, but are unsure how far you can go. Hipmunk is another good resource that allows you to review flight costs over the course of a month.
3. Be flexible
Deep breath, my fellow type-A ladies. Sometimes it can be hard, but one of the absolute best ways to save on your next vacation is to be flexible in any and all ways possible. I’ve been known to take it to the next level when it comes to planning a trip so this was certainly a hard one for me to accept. Even just the tiniest ounce of flexibility can really help! This includes things like adjusting the timing of your trip to avoid traveling during high season or flying on a weekday morning instead of on a weekend. Also, be strategic in your planning. Obviously everyone wants to escape winter weather and travel to the Caribbean in mid-January but it’s also one of the most expensive times to travel to the region. So something as simple as waiting until March or April can save hundreds of dollars on flights and hotels. Also consider alternative lodging such as apartment rentals or hostels which are often much more affordable (but still comfortable and stylish) than your average hotel. If your vacation itinerary is a whirlwind of five cities in two weeks, consider paring down a bit. You’ll save on transportation, and you’ll find the trip more enjoyable if you aren’t unpacking and repacking every other day. When you’re traveling, plans change often and unexpected surprises come up. Being flexible and keeping an open mind from the get-go will make your entire trip more enjoyable.
4. Consider Nearby Airports
Many major cities in the U.S. and abroad have secondary airports that can often be much cheaper than the main city airport. Why? Landing fees vary from airport to airport and can play a big role in the cost of the ticket. Flying to or from an airport that has lower fees can ultimately mean lower prices for you. If you’re flying to or from a smaller airport (especially if your airport is regional instead of national or international), the limited number of available flights and airlines can drive the cost up. The bottom line is that airlines have a complicated system that determines ticket prices, and your best bet is to check nearby airports. Sites like Travelocity and Skyscanner allow you to search for nearby airports (and are a great place to start). Why fly to Miami when you can fly to Ft. Lauderdale (just 30 miles away) for $150 cheaper? Tip: Factor in extra ground transportation costs to ensure that you’re actually saving money by flying to a secondary airport. The last thing you want is to spend even more money and time on transportation when you arrive.
5. Loyalty Programs
Building a relationship with an airline or hotel via loyalty programs can be a huge money saver. This option takes a bit more research, but if you frequent the same airports or hotels, a loyalty program is a great option! Since it feels like there are approximately two million different airline and hotel loyalty programs (just me?) each with their own pros and cons, take the time to sit down and assess your travel needs. Some programs are free while others require you to sign up for a credit card and pay an annual fee. Think about the places you travel to most frequently. Include cities you travel to in order to see family, places you go for work, or even the city you’re originally from. What airlines fly out of those locations and which one are you flying with the most? Are there certain hotels you go back to time and time again? This can help you determine which program makes sense for you. All of your hard work will pay off when you enroll in a program—enjoy free checked baggage, priority check in, free wifi, and discounted upgrades. Happy trails!