I’m a Travel Writer—These Are the Hacks That Save Me Time and Money on Every Trip

written by LAUREN HARANO
Source: Dannie Brucker | Dupe
Source: Dannie Brucker | Dupe

It’s a fact: Traveling is a luxury. When you add up the cost of accommodations, plane tickets, luggage fees, and transportation, many trips are already well out of most people’s budgets. However, as a full-time travel writer and a (self-proclaimed) travel expert, I’ve learned that traveling doesn’t have to be as expensive (or headache-inducing) as I previously thought. While, yes, the cost of traveling still does add up, there are a handful of ways to save both money and time, no matter where you might be headed. From free apps I swear by to smart ways to shave off hours at the airport, these are the best travel tips I’ve learned while traveling across the globe.

1. Get a travel credit card

ICYMI: If you don’t have a credit card with good benefits, you’re missing out. And for those who want to travel, a credit card that offers travel perks is a must. The main idea behind these cards is that you earn points and/or miles every time you swipe your card, which you can then redeem at hotels, resorts, and airlines (it’s essentially like free money). Aside from monetary perks, some cards also offer benefits such as airport lounge access, priority boarding, complimentary upgrades, and more. Plus, using credit card points for flight bookings often offers greater flexibility in terms of airline choice, travel dates, and destinations, which anyone is sure to appreciate.

As a (very) frequent traveler, I’ve found that the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the American Express Platinum Card are two of the best travel credit cards in the business. Although both have yearly fees, they often pay for themselves with perks. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has a great rewards program, which allows cardholders to earn extra points on travel and dining worldwide. Plus, points are worth 25 percent more when they’re redeemed for travel (I’ve scored free flights by using my points!). As for the AmEx, which has a hefty yearly fee of $695, this card is exclusively tailored to frequent travelers. One of my favorite features is that I have access to over 1,400 airport lounges across the world. What’s more, the card has generous travel credits, including up to $200 in annual airline fee credits and up to $200 in annual Uber credits. Plus, cardholders get elite status with various hotel and car rental loyalty programs (think Hertz and Marriott Bonvoy), as well as complimentary benefits such as Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement. Yes, please.

Source: Cayla Taylor | Dupe

2. Book directly on hotel sites for exclusive perks

While websites like Expedia and sometimes offer lower prices for hotel rooms, I’ve found that booking directly on a hotel’s website actually has more advantages. One of the primary benefits is that direct bookers often have access to exclusive deals and promotions. I’ve scored special discounts, bonus travel packages, and even perks like complimentary breakfast and room upgrades simply by booking through a hotel. Plus, booking directly allows you to earn loyalty points or rewards from the hotel’s loyalty program (just be sure you’re all signed up). The best part? These points can be redeemed for future stays, upgrades, and other perks.

3. Book trips in advance

Listen up: It (literally) pays to book flights in advance. For domestic travel, I always try to book my flight at least a month in advance. If you wait to book it any closer, there’s a good chance prices will rise (often by as much as 25 percent). As for international travel, it’s essential to book even earlier. A good rule of thumb is to book your flight about 60 days before your departure date to get the best itinerary options and prices.

However, just because you book in advance doesn’t mean you’ll see super affordable flight prices—especially around peak travel times (ugh, I know). Mid-June through mid-August are always pretty busy, as well as any time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, so be sure to keep that in mind when planning.

4. Sign up for hotel rewards programs

Before I became a full-time traveler, I didn’t give much thought to hotel rewards programs—and, wow, was I missing out. As I quickly learned, these programs offer tons of ways to save money and some pretty great perks for frequent travelers. After signing up through a specific hotel chain, you’ll receive points for stays, dining, and other purchases at those properties, which can be redeemed for free nights, room upgrades, and on-property experiences. Some programs also offer elite status tiers with additional benefits such as late checkout, lounge access, and bonus points. Some of the best programs to sign up for are Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards Club, and Wyndham Rewards. Oh, and did I mention they’re all free?

5. Track prices on Google Flights

While most people check Google Flights to compare airline prices, the power of its flight tracking feature might be more important. By setting up alerts for your next trip, you can track exactly how much your airline ticket price fluctuates and get notified as soon as the price drops. I always like to start tracking prices on a potential flight right when I start planning a trip so I can see how much prices ebb and flow before I actually book it. This feature has saved me untold amounts of money on flights because I can ensure I’m always booking at the most opportune time.

Source: @fashion_jackson

6. Never bring a checked bag if you don’t have to

I get it: Packing light is hard. But in my experience, a carry-on bag is a whole lot better—and more cost-effective—than a checked bag. Checked bags usually always cost additional fees (unless you use your travel credit card points wisely), which can add up quickly and inflate the cost of your trip. Plus, sticking to carry-on luggage can also save you time and hassle at the airport since you won’t need to wait in line to check your bag or worry about the possibility of it being lost or delayed. My advice? Work on curating your capsule wardrobe throughout the year so you can reach for go-to pieces you know you can rely on.

7. Download Mobile Passport Control (it’s free)

If you travel internationally and are not using Mobile Passport Control, this travel tip might just change your life. Mobile Passport Control (or MPC) is an app that’s authorized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency that lets eligible travelers expedite their entry into the United States. All you have to do is download the app and submit your passport and customs declaration information electronically before you go through customs. Once you get there, you’ll be able to skip the line, scan a QR code, and quickly be on your way. (It’s essentially like Global Entry, but completely free.) Trust me, this is a game-changer.

8. Get TSA PreCheck or CLEAR—it’s worth it

As a wise man once said, time is money. Wasting time at the airport is never fun, especially when you have a vacation to get to. To avoid having to arrive at the airport extra early or deal with long security lines, get TSA PreCheck or CLEAR. TSA PreCheck costs $78 for a five-year membership period, which really pays off when it means you’ll have much shorter lines and not have to remove your shoes, belts, or laptops. CLEAR, on the other hand, is $189 per year, which is a bit pricey but equally worth it. With CLEAR, you can skip the traditional ID check process and zoom through security—all you have to do is verify your ID and boarding pass at a kiosk, and an agent will escort you to the front of the line.