Personal Finance

How To Book A Cheap Vacation

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 12 minute read

The United States of America officially has a case of the travel bug. To relax and have fun, Americans took 1.7 billion “person excursions” in 2014, as reported by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA). According to the USTA, a “personal excursion” is defined as “one person away from home overnight in paid lodgings or one day or overnight travel to areas 50 miles or more [one way] from home.” That’s equivalent to $5.33 in leisure travel for every man, woman, broke student, moping adolescent, wriggling toddler, and brand new infant in the country.

That’s a lot of vacations for the ordinary family to be able to afford when the recession is still fresh in the minds of the country and still lingering in the balance sheets of many people’s bank accounts. Still, Americans are expanding their horizons. 1.7% of the world, or 1.7 billion locations.

Takeaway: Taking a break somewhere other than your home town is possible even if you don’t have a ton of spare cash lying around. To make your vacation more financially manageable, you just learn how to get the best travel offers.

Dates should be flexible

The Season

Millions of people are lured away from their homes in search of warm weather and umbrellas in their fruity drinks during the spring break season. As a result of the increased demand caused by the mass departure, airfare and hotel rates have risen. Plan on sharing an airplane with spring breakers on the initial leg of their overseas vacations, even if you’re staying within the continental United States, and budget appropriately.

Apparently there are two “dead zones” in the United States, at least according to USA Today. During certain times of year, tourism is at a low and hotels are struggling to fill their rooms.

Be willing to change your destination.

Make use of destination search engines.

Skyscanner is for those who care more about saving money than about arriving on a certain beach: You may examine flight pricing for possibilities throughout the country and around the world without picking a specific destination, just by entering prospective dates and a point of origin.

Some websites, like CheapCaribbean.com and Travelzoo, only highlight current promotions and discounts for a number of different locations on their homepages. Verify that the “offer” displayed on the travel site is genuinely a discount above usual costs by checking with the hotel and airline directly.

Off the Beaten Track

Avoid the high costs of lodging and activities and the throngs of tourists by visiting less well-known and less frequented locations. The Telegraph has listed five places it believes are underestimated by tourists in comparison to more popular attractions.

Make Fare Alerts

Nobody has the time to keep tabs on airfare all day, every day, so it’s a relief that you can hire someone to do it. Subscribe to a fare alert, which is a notification service (often email) that gives a variety of flights and rates to a specified location. I get a daily email informing me of the least expensive times to go to London, Paris, and Bora Bora for the next six months.

An alert may be set up for the lowest price on any date or for a specific range of dates. Also available are weekly and daily email delivery options. Don’t rely on the weekly email to alert you of cheap flights if there’s a chance they’ll sell out before you get the chance to book them. Although less likely, this is also possible with the daily email.

There are a couple of websites that may help you keep an eye on prices for you, and two of them are Kayak and Airfarewatchdog. Although both Kayak and Airfarewatchdog utilize algorithms to locate the best prices, Airfarewatchdog also has human analysts who manually search for discounts and provide warnings.

Book at the Appropriate Time

There is some evidence to support the widespread belief that the timing of your airline reservation is crucial. By way of illustration, according to Expedia’s research, “Tuesday is theoretically the least costly day to purchase tickets when booked more than three weeks in advance.”

Just don’t commit to anything just yet. Research shows that Tuesday triumphs by a hair’s breadth, with a 95% confidence interval. According to the research, Sunday is your best bet if you want to plan a last-minute trip. Keep in mind that you will only be purchasing the tickets on a Sunday and will not be going on that day.

Time of week is important, but so is how far in advance of your trip you book. In 2014, CheapAir.com reported the lowest cost “for each trip every day from 320 days in advance up until one day before flight time” for almost 5 million domestic trips.

Domestic

According to research conducted by CheapAir.com, the optimal period to book a domestic ticket is between one and four months before departure, with the optimal time being exactly 47 days in advance. We can’t tell you with any precision when is the best time to book a trip to New York as opposed to a flight to California since there isn’t enough of a difference between the two.

You should set up a fare alert (or be ready to check flight rates often) so that you may buy tickets as soon as they go on sale. If you can’t give it that much notice, the 47-day guideline (about seven weeks in advance) is a good compromise.

International

Nearly two million foreign trips from 3,184 different markets were examined by CheapAir.com in 2014. Booking for international flights often begins just under a year in advance.

While it’s true that airfares “remain pretty stable for a few months” after being available for purchase, not everyone is prepared to book their vacations nine months in advance, as 

CheapAir.com discovered. After a brief time of stability, costs “slowly creep up until around 90 days prior to departure, at which point the pace of growth begins to accelerate.” Booking your trip more than 90 days in advance is ideal, but unlike domestic travel, there is no hard and fast rule about the optimal day to do it. Instead, it is context-dependent.

Sign Up for Emails

The majority of us waste considerable time each week removing ourselves from mailing lists for advertisements we never asked to receive. Signing up for newsletters from sites like Travelzoo that compile occasional digests of hot travel discounts is a good idea if you’re looking for a trip deal.

Unlike fare alerts, which are exclusive to a single area, these discounts are selected by the firm and may apply to travel anywhere in the globe. If you’re open about where you want to travel and when you want to get there, signing up for these emails can help you save a lot of money.

It’s important to keep in mind that you might not know precisely how much you’re saving (or if you’re saving at all) as the original price isn’t always mentioned for these bargains. Critics of Groupon and similar discount sites note that the “original” prices for Groupon deals and other discount sites are often exaggerated to make the offers appear better, despite the fact that Groupon does show the percentage savings (which is sometimes 50% off or even more).

There is no harm in visiting the airline and hotel websites to see whether the advertised price is lower than what you would pay directly if you saw the bargain in an email from a travel site. Travel packages that incorporate lodging, transportation, and transportation between cities are subject to the same rules. Verify that you are indeed saving money by scheduling the parts together.

Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Stay up-to-date on the latest news and deals by following your preferred airlines, hotel chains, and travel firms on social media.

  • Twitter. According to Mashable, Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue are notorious for tweeting promotions to their respective fans. There are also a number of travel sites, such as @TravelDeals, that gather and tweet bargains from numerous firms.
  • Facebook. Facebook is another likely travel discount source. Remember that by “liking” multiple businesses, your news feed may be flooded with information that may not always be appealing.
  • Hotel Tonight. Despite the fact that HotelTonight is an app that circumvents direct connection with travel businesses, it is nevertheless a fantastic resource for last-minute savings. Hotel Tonight takes advantage of hotel owners’ need to fill empty rooms by offering up to 70% off conventional prices for last-minute reservations. iPhones, iPads, and Android smartphones are supported.

Be Loyal

Those who travel frequently may quickly advance in the ranks of loyalty programs by sticking with one hotel chain, one airline, and one car rental agency. Loyalty schemes do not provide much value if you are an infrequent traveler or if you want to switch things up.

However, there are a few loyalty programs out there whose benefits may be enjoyed without a commitment to the business in the long run. Case in point:

  • The Marriott Rewards program. By booking a straight four-night stay at a qualifying hotel, Marriott Rewards members can receive a free night’s stay. This implies it is possible to receive incentives on a single trip.
  • JetBlue TrueBlue. JetBlue TrueBlue topped U.S. News & World Report’s list of the Best Airline Rewards Programs. JetBlue generally operates from the East Coast and Florida; however, if you reside in either location and often fly within the United States, this is a program to consider. You may also earn points by flying partner carriers Emirates or Hawaiian Airlines. Additionally, you may earn points through hotel stays, auto rentals, and “purchases with retail partners”; hence, you can earn a large number of points on a single trip.

Credit cards with travel rewards are tailored to help cardholders rack up points for free lodging and transportation. The American Express Delta SkyMiles Credit Card is one example of a travel rewards credit card that is limited by its partnership with a certain airline. 

If you’re not set on using your points only with one travel service provider, other options exist, such as the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Visa Cards. (FlexPerks partners with a large number of hotels, cruise lines, and car rental agencies, in addition to the 150 airlines.)

You should look for a credit card that doesn’t let your points expire. Because of this, you may accumulate points gradually, without feeling rushed to make a reservation.

Always pay off your credit card debt in full at the end of each month to avoid incurring interest, which can quickly nullify any savings you might have earned through a travel discount. Carrying a credit card load is not the way to go if you want to save money on vacations.

Consider Other Accommodations

You can enjoy a fantastic trip without staying at the Four Seasons. In any case, your hotel room probably won’t be where you want to spend most of your time if you’ve chosen the correct place.

When we say “alternative accommodation,” we mean anything but a standard hotel. In a nutshell, it may mean everything from hotels to Airbnbs to hostels to house swaps to sleeping on a stranger’s sofa. You may find an overview of several low-cost choices that deserve your attention below.

Set a high minimum guest rating level (at least four stars to begin with) on a site like Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, but be willing to stay in hotels of any star rating. After filtering out the hotels with the worst reviews, you may arrange them by price, from cheapest to most expensive. If a hotel has a high enough rating (say, 100 or more reviews), it’s probably good at making the most of the facilities it has.

While it’s true that some hotels try to purchase favorable evaluations, a large number of reviews submitted over a lengthy period of time that aren’t all overly shining with fake enthusiasm suggest that the reviews are genuine. Examine a number of different resources to make sure that the viewpoints are consistent.

Consider a Vacation Rental

In recent years, the popularity of renting a home for a vacation has skyrocketed. Homeowners may earn extra money by renting out their houses through websites like Airbnb, Vrbo, and HomeAway.

As you will be living in a residential neighborhood rather than a tourist trap, you will get a true taste of the local culture. Some vacation rentals are small and affordable enough for a single traveler, while others are large enough for a large party to stay in without having to book multiple hotel rooms.

The cost of a vacation rental might range anywhere from that of a hotel. For example, in September, Manhattan one-bedroom apartments can be rented for anything from $60 and $2,800 per night depending on the season. Rental properties are convenient for extended visits (seven nights or more). Many rental properties have week-long minimum stays, so if you’re hoping for a weekend trip, you may have to explore elsewhere.

Make use of the Couchsurfing website.

Couch surfing is an option for people who have the perfect mix of thriftiness, curiosity, and (maybe) fearlessness. Couchsurfing, once only for the homeless or those with really kind connections, has seen a rise in popularity in recent years.

Through a website and app, couchsurfers may find people all over the world who are ready to let them stay for free or for a small fee in their homes (not always an actual couch, though that is certainly common). Couchsurfing strictly prohibits hosts from demanding payment from guests. It is customary, however, for guests to compensate their hosts for the cost of groceries or the wine they drank during their stay by providing a monetary or in-kind present.

Some hosts on couchsurfing take great pleasure in playing the role of cultural facilitators. Quotes from tourists like Sam, who says things like, “Nong showed me the sites and helped me look for the greatest street meals (insects included!) throughout my week in Bangkok,” are included on the site. More practically, she assisted me in obtaining my Myanmar visa and organizing the remainder of my journey through Thailand.

Play the Tease

The browser you’re using is spying on you. Take advantage of a little-known strategy for letting travel, hotel, car rental, and other holiday providers know you’re intrigued but not ready to commit before you’re ready to buy.

Put an item in your online shopping cart if you’re considering buying it for your next vacation but are on the fence about the price before you commit to buying it. Make sure it’s not a one-click buy, a site that stores your credit information, or anything else that may trick you into making a purchase before you’re ready to.

Relax for a while and wait. Some websites are set up to automatically send a discount or other offer to individuals who are almost through with a transaction but back out at the last second. The worth of coupons can vary widely, therefore it is important to know what will convince you to make a purchase. Although 10%, 15%, or even 25% off is not out of the ordinary, you may just receive a small discount.

A customer’s shopping intent may be determined simply by the customer adding an item to their basket. Considering this, you’re a highly desirable prospective client for them to court. Check your inbox for emails over the following several days if you provided an email address to see whether the firm bit. In addition, make sure you either complete the purchase immediately or delete the item from your basket after a few days to avoid making a repeat purchase by error.

Almost-buying might be profitable in other ways as well. After doing an online search for anything, you may have already observed that the ads on the pages you visit on the Internet are full of that particular item. Your annoyance with the adverts might be offset by the fact that they offer special discounts on the same hotel, cruise, or holiday package you’ve been looking for. You should give it a second look.

Book a Package or Don’t Book One

When booking a hotel, airfare, and/or vehicle through a single travel site, customers may often save a significant amount of money. It’s true that booking many services for your vacation on the same website can help you save money.

The issue, though, is that the packaging often lacks aesthetic appeal. Some flights, hotels, or rental cars may only be available as part of a package deal rather than sold separately due to low demand.

A reporter for The New York Times, for instance, looked into long weekend trips to Washington, D.C., and discovered what seemed like an incredible offer on a vacation package.

Unfortunately, Washington was 22 miles distant from the motel. The hotel might be great, but there could be a 12-hour stopover in Topeka between your flights. In conclusion, it’s beneficial to investigate bundles, but it’s important to carefully examine each bundle’s contents to avoid making any major sacrifices.

Bottom Line

Saving money is exciting, but don’t fall for bargains that appear too good to be true. To put it simply, con artists are waiting to take advantage of folks who are looking for a bargain. As an illustration, one common scam is a recorded message that claims you’ve won a free cruise when, in reality, you haven’t.

It has been reported by USA Today that the Better Business Bureau receives more than a thousand complaints a year from people who have fallen victim to “free” cruise scams. Other bargains that seem too good to be true might not be frauds, but they could need you to attend a time-share presentation. Always question anything that seems out of the ordinary and make it a point to double-check your suspicions.

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