How to save on travel

Ten ways for you to explore without breaking the bank.

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1. When using a credit card for travel, make sure you get something from it

If it’s an airline card or a hotel card, use that cash back for travel expenses and find out what other amenities that using the credit card offers to you. Some of the more popular credit cards for accumulating point and travel deals are Capital One Venture Rewards credit card; Chase Sapphire Preferred card; Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card; Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard; and the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express. Using these cards helps accumulate points that are given for every dollar you spend with your credit card. Some cards have the same earn rate for every purchase; others provide extra rewards for certain types of purchases, like groceries or airfare. And just so you know: These points can be transferrable upon the death of the owner, but it can be tricky. For example, AOL Finance reports that, with Delta SkyMiles, upon the death of a member, the administrator or executor of the member’s estate may designate one or more other members to receive a transfer of the mileage credit in the deceased member’s account. Only whole number amounts of miles may be transferred.

2. Join a travel group

AAA, AARP, Travelation or college alumni association groups operate as a third-party booking agent. You will get discounted stays at nicer hotels that will include perks like a free breakfast and a gift certificate for the spa. Some professional organizations, such as the National Press Club, have discounted group travel deals annually for their membership, often to destinations in Europe but also for other day-trip travel to historical sites within Virginia or Maryland.

3. Find different forms of transportation

Rent a car for long vacation drives instead of driving your own car and putting wear and tear on it, causing more repair headaches sooner or ending the useful life of your car. Try taking the Amtrak (best values are on the East Coast) between larger East Coast cities such as Washington, D.C., and points north. Costs vary at different travel times, and there are senior citizen discounts where you can go roundtrip from D.C. to New York for around $75. Getting to and through the train station and onto the train is usually much easier than the airport, the ride is comfortable with lots of room to move around while riding, and you can concentrate more on relaxing and planning what to do once you get to your destination. Bus services to New York from D.C. can also be incredibly cost-effective, with such options as the Vamoose ($40 RT), and either the BoltBus or Megabus (both offering $10-$60 RT fares).

4. Stay in a bed and breakfast.

Try Airbnb to rent a room or an entire house, or book travel experiences just about anywhere in the world. You can stay in a house for a night, a castle for a week or a villa for a month. They also offer unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 65,000 cities and 191 countries. According to Priceonomics, if you rent an Airbnb apartment, you can save 21 percent over the cost of a hotel room in a major U.S. city. Some of these deals are incredibly cheap, but do your due diligence on where you are staying and who is overseeing or managing your stay. You could have noisy neighbors, barking dogs, crying kids or just a general inhospitable environment with no access to rapid transit or the amenities you want to try.

5. Keep an eye out for travel deals

Check the airlines and other monitoring websites or apps, such as Airfarewatchdog. Also follow them on social media. You can get early access to coupon codes and flash sales, which can reduce a round-trip fare that’s typically $1,200 to $1,800 down to $700, according to Kiplinger, a personal finance, news and business portal. Kiplinger also advises taking advantage of the best-rate guarantees from hotel chains such as Hyatt and Starwood. If you find a better rate on a third-party site for the same hotel and room type, they’ll beat the lower rate by 20 percent. Orbitz offers a similar guarantee to its rewards members. After booking, if you find a better rate on another site, the online travel agency will award you 100 percent of the difference in “Orbucks.” You also get $50 to $200 in the site’s trademark currency, depending on your rewards-member status, up to the total price you paid.

6. Skip the travel services and book directly

Sometimes it’s better to skip the usual Hotwire or Kayak search and book a hotel directly. Not all hotels (or rental car companies or airline companies) offer their best deals through these services. Plus these booking services can include a fee for the help they give you, which is added on to the total for the reservation. Any changes to the reservation can be a bit tricky between the hotel and booking service management. So do a comparison search before booking and find out. Sometimes you can negotiate directly with the hotel management and get a better deal, and sometimes you can do that right as you are checking in. For example, if you notice that a large hotel has just a few cars in their parking lot, ask about a discounted stay there because most hotel managers will want to fill rooms—and sometimes, any warm body in any room will do.

7. Or take your chances and book “blind” online anyway

This is a risky way of getting a seriously discounted hotel stay but sometimes works out well. Hotwire does this—you select the lowest price hotel you can find on their website for the area you want to visit, and it shows you a map where your hotel is located. If you know the city (if it’s your hometown, for example, and you work in another city but come home for holidays and other family events), you know where to go and where not to go. Otherwise, be warned: You could end up in a trashy hotel with broken windows and no securely locked doors, alongside a truck stop and a porno shop, with crowds of partiers in the parking lot until all hours of the morning (Editor’s Note: This was the writer’s personal experience from a recent trip to Denver using Hotwire).

8. When it comes to cruise ships, make sure you know what you’re getting

Some all-inclusive cruises have fine print items that you may or may not care about, but could be paying for anyway—including some meals, fees for internet access and high-priced drinks. And others may promise destinations that they can’t get to because of weather or other events, and will push back on your demands for discounts if they don’t go where they said they (if it’s because of weather, you’re out of luck because that’s covered in most cruise documents). Check the best dates for where you want to travel through websites such as Cruise Sheet or Cruise Deals.

9. Check out Groupon

This mobile app site has been well-known for discounts of products and services in the past but also has great travel deals. Some of the best travel “getaway” deals are available through Groupon, which boasts of savings of up to 90 percent on package deals. A 10-day tour of China with airfare and hotel? Just $649 right now with Groupon, otherwise over $2,000. Hotel and airfare to London, Paris and Barcelona for an 11-day adventure? Around $1,000 down from nearly $1,700.

10. When traveling in Europe, trains are the way to go

A rail pass is a travel document that entitles you to travel on European trains in a specific geographic area (cities or countries), for a specific number of days. If you buy a three-day Eurail Italy pass, for example, you can take as many train trips as you like during three days of your choice within a two-month period, starting from the date you activate your rail pass. If you’re not completely sure of your full itinerary in advance, you can purchase the rail pass first, and then decide the specifics of your travel and trains later on. Locals tell visitors that this is the best way to see the bigger cities of Europe because cities are often congested and parking is nonexistent or expensive. There may be fines for entering traffic-free zones. Some car hire companies won’t let their cars cross borders at all; others charge prohibitive drop-off charges for one-way rentals across a border.

(January 2018)