I’m sorry if you’ve ever had to use the term “staycation” to describe how you spent your vacation days. My heart truly goes out to you, because no one should ever have to glorify staying home because you’re too broke to actually take a trip somewhere fun. The good news is, those days are over my friend. I have become quite skilled at booking flights, hotels and rental cars on a budget, so here are my tips & tools to save money on travel:
Be flexible on dates:
* Kayak.com and Orbitz.com both have a tool that allows you to search three days before and after the dates you’re requesting to see if you can save money by being a little flexible. Especially when traveling on the weekend – departing first thing Monday morning as opposed to Sunday night usually means big savings.
Be flexible on where you go:
* Kayak’s “Explore” tool allows you to search all of the places in the world within a specified price range, flight time and vacation activity like beach or skiing. This is great if you need to just get the hell out of town and don’t care where you go. You may also discover somewhere amazing that you never would have considered before:
* AirfareWatchdog.com also has a a great feature that will alert you to all the cheap round-trip fares they find departing from your local airports to multiple destinations. Now is your chance to save money and be a little adventurous dammit!
Know when to buy:
* Bing Travel has a “price predictor” tool that forcasts if fares will rise or fall, allowing you to decide if you should hold off on booking for a better price. Tip: Shop on Tuesday mornings. Fare sales are often launched Monday nights, so other airlines have matched their prices by Tuesday morning. Also, for domestic flights, the sweet spot for cheapest fares seems to be about six weeks in advance.
* Airfare Watchdog employs actual human beings (not computers or monkeys) to check out airline sites for fare sales, and has access to rewards programs and promo codes that can get you a cheaper price. Use the sites “alert” tool to input the trip you’re looking for and be notified when a deal is found.
* Yapta.com tracks fares and sends an email (or tweet!) if the price of your selected flight drops, but the really cool feature is that AFTER you buy your ticket, if the price drops they will alert you so that you can get refunded on the difference! It’s usually in the form of a travel credit, but it’s still completely worth it. If the price change is less than the cost of rebooking fees, some airlines will charge – but the site walks you through how to collect the refund.
Other helpful tips & tools for flights:
* Seatguru.com: Before you pay $50 for a seat upgrade that gives you about 1/2″ extra legroom, check this site to see which seats are actually worth the upgrade.
* Find your flights using a search engine like Orbitz or Kayak, but then book the fare you choose on the airlines actual website for the best deal, as well as no booking or additional cancellation fees these sites may charge (like Orbitz, who charges an additional $30 cancellation fee on top of the airlines fees – total scam).
* Don’t get ripped off paying baggage fees: Check out Current Airline Baggage Fees to get motivation to finally learn how to efficiently pack everything you need in a carry-on.
* Check surrounding regional airports: Click this box in the search field and keep your location broad. For example, I always do a search for “NYC” instead of specifically JFK, since flying out of Newark, NJ is almost always cheaper, and just as easy to get to. Same goes for flying into Miami – flying into Fort Lauderdale is usually less, even when you factor in the more expensive cab ride.
* Priceline is my favorite tool for booking hotels. You select a minimum star class and preferred neighborhood, and then get to haggle for your
price. You can save up to 60% off published rates, and bids less than $100/night on luxury lodgings can actually happen, especially for last minute bookings on rooms the hotel is trying to get rid of. If you want to know how to form a winning strategy, use…
* TheBiddingTraveler.com & BetterBidding.com are both tools that use algorithms to calculate and execute optimum bidding strategies on Priceline. You enter your desired info, view recently rejected and accepted Priceline bids, and then enter a “lowball” bid and your “final offer” after reviewing bid-price recommendations. Then you can choose manual bidding or AutoBid to make the whole process easier and more effective. Yay.
* Hotwire.com often offers the best published deals on cars by collecting rates from its partners, including Avis, Budget and Enterprise. They also offer “hot rates” from companies that aren’t identified until after you’ve paid. Fortunately, the risk in booking blindly for rental cars is minimal since there really isn’t much of a difference between cars or rental companies.
* Priceline also offers a “name your own price” for car rentals that has saved me alot of money in the past. Especially for last minute rentals, you can save big asking for a lower price.
More money saving tips for car rentals:
* If you’re renting in a big city like NYC, it’s always cheaper to rent from an outside town (I rent out of the Newark airport and pay half the price).
* Always book the cheapest car rental option. They usually run out of economy cars, and this means a free upgrade for you. If you get stuck with the economy, just think you’ll probably save money on gas, so it’s a win-win.
* Always check for promo codes for rental companies – alot of times you can just google the car company name + promo code to see what’s available and keep trying until you find one that works.
(That’s me in the mustang illustrating what happened the last time I rented an economy car)
Hopefully these tips will ensure that you never have to use the term “staycation” again.