Now that the coronavirus vaccines have allowed us to get out of the house without risking our lives, Americans are eager to travel again. According to a recent study by The Points Guy and Healthline Media, half of adults in the U.S. are likely to take at least one vacation this summer. Unfortunately, traveling right now isn’t exactly budget-friendly.
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Airfares are spiking, as are prices for hotel stays and gasoline. These surging prices are enough to inhibit any hopeful traveler who may be racking their brains for ways to cut down on costs. While many of us know the basic tricks like using credit card miles, getting a ride to the airport from a friend and packing your own meals when able, there’s a treasure trove of lesser known money-saving tips out there.
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GOBankingRates asked travel experts to share their best secrets for cutting down costs while booking travel — as well as how to save once you’ve reached your destination. Read on to see which options fit your itinerary.
Last updated: June 4, 2021
Use a Travel Agent
You may think that working with a travel agent means spending more cash, but it often reaps savings.
“Not only will a travel agent save you time, they’ll also save you money on their exclusive access to the best prices and deals that you cannot find anywhere else,” said Mimi McFadden, owner of The Atlas Heart, an adventure-focused travel blog.
Lauren Doyle, president of Ensemble Travel Group affiliated with The Travel Mechanic, makes the same recommendation: “This is someone who works day in and day out looking at deals and pricing vacations. They will know if it is a good deal or not. They also usually have extra perks they can offer you as opposed to going direct, such as free upgrades, complimentary breakfast, late checkout, etc.”
Pay Upfront in Full — and Ask for a Discount
“Most tour operators and travel agents usually take a deposit when a traveler makes a booking, with the final payment being made before departure,” said Mark Whitman, founder of Climb Kilimanjaro Guide. “This is great if you are short of cash and want to secure a trip before making the full payment; however, a lot of travelers don’t know that many travel agents and operators will give a big discount if you offer to pay upfront in full. The key is to ask for a discount in exchange for making full payment. Don’t assume the listed price is the lowest they will go. Travel agents prefer full cash payments over low deposit bookings, especially now as COVID has really impaired cash flows for travel companies.”
“In my experience, you can get 10%-15% off the listed price by offering an upfront payment. Just make sure that the travel agent offers flexible cancellations terms,” Whitman continued. “You definitely don’t want to be on the hook for the full tour price and have to cancel due to COVID or other reasons without a full refund.”
If Traveling Internationally, Get Cash at a Local ATM
“If you’re traveling to a country with a foreign currency, the best place to pick up that local currency is at a local ATM,” said Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com. “Use an ATM fee-free debit card to withdraw money once you land in that country. The money withdrawn will be at the local market rate, and there isn’t a markup like you’ll find at most currency kiosks or exchange storefronts. If you withdraw from an ATM, you always pay whatever the market exchange rate is, and if you combine this with using a debit card that doesn’t charge for ATM withdrawals, you end up not paying any extra money.”
Sign up for Flight Alerts, Including From Budget Airlines
“Sign up for flight alerts to get airline deals straight to your inbox,” said travel blogger and author Jen Ruiz of Jen on a Jet Plane. “I flew to Argentina from Florida for $300 roundtrip this way. My favorite is Scott’s Cheap Flights.”
Ruiz added that travelers should be open to flying with budget airlines such as Frontier, Allegiant and Breeze: “Every few weeks, they have fare sales to sell unsold seats. That’s when you’ll see deals like a $29 cross-country flight. Sign up for the airline’s email list to be the first to know.”
Seek out City Tourism Cards
“Traveling abroad is all about seeing the attractions, and paying to get in can add up very quickly,” said Bertie Cowan, founder of Effortless Outdoors. “Look out for city tourism cards. You pay a discounted fee and receive access to many tourist attractions, some for free or at a discounted price. Some tourism cards are valid for up to 30 days while saving yourself a few hundred dollars.”
Ask Your Airbnb Host About Additional Discounts for Longer Stays
“For most Airbnb properties, you’ll see a nightly rate — but if you extend your trip to at least one month (28 nights), you’ll often find there’s a pretty significant discount (25%-40%),” said Lydia Mansel, founder of Just Packed. “It’s also possible to reach out to the Airbnb host and see if they can offer any further discount on an extended stay. While it’s not guaranteed, saving an additional 10% will allow you to stretch your budget a little further.”
Double up on Cash Back
“Forget searching for discounts and trying to plug in different codes in that promo code box when booking travel online — those deals rarely work and are a waste of your time,” said money saving expert Andrea Woroch. “Instead, download savings tools like Cently to your browser which will automatic apply any coupon savings that work instantly and also get you cash back on your travel bookings. For instance, you can earn 1.5% cash back when booking a car through Budget. This is an easy way to double up on cash back earned through your credit card.”
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Search Discount Aggregators
“Discount platforms like Groupon, Living Social and TravelZoo are incredibly helpful when saving money on summer travel,” said Montoya (Monty) Hudson, creator of The Spring Break Family. “They do the hard work for you by providing discounts to some of the popular attractions in the area. You can often save as much as 80% on regular prices by purchasing a discount pass there first. Also, as a bonus, it’s a good place to find hidden gems —new and emerging businesses that haven’t been caught by the hype yet.”
Use a VPN
“Most people already know the ‘incognito trick’ — where you search for flights in incognito mode to avoid website cookies that can increase prices,” said Mitch Glass, travel blogger for Project Untethered. “But most people do not know that you can take this one step further with the ‘VPN trick.’ Oftentimes, flights, car rentals and hotel prices vary depending on the country you are searching from. With a VPN (virtual private network), you can set your location to different countries and hunt for lower prices.”
“For example, if you are traveling to Jamaica and want to book a car rental before leaving home, you might be able to find cheaper prices by setting your location locally in Jamaica,” Glass continued. “It only takes a couple minutes to play around with your location, and it can potentially save you hundreds of dollars. When you do this, make sure to search in incognito mode and to clear your cookies in your browser whenever switching to a new country.”
Invest $3 a Month in Google One
“I recently came across a way to save tons of money on hotel stays,” said Matthew Meier, founder of MaxTour in Las Vegas. “To do this, you need to be signed into a Google account that subscribes to Google One. This is Google’s cloud-based storage service, similar to iCloud. Then, search for hotels in your destination using Google. For example, ‘Hotels in Las Vegas’ on [a specific date] comes up with a Google One rate of $71 at Paris Las Vegas. The same room on Expedia is $229! I highly recommend investing the $2.99 a month for Google One before your next trip so you can search for some highly discounted hotel rates.”
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