Everybody wants to save a buck or two with creative travel hacks, and this site was built on the premise that if you can travel (in style) frugally and earn some money along the way, you can travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.
Thus, over the years, I’ve shared many tips with you on how to travel inexpensively (and even for free). But when I was chatting with Clem Bason (CEO of hotel search site goSeek.com and former president of Hotwire.com), he surprised me with 6 travel hacks I hadn’t thought of. Here they are:
Time your flight to save.
Okay, I’ve heard this one before, but it’s a good one worth repeating, and Clem puts a science to the strategy:
People often have a pretty standard definition of a “vacation” in their head. It is seven days long. You leave on a weekend and return the following. Great. Except that it’s not great if you care about getting the best value. With so many people defining their vacation this way, flight prices on or around the weekends are always high. And it’s not just leisure travelers pushing fares up. Business travelers fly most often on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, filling up seats and pushing up prices. What’s left? That’s right – Tuesdays and Wednesdays – the lightest days for air travel. We’ve seen savings of 20% or more by flying on these days versus others.
Save on a hotel. Always.
Obviously staying in hotels all the time if you’re traveling long-term is financially unrealistic. But if you need a few nights here or there after having just arrived at a new destination or while transitioning to a new place, this is a great tip:
If you’re flexible, you can always save 15-20% on a hotel. Always. The first thing you’ll need to do is avoid a major brand. Chains like Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt are less likely to discount. Find a few independent hotels that are well reviewed on a site like TripAdvisor. Then head over to Orbitz or Cheaptickets.com. Both are now owned by Expedia. On any given day, Cheaptickets will have a coupon good for 20% off an independent hotel. At Orbitz it will be 15% off. Enter the coupon code just before checkout and like magic you just saved a bundle.
Renting a car in the US or Canada? Costco.
Again, renting a car is only an occasional indulgence for the lifestyle traveler. But I had no idea you could save so much money with Costco! It’s a great idea for my next hometown visit.
Did you know that Costco also sells travel? Their sweet spot is rental cars. In some cases I’ve saved 30-50% over other online travel sites. You can go on the Costco site and search prices for your trip, even without a member number. You might find the savings are so good that it’s worth it for you to buy a membership if you don’t have one (they’re only $55). At Costco you’ll find superb deals from great brands like Avis, Budget, and Alamo. Anecdotally, I’d say the discounts get better as the car gets bigger. I’ve had my best savings on SUV and Minivan rentals.
Flexible? Try Opaque.
Although I’m familiar with the concept described below, I had never heard the term “Opaque” travel sites until Clem mentioned them. Here’s what he had to say:
If you need to travel and have some flexibility, I always tell people to try an “Opaque” travel site like Hotwire or Priceline. On any given day there are empty seats on planes, rooms in hotels, and rental cars just sitting on the lot. Companies have a big incentive to fill these. They make no money at all when something sits unused. That’s where Hotwire and Priceline come in. They provide companies a “safe” mechanism to discount – via what they call opacity.
As an example, when you search Hot Rates or Express Deals on Hotwire and Priceline, you’ll see the star rating of a hotel, its neighborhood, and customer reviews. But you won’t know the hotel’s exact name and address until you’ve made a non-refundable booking. You trade lack of information for a big discount – up to 60% off other travel sites. And the hotel feels good about it because it isn’t broadcasting to the world that it is cutting prices. I use these sites whenever I’m traveling to a city that I know will be on the emptier side (think Chicago in winter). There will be lots of rooms available and thus a big incentive for hotels to discount. Once I got a 4-star hotel for only $38 a night!
Use those alternate airports.
Again, savvy traveler that you are, I’m sure you’re all over this. If not, read on:
A little extra driving could save you significant dollars. There will often be airports a little farther afield, whether it is from your home airport or your destination. In many cases you’ll find lower prices. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I always check three airports – San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. I do the same in Toronto – Pearson, Billy Bishop, and Munro in Hamilton. It takes a little more time, but the savings is worth it. Sometimes you’ll find fares 10-20% lower.
Note: some airline search engines make this easy by providing a box you can tick to search nearby airports. Check that box!
Almost everyone has a Low Price Guarantee for Hotels. Take advantage.
I’ve seen low price guarantee banners on many websites, but I’m usually too lazy to take advantage of it. Clem makes it easy:
Here’s a secret: everyone has a Low Price Guarantee. Here’s another secret: customers hardly ever use it. But they should. Online travel sites will match the competition if they have a lower price. You just need to do three things.
- Play by the rules. It has to be a lower price on the exact same hotel for the exact same dates of travel on the exact same date that you’re doing the booking. Apples to apples.
- Get a screenshot. Take a picture of the competitor with the lower price and make sure the hotel name and dates of travel are visible, as well as the price per night and total price.
- Get on the phone. You typically need to give your favorite online travel site customer service a call in order to get them to match a price. They’ll give you an email address to send the screenshot to.
Why would you do this? Well, you probably are part of a loyalty program on one online travel site but not another. You may want to keep accumulating points on Expedia versus any other site, as an example. The Low Price Guarantee allows you to keep booking with them, even when they don’t have the lowest price out there. It allows you to consolidate your travel bookings with one company (and get all the advantages of being one of their better customers) without sacrificing on the price you’re paying.
What’s your best travel hack?