We’re just a few weeks into the new year and I’ve already saved more than $1500 on pre-booked travel for trips planned in January and February. Really. Let me let you in on a little secret – my Savvy Spending tips aren’t limited to member’s clubs or fancy travel writer perks. They’re easy hacks you can try yourself. Here are five of my favorites:
Use a Travel Agent
People wonder why a socially-savvy travel writer like myself would ever turn to a travel agent. Often, I don’t – I can find great deals and promo codes all on my own. But when I KNOW I’m going to a certain city, I will often ask my local rep what they can find for me.
In the case of my upcoming Toronto jaunt, I enjoyed the same amenities I could book for myself, including a buy two, get one night free deal, as well as perks only an agent could offer, such as a guaranteed room upgrade upon availability, a daily breakfast credit, early check-in and late check-out and a $100 hotel credit. The total cost savings? Well over $500 for a single trip. I use Elite Travel International, but there are many great local options as well — even Costco has a travel department!
It’s also well worth looking into an American Express card. Sure, not every business takes this creditor, but if you hold a platinum or gold card, you’ll essentially enjoy the services of a travel agent rolled into your annual fee.
Scour Social Media
Once you’ve booked your hotel, follow, fan or friend the brand on social media, and sign up for their email updates too. If you don’t like spam, set aside a dedicated account for these types of requests. You’ll be the first to know about promotions and on-property events during your stay. If a lower rate appears after you’ve booked, you can usually call the reservations line, provide your confirmation number, and they’ll happily switch you to a lower rate.
Other great sites include the TravelZoo Top 20, which is available for anyone that signs up for their emails, Airfare WatchDog for flight deals, and Johnny Jet’s Deals for great promotions. Groupon and other flash sale sites like Rue La La and Jetsetter sometimes do have great deals, but you’re often purchasing a non-refundable package, so be careful if your plans aren’t set in stone.
This may sound contradictory, particularly given my point below, but do start planning your trip as soon as you know details and dates. I’ve been scouting flights for a wedding in New Orleans that will take place in October, and know that $400 is far more than I should need to pay for round-trip tickets. But if I see a great sale (using fare alerts I’ve set via Kayak and others), I’ll jump on it. Same with the hotel. If you see a buy one night, get one free — put down your reservations today! You are usually not charged more than a one-night deposit, if any. Plus, by the time that trip rolls around, you’ll have already paid it off your credit card bill — another bonus.
Book Last Minute
Unless a major convention has taken over the city where you’re visiting or it’s spring break, chances are you’ll be able to snag a fine deal if you wait until the last minute to book. You may not enjoy your “favorite” hotel, or you’ll need to be flexible on flight times, but we love Hotel Tonight (which lets you book 7 days in advance) for last-minute reservations as well as Priceline for flight booking. That said, check these numbers against the airline or hotel’s direct website — you’ll often find that you aren’t saving more than a few dollars, and you’ll find it easier to negotiate refunds or credits if there are delays and cancellations when dealing directly with the hotel. Airlines also release their last-minute sales for this weekend or next in the early part of each week. American Airlines calls theirs the “Net Saaver Fares” while United just refers to theirs as “Specials.” (Wisconsin customers are in luck; MKE often offers great last-minute rates!)
Go Where The Deals Are
My requirements for a February vacation? Anywhere the weather is warm. I’ve booked time off over President’s Day weekend and plan to book as soon as I see a deal that fits my budget, and I’ll plan the rest of the trip from there. This could be a combination of miles, great hotel rates, or cheap airline fares. The hardest part is sticking to a budget. Request your day(s) out of office, refine your maximum spend, and start hitting the deals. Don’t limit your thinking to “Florida” or “Puerto Rico,” but embrace spaces that generally fit your criteria for weather and budget. I promise you’ll find something great to do in any city. I use the FareCompare “When to Fly” app for great deals, among others.
I love to share great deals on Twitter – feel free to follow @McLeanRobbins for more advice, or to ask questions!