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When I travel, I want to find the best deals out there so I can save my money for more trips! While I like to find cheap airfare and hotel prices, I am not necessarily a budget traveler. I like some extra leg room, a nice room, with a view if possible, and some amenities. I like to travel in comfort (well hell, I like to travel in luxury, but my income does not allow for that), but also want to have plenty to spend on food and activities while I am at my destination. So I’ve come up with some tips to help you get the best travel deals possible to enable you stay within your budget and still have an awesome trip.
First and foremost, use a travel website to collect points that can be used towards future travel. Personally, I use Expedia but there are a great number of sites out there. On my recent trip to Singapore, I saved a total of $200 on my hotel from points I had saved up on Expedia. Check out this article on some of the best travel websites.
Hotwire and Expedia Unpublished Hotel Rates
Get an “unpublished” hotel rate. An unpublished rate is a “hidden” rate on a company’s website. There are a number of different sites to use, but I have only used Expedia and Hotwire. These sites offer deep discounts, typically from about 40-70% off published hotel rates. I use Expedia when I can so I can accumulate points, however, Hotwire tends to have more options, especially with overseas travel. You are able to select the area in the city you are traveling to, the dates you are traveling, and what star rating you would like the hotel to be (i.e. 3 star, 4 star, 5 star, etc.). The choices typically range from 1 star to 5 stars. Once you choose your options and book, the hotel name is disclosed. I have always been extremely pleased with every hotel I’ve received. Plus, I’m really only there for sleeping and showering – who wants to spend their whole vacation in the hotel room! Be careful to do your due diligence; be aware of what regular prices are in the area you plan to travel to ensure you are getting the best deal.
Let’s See Some Examples
A few examples of hotel prices I’ve gotten booking with both Hotwire and Expedia are included below. Three and a half stars is as low a rating as I am willing to go, but if you are willing to go lower, obviously you can get even better prices.
- San Francisco – $173/night at the Warwick in Union Square West (3.5 stars) – Nob Hill using Expedia Unpublished rates. I don’t use Expedia unpublished rates as often any more because the website doesn’t work well anymore and they have greatly reduced the number of options. However, I use it when I can to get the Expedia points. This hotel was a lovely little boutique hotel very centrally located.
- Chicago – $130/night at Swissotel in downtown Chicago (4 stars right off the river) using Expedia Unpublished rates. This was a beautiful luxury hotel with a nice king sized bed, view of the city and the lake, and a large bathroom and shower.
- Portland – $78/night at the Hotel Rose in downtown Portland (3.5 stars) using Expedia unpublished rates. This was a nice little eclectic boutique hotel, centrally located.
- New York – $194/night at the Comfort Inn in Lower East Side Manhattan (3.5 stars) using Hotwire. This was definitely a no frills hotel and the room was tiny, however, most rooms in Manhattan are known to be very small. It was very clean and the room appeared to have been recently updated. It had a nice big flat screen TV with many cable channels to watch before bed. Most important to me, it was extremely quiet. It was hard to find a decent hotel on the island of Manhattan for less than $200 during September.
- Singapore – $130/night at the Royal Plaza on Scotts off Orchard Road (4.5 stars) using Expedia. I didn’t use unpublished rates for this booking as it was cheaper with the discount I received from booking hotel and airfare together, and the $200 off from the points I had accumulated. This was a very nice hotel with a king sized bed, a rainfall shower (best shower I’ve ever had) and plenty of lounging space.
If you prefer to know the name of your hotel before booking, both Expedia and Hotwire (as well as many other travel sites) can still offer good deals, especially if you are bundling your travel.
Finding the Best Airfare Deals
There is a lot of speculation about the best time to buy airline tickets. In my experience, buying them as far in advance as you can, at a rate you are willing to pay, is the best way to go. This ensures you get the tickets you want, at a price you are willing to pay. However, I can’t guarantee that this will always be the lowest price; just the lowest risk. If you are willing to fly last minute, you can find some great deals, but these deals have become more and more rare.
When to Buy your Tickets – What does Cheapair.com Say?
Cheapair.com did an analysis of the best time to buy airline tickets. According to them, the best time to buy domestic airline tickets is 47 days out. This does not apply for travel during high demand periods such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. In those cases, I recommend buying as early as possible, as the prices will continue to rise the closer you get to the holiday. For international flights, it is best to buy as soon as possible. The prices do not change much until you get to about 90 days out, when they will start to creep up. However, in my experience ticket prices have stayed the same. I booked a trip from Los Angeles to Singapore back in June, and the price is exactly the same today (October), 3 days before departure.
Recently, my mom was able to get a round trip ticket from Dallas to San Diego for $125, but she had the flexibility to buy a last minute ticket, pack her bag, and come stay with me. When I travel, I have to request time off, book a hotel, and make any other travel arrangements; that doesn’t leave me much flexibility with flights. If you are flexible, peruse Expedia (or the travel website of your choice) and see what the last minute deals are. Chances are, if you live in a large metropolitan city, you can find great deals on last minute airfare. The problem with this is also finding a great hotel price at the last minute. If you can do both, hats off to you!
Frequent Flyer Miles
I have found that Expedia typically has the best deals on airfare. However, if I am flying domestic (US), I will always check Southwest, because their flights are not available on Expedia. Make sure you sign up for frequent flyer miles for every airline you fly. Another option is to choose a carrier and fly with that carrier for every trip. This will enable you to rack up some serious miles, which can result in free upgrades, free tickets, and many other perks. I recently earned almost 20K miles on one trip with China Airlines (check out my upcoming review of China Airlines).
Saving Money at your Destination
Skip the tour groups. If there are certain sites you want to see, do some research and go see those sites; a tour is not necessary. I find that I learn so much more about a new place when I explore on my own. Tours take the adventure out of travel, and I believe that is the best part. When I’m in a new city, I like to explore on my own. Nothing is better than taking an afternoon and roaming the streets with no particular destination. With the technology available today it is virtually impossible to get lost! I love this part of traveling; just getting lost in the city and finding what the city is about. And exploring on your own is 100% free!
Don’t be a Tourist!
Limit the number of tourist attractions. I know, there are some tourist attractions in every city that we should all see (i.e. Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, etc.). I suggest deciding the attractions you “must” see in advance, and look into buying tickets early online. For instance, if you want to go to the top of the new World Trade Center in New York city, you can purchase a ticket in advance for a discounted price. In my opinion, tourist attractions are often crowded, expensive, and anti climactic. However, I do usually check out 1-2 must see tourist activities when I visit a city. As an example, I took a trip up the Eiffel Tower and made a visit to the Louvre while I was in Paris. In my opinion, the ideal trip should be 20-30% tourist attractions (depending on the city) and the remainder just enjoying what this great place has to offer.
Find Some Free Activities
There are an abundance of free activities available in places all over the world. Chances are, a lot of these free activities are better than anything you can pay for. Some examples:
a. Singapore: Botanic Gardens, Chinese/Japanese Gardens, Gardens by the Bay (some up-charges for certain activities), Sky 57 Bar at the Marina Bay Sand (charges if you choose to purchase a drink, but the views are absolutely free), Changi Beach, and East Coast Park. Check out my trip to Singapore for some more ideas.
b. San Diego: Sunset Cliffs, any boardwalk on any beach (I like Coronado and Pacific Beach the best), La Jolla Cove to see the seals and sea lions, hiking at Iron Mountain, Blue Sky Reserve, Cowles Mountain, and Mount Woodson (among others), and getting a tan at the beach.
c. New York City: Central Park, Metropolitan Museum of Art (free with suggested donation), High Line Park, and multiple rooftop bars with free admission.
This is just a snippet of free activities. Stay tuned for upcoming articles on the top free things to do in different cities.
As you see, there is a lot you can do to reduce the cost of your vacation. There is nothing better than booking your travel and feeling like you got a great deal; plus you can take that extra money and put it towards your next trip. Or do as I do, eat it away 🙂
Let me know your thoughts or experiences with your own travel. I’d love to hear what some of you other travelers out there think. I’m also more than happy to provide some advice if you’re not sure what to do next.