Very often when we travel, people tell us how lucky we are that we have enough money for it. “Didn't you just go on a vacation? Where do you get all this money from?” And I cannot help but retort, “It is not about the money, it is about priorities!”
I don't believe that travelling is a privilege, it is a lifestyle. Yes, you obviously need some money to travel. But how much money is spent on a trip is completely under your control. You can choose to spend as low as $ 30 per night for a bunk bed in a hostel, get your own tents and camp, and stay in BnBs or hotels. You could have a proper sit-down meal at a fine dining restaurant or pick up a sandwich from a local bakery. You could travel by expensive flights, which take you directly or go by budget airlines, which have 1-2 layovers before they finally get you to your destination. You could rent a car, travel by taxis or use public transportation such as buses, trains, ferries and trams. You choose your travel style and you spend accordingly. And yeah, travel is not comfortable! Staying at home is.
Read on for travel hacks that I often use to save money, when planning my trips.
#1: Travel during the ‘shoulder season’
For example, when travelling to countries in Europe, we usually choose to travel during May or September. Since July –August are usually peak season, the prices of everything from hotel stays to airlines, etc are soaring. However, spring and fall are the so-called ‘shoulder’ seasons when you not only find prices to be lower but also, the weather is close to perfect! And icing on the cake - you'll not have to wait in long queues.
#2: Set up price alerts on Skyscanner
3-4 months prior (assuming you have planned in advance): If you are planning to travel during peak season, the ideal time to book your ticket would be about 3 months before. Set up a price alert on a travel site (we like skyscanner.com) so that you’re able to track the lowest price in that period of time and book immediately.
If you're flexible with the destination, then simply use the 'search everywhere' option in Skyscanner and you'll find the destinations with the cheapest airline prices. Pick your destination of choice!
#3: Try different IP address
Very often, we have noticed that an IP address from India has given us lower prices on the travel booking engine while booking flights to countries such as New Zealand as compared to an IP address from the UAE. This might happen due to targeted marketing by the particular airlines towards certain segments. How to do it? Use a VPN!
#4: Compare car rental prices on a company’s website in different countries
Very often we have noticed that avis.co.uk gives us different car options and prices in a particular country as compared to www.avis.co.in or www.avis.ae. It doesn’t matter which country you live in, if you access the particular website and book on it, your booking will be honoured. We booked our convertible in Canada through www.avis.co.uk even though we live in the UAE because it was only available on that UK site and not on the .com or .ae site.
#5: Last minute hotel deals
Websites like www.booking.com have the option of free cancellation until almost the last minute. This leads to a lot of people booking 3-4 hotels in a particular city only to finalise their hotel of choice at the last minute and cancel the rest. Because of this, hotels begin to show ‘sold out’ if you try to book them 1-2 months in advance. But just 1-2 weeks before the travel dates, you will find many bookings being cancelled and hotels becoming available again, at much lower prices. Although we wouldn’t advise you to leave the hotel bookings until the last minute, there is no harm in searching one a couple of weeks before travelling to find better prices and deals.
#6: Plan for longer (train or bus) journeys during the night
If you are planning to travel inter-city by trains or buses which take 7 – 8 hours, why not take them at night? This saves money on your hotel stay for the night!
#7: Collect Airbnb credits
Very often, I have booked BnBs on Air BnB at as low as $3 in the city centre! The company has a promotion where they give you $25 credit for every person you recommend to become a member if they use their membership in making any bookings through the website. So the more people you recommend, the more credit you can get.
#8: Become a member of any frequent flyer program
If you’re travelling a lot, make sure you become a member of a frequent flyer program. Gain all the miles and enjoy free upgrades, free meals, priority check-in, priority boarding, lounge access and even free flights if you get enough miles! Over 28 flights are members of the Star Alliance program and 14 of One World Alliance. Why not get the membership of any one of them?
#9: Credit card loyalty programs
I don’t usually recommend people to get more and more credit cards and rely on them. However, some credit card companies have loyalty programs wherein the collected points may be redeemed against flight bookings. We recently got one from Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank that allows points redemption against flight bookings. That meant free flights to Norway! Our Citibank credit card allows us free access to 850+ airport lounges across the world. This means, free food & alcohol. Yayy!
#10: Check for ‘city passes’
A very common concept in Europe and the Americas, 24 or 48-hour city passes often grant you access to some of the major tourist attractions with skip-the-queue access, at reasonable prices (example: New York City Pass, Niagara Falls pass). This concept is now increasingly becoming common in other countries too.
#11: Look up Groupon / Entertainer deals
These two deals & discounts companies are now global. Most popular tourist attractions, excursions and city tours very often get featured on them. Groupon offers discounts on tickets, attractions, tours, spa treatments, shopping and whatnot whereas Entertainer (download the mobile app) features 1+1 deals on attractions, hotel stays, meals and experiences.
#12: Coupons / Promo codes websites
Although this concept started off mainly for retail, it began to expand slowly and now also covers some of the largest travel and tourism-related companies and aggregators such as Airbnb, budget car rental, hotels.com, Avis car rental, Southwest Airlines and many others. You would usually find coupon codes on the RetailMeNot website which can be used on the respective suppliers' websites to avail discounts and deals. Although they're not always useful or successful, you might get lucky sometimes and find some really cool deals. Another cool website to find promo codes is Coupons.com.
Disclaimer: MANY coupon codes do not work so don't be disappointed. Check for the success rates before trying, you never know which one you might hit a jackpot with on a booking! 🙂
If you're willing to really experiment, here's an idea which is popular with solo travellers and backpackers. Not only can you stay for free with a local, this is also a great way to meet new people, make friends and mingle with the locals. Just register yourself on Couchsurfing, find a host you like and let them know you're interested in staying with them. This way of travelling, however, may not be everyone's cup of tea 🙂
Got some cool tricks and money saving tips of your own? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Suggested read: 27 useful tips to make you a smarter traveller