If you’re looking for a champagne vacation on a beer budget, don’t fret: there are some simple ways to save on a dream getaway before even leaving home.
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Here are some of the top tips and tricks for enjoying an epic vacation without breaking the bank.
How to find destination deals
Hands-down, the easiest way to save money on your vacation is to go when no one else is.
That means avoiding peak travel periods like school breaks and holidays. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing: think less crowds, more attentive staff and availability. Visiting a destination during the shoulder season (in North America and Europe it’s September-November, and March-May) can also save you a bundle.
I visited the Maldives in early November which can be right at the end of rainy season, so that was a bit of a risk. But not only did we save hundreds of dollars compared to the cost of booking around Christmas, but the weather was absolute perfection the whole time.
Alternatively, I went to Barbados for a family trip in May, which is supposed to be the driest month there–and it poured most of the week. That just shows that you can never place too much stock in what the weather is ‘supposed to’ be.
Keeping track of current events can also help your bottom line. For example, Egypt saw a sharp decrease in tourism following the Arab Spring, which caused great unrest in the country. Those who went to Egypt when the situation calmed down reported no lineups at famous sites, which are traditionally overrun by sightseers. The price of hotel rooms also dropped, in hopes of luring what few tourists were there.
While it’s never a good idea to visit a foreign country that is in the midst of war or unrest, visiting a place after the situation has diffused can be a real money saver.
Saving money on flights
My number one tip for saving money on flights is to be flexible.
That can be tough when you’re working around school schedules or trying to time your trip for the holidays, but it’s truly the best way to save money right off the bat.
I often start with Google Flights, because they have a feature that shows you the price history of that route so you know if you’re getting a good deal or overpaying. There’s a date grid that shows the lowest price based on different days, and you can also set up Flight Alerts, which will send you a message if the price of the flight you’re looking at changes significantly.
Another site I love is Skyscanner, which allows you to search based simply on which airport you’re departing from and putting your destination as ‘everywhere’. It then pulls up prices for destinations all over the world, so let’s say that you’re interested in somewhere with a beach, or maybe the Christmas markets in Europe, it will show you which cities are the cheapest to fly into.
I used this trick once when I had an extra week after a trip to Ireland, and ended up flying to Cyprus for just $12!
Look for flights leaving on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday which are usually the cheapest days to fly, and avoid leaving on Thursday or Friday and coming back Sunday. You will pay a premium for those, since lots of travellers prefer to get away over a weekend.
Also consider which airport you’re flying into, since certain hubs have higher taxes than others. When I was booking a flight to Asia, my flight through Dubai ended up being $200 cheaper than a similar flight that had a layover in Qatar. Airports like Barcelona are also cheaper to fly into than the larger Charles de Gaulle in Paris, or London’s Heathrow.
Budget airlines are also your friend, especially in saturated travel markets like Europe and Asia. The Low Cost Airline Guide can help you sort out which carriers fly where, meaning you won’t have to book a ticket that’s five times the price on a larger airline.
Finally, become ‘friends’ with an airline. Like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or sign-up via e-mail so they can bombard your inbox with travel deals. They’re usually just ads, but you may get lucky and find out that flight to Peru you’ve been eyeing is the subject of a one-day sale–and you’ll be the first to find out about it.
Saving money on hotel rooms
Ever heard of the Best Rate Guarantee? This is one of the easiest ways to save on your hotel bill.
Many chains including Hilton and Marriott properties offer savvy travellers a discount on their room in addition to matching the lowest price if they find the same room advertised for cheaper elsewhere. It takes a bit of digging, but you can save a bundle if you’re lucky.
An easier way to get a deal is to negotiate the rate of your room up front.
This is tough to pull off at major hotels and resorts, but works well at bed and breakfasts. Start by zoning in on a couple of places you’re interested in, then send each manager a nice e-mail asking if they can match or beat a lower rate posted at a similar property. I’ve done this in pricey Rome, and couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.
If you already know where you’re interested in staying, follow them on social media or sign up for their e-mail list so you’ll be the first to know about upcoming promotions.
Keep in mind that many places also offer perks like discounts, upgrades or free breakfast if you book well in advance. Some hotels also offer complimentary shuttle service, which can be a big help during the morning rush to catch a flight.
Take advantage of credit card perks
Travel rewards credit cards are a great way to save money, because they usually include free travel insurance and also come with additional perks like lounge access.
This Platinum card from American Express has a $200 credit every year towards travel bookings, and you can also use your points to book flights, hotels and rental cars. There are also attractive sign-up bonuses, which means as long as you meet the minimum spend you could get a free flight within a few months of signing up!
The AMEX card also gives you automatic gold status with some hotel brands which means free room upgrades, which I once took advantage of for a trip to Napa Valley when we reserved a two-room suite for the same price as a standard room.
So sometimes, savings start with things that are already in your wallet!
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