Last week I shared some tips for saving extra money for traveling. This week I wanted to share some tools and tricks that I have found useful in scoring the best deals when it comes time to plan a trip. The travel industry is a very competitive market, so it benefits both the companies and the consumers to keep costs low. Here are some guidelines so that you can hopefully get the best deal available.
Google Flights – If you know where you want to go and when you want to go to there, I suggest using Google flights to find the best deals available to you. Basically you just enter your destination, and the dates you want to find and it will scour the airlines to find you the best deal. Now, some airlines are not included on Google Flights (ie Southwest, etc), but if you’re looking to fly American or any of the other major carriers, you’ll be good to go here. If your dates are flexible, the program will even suggest dates that you can switch to to save you the most money. You are taken to the airlines respective websites when you are ready to book. I have gotten some good deals on Google Flights like round trip Dallas to New Orleans for $150 and round trip Dallas to Denver for $89.
The Flight Deal – If you’re more spontaneous about travel and are willing to jump when a deal arises, I’d suggest following The Flight Deal on Facebook and Twitter. Especially if you live in a hub like Dallas, Miami, or New York…this resource posts almost unbelievable deals on a daily basis. The site uses the ITA Software Matrix Airfare Search to compile the best deals available. I have seen them post roundtrip tickets from Dallas to Beijing for $600, Dallas to Auckland, New Zealand for $450. I have also seen domestic deals like Dallas to Los Angeles for $70 roundtrip. You have to be willing to travel on the days that the site stipulates and fly on various airlines, but make sure to make haste when your destination arises…because the fares sell out fast.
Credit Cards – Many people swear by using credit cards to achieve their travel goals. I don’t feel like I can speak as an authority on the subject, because I haven’t utilized a rewards credit card to earn or use miles so far. If you are more interested in making the most out of a rewards card, here are a few articles that have more info. [Nerd Wallet, U.S. News, Million Mile Secrets]
Friends and Family Discounts – This might sound a little *ahem* iffy, but if you know someone who works for a large hotel chain, hit them up for help when you are looking to book a hotel. Most of the large hotel companies have a Family and Friends discount program that employees can extend to people outside of the company. For instance, a couple of my parents friends work for Marriott, so the last couple times I have been looking for a hotel, I had my mom reach out to them for a Friends and Family discount form. All you need to get the special rate is a form that is signed by the employee when you go to check in (honestly, sometimes they don’t even ask to see the form – but better safe than sorry). Using this method I was able to stay in Midtown Manhattan on a weekend for less than $100 a night. Just be sure to send a thank you note when someone is kind enough to give you their discount 😉
Online Price Searches vs. Booking Direct – You can find many great deals using online search tools like Priceline, TripAdvisor, Trivago, etc. But the truth is that ultimately the hotels want you to book directly through them so that they don’t have to pay a percentage to the third party sites. When you use a third party to book a hotel, the hotel will often not give you some of the perks you would get if you booked directly through them. So, here’s my advice: find the best rate at the hotel you want on a third party site, then pick up the phone and call. At the end of the day, hotels just want to book rooms. If you call and say you were hoping to book directly, but you’ve found a better deal on a third party site, they are more than likely going to play ball with you. This is not a 100% fool proof / works every time game plan, but most of the time you are going to walk away with the price you want and probably a better room than the third party site can get you. Of course, this might not work if you are looking to book on a specifically crowded weekend (think Mardi Gras or Super Bowl Sunday), but it is always worth a try.
airbnb – If you are more just looking for a place to crash while on your trip, and less concerned about the amenities that come with a hotel, try airbnb. You can find some really comfortable places to stay in great locations for a very good price. I have not personally used airbnb, but I have heard it can be hit or miss. So make sure you read reviews before booking.
Honestly, getting there and finding a place to stay are the hard parts. In order to find deals once you are there, utilize the usual suspects like Groupon, Yelp, talk to your concierge, etc.
Let me know if you have any tips for scoring travel deals in the comments!