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Going on an epic vacation is great. But going on an epic vacation knowing you paid less than everyone else? That’s pure gold.
Here’s exactly how I saved more than $500 on a recent vacation, with tried and true travel tips that can help you save on your next great adventure.
You know that whole early bird gets the worm thing? Several travel experts now agree that planning ahead can save you big, big bucks, and that’s especially true with flights. Earlier this year website Cheapair.com studied more than 917 million flights to determine the absolute best times to book travel to land the cheapest airfares.
Here are some of Cheapair.com’s best suggestions on ways to save when you fly:
•Book European flights 99 days prior to departure
•Book a fall flight 69 days in advance (with the exception of Thanksgiving)
•Book winter travel 62 days before you want to fly.
•The best time to book and save on domestic and international travel is Sunday.
•The least expensive days to fly out are Tuesdays and Wednesdays for domestic flights.
“Hidden city” tickets
I searched high and low for amazing deals on a nonstop, roundtrip flight from San Francisco to San Diego in early July. But, I didn’t start my ticket search until late June, which wasn’t even remotely early enough to take advantage of the cheapest weeks to score great deals in the peak summer months. (Data from travel booking site Hipmunk shows the cheapest week to book flights for summer travel was April 23-29, 2018. By booking flights then, Hipmunk reported that people could save around 12% versus booking later.)
Having missed that whole early-worm-window, I went to a site called Skiplagged and scored a 50% savings over the second best price I could find. I paid $111 total for a non-stop round-trip ticket that would have cost anywhere from $222 to $289 anywhere else.
It works by exploiting a loophole in how airlines price their different routes. Say, for example, you wanted to fly from New York City to Las Vegas, and the lowest price any airline will offer is $300. At the same time, a flight from NYC to Los Angeles is just $200, but includes a layover in Las Vegas. Get where this is going? You book the flight to LA and then get off in Las Vegas — skipping out on the second half of the trip — and arriving at your intended destination without paying the premium.
Using Skiplagged comes with a few important caveats though. You can’t check baggage (or it goes on to the final destination — without you). Also, in a Reddit thread, travelers warn that some airlines keep track of how often people use this “hidden city” loophole, and have asked frequent flyers who make a habit out of it to pay the difference or risk being banned from the airline and more. Don’t use it too much and you should be okay, as I’ve found out — it’s a slick way to save some big bucks.
Car rental can be an afterthought when it comes to travel, and that’s why so many rental agencies try to stick it to you if you don’t know their tricks. If you’re not walking in with a reservation and a laundry list of discount codes, expect to pay through the nose.
AutoSlash uses a massive database of all possible discount codes — including members-only perks. I was able to cut the cost of a weekend car rental by $68 — more than 40% savings over the second best price.
The way it works is: Go to the site, put in your destination, what kind of car you want (compact, SUV, etc.), and what memberships you have, such as USAA or AAA. It takes just a minute for the site to pull up a huge list of potential discounts to find what one will save you the most money for your particular situation, including what days you’re renting, how long you need the car for, and, of course, your specific location. It would take hours and hours to do all that work yourself, so this site is a real gem.
AutoSlash is my go-to, but if you really want to turn the tables on the car rental big dogs, turn to Turo. Turo is a network of car owners who rent their personal vehicles to travelers for budget-friendly rates. You can find everything from minivans to exotic luxury cars — at prices up to 35% cheaper than the airport rental counter. Turo provides liability insurance for the people who host their cars for renters, and as a driver you can pick whatever level of insurance you need, so you can drive with confidence.
Once I secured my rental, my saving sleuthing didn’t stop. Using GasBuddy to find the nearest, cheapest gas station helped me knock a few cents off each gallon when I went to fill up. Depending on how much driving you have to do that can seriously add up. And then, of course, there was the issue of paying for a pricey parking spot. Finding a parking garage with open space can be hard enough on its own, but finding one that won’t burn your bank account is a whole other level of frustrating. The SpotHero app does both, listing open spaces and prices based on your location.
Packing snacks for the whole family before flights, or taking a cooler on road trips, typically saves our family of three more than $100 per flight (we’re all big eaters), and we avoid paying more than $20 for a package of beef jerky at the airport. Remember, you can’t carry a carton of yogurt, or anything else perceived as a liquid through security, but we pack sandwiches, apples, protein bars, and all kinds of goodies. We also travel with reusable water bottles, and fill them up once we get through the security checkpoints, which saves quite a bit too.
All in all, our latest trip went pretty smoothly, but that isn’t always the case. That’s why I like to use a service called Service (no, that’s not a joke, it’s actually called Service) to watch my back. It scans travel reservations that pop up in my email and keeps an eye out for potential discounts I might have missed, including lower hotel rates. But that’s not even my favorite part about it.
The best thing about Service is that it can get you a deal on the back end of your trip, too. Service automatically tracks travel delays and flight issues and matches them with travelers that were on those flights. If you happen to have been on a delayed flight, Service reaches out to the airline on your behalf and requests compensation. Plenty of airlines have policies on partial refunds for delays and other travel woes, and you might be in for a post-vacation payday if everything didn’t go perfectly smooth.
Total savings? Plenty
I just crunched the numbers and figure my family saved well over $500 just using these simple apps, tips and tricks. We’re anxious to know your family vacation saving strategies, too — so be sure to share them with us via social media or the comments section below. Now, off to book that great winter vacation.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECH NOW. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.
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