By Lyn Mettler
When it comes to travel, we’re all looking to save a buck so our dollars go as far as possible. Here are 6 easy ways to ensure you’re getting the best deal on everything from airfare to attractions on your next vacation:
1) Rewards Programs
One of the largest missed opportunities for savings is not taking advantage of hotel and airline rewards programs. Hilton says that 57 billion points, or 1.6 million free nights, went unearned last year because people did not utilize the company’s HHonors program by booking their room directly. From hotel rewards programs to frequent flier miles, it never hurts to be a member, take advantage of perks like free WiFi and rack up points for future travel. One of the easiest frequent flier perks to earn is Southwest’s Companion Pass that lets one person fly free with another for up to two years.
Andrea Woroch, consumer and money-saving expert, says warehouse stores can offer savings, as well. “If you have a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club, consider booking through their travel portals for discounts on airfare, lodging and rental cars, as well as deals on cruises and activities,” she says, noting that they offer both hotel and car rental discounts. “I rented a car through Costco on a trip to Maui and saved over $200!”
2) Go with a Group
By traveling with a group, you may be able to access discounts that are only available in larger quantities. “Tour operators have significant purchasing power, and quite simply, by going in a group, you spread lots of costs across a group of people,” says Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours guided tour company. AdventureWomen owner Susan Eckert, whose company plans trips for women traveling solo but who want to travel with the support of a group, agrees, pointing out that travelers can also get lower airfares when booking as a group.
3) Buy in Bulk
There are a variety of programs that allow travelers to access discounts to key attractions in major cities by paying for several passes together. With a Go City Card Explorer Pass, for example, available in cities like New York City, Chicago and Orlando, you choose the number of attractions you’d like to visit and then save up to 45 percent by purchasing them all at once via the pass versus what you would pay at the gate.
Similarly, CityPass, available for Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco and more, gets you access for five to six sites in each city for up to half what you would pay for them separately. The Southern California CityPass, for example, gets you into Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California at nearly 30 percent off. (Photo Credit: CityPass)
4) Collect Coupons
“Whether you’re going out to eat or need to buy items you forgot to pack like swimsuits and sunscreen, search for coupons using free apps like CouponSherpa or Target Cartwheel,” says Woroch. CouponSherpa may alert you to savings at nearby stores and restaurants. Many tourism bureaus also offer coupons and discounts on their website that you can print ahead of your visit or at your hotel’s business center.
5) Smart Fares
To ensure you’re getting the best possible airfare, family travel writer Erin Gifford, who blogs at Kidventurous.com, suggests clearing your browser history and cookies or opening an incognito window where your activity is not tracked to ensure you’re being offered the same price as everyone else.
Woroch recommends pricing one-way tickets in addition to round-trip fares to look for discounts and booking group tickets individually. This helps ensure you don’t miss out on a lower price that may be available for fewer tickets than you are purchasing.
6) Travel Slightly Off Peak
Instead of looking for savings by visiting a destination during the middle of its off peak season when stores and restaurants may be closed, try just outside the peak season. “It’s amazing what a difference it can make to go a few weeks after peak season — you can get essentially the same weather and spend a lot less while dealing with fewer tourists at the main attractions,” says Geronemus.
Lyn Mettler is a freelance travel writer and author of “The Step-by-Step Guide to Earning Your Southwest Companion Pass and Flying Free Around the U.S.” She also provides travel public relations services to a variety of companies, including AdventureWomen.