Squeezing More from Your Travel Dollar
I’ve been wanting to visit Madagascar for a while now. The singing lemurs and clever penguins are calling my name. Namibia is on my list of places to see as well. But man, I recently decided to take a trip to both countries, and tickets can be expensive if you don’t shop around! Last week after a cursory search, I got an airfare quote: $6,500. Clearly, further investigation was necessary.
Every airfare search engine has strengths and weaknesses. For example, Skyscanner usually finds great deals but doesn’t give you alternative date options or a multiple-city option. Some engines omit low-cost carriers like Ryan Air or Pegasus. Just when you think you’ve found the best price, you might discover a better deal elsewhere.
If you’re doing multiple cities, one thing to try is breaking the trip into sections. This was the method I ended up using for my Africa tickets. I knew that the plane would have to stop in Johannesburg before Madagascar. After Madagascar, the next flight stopped again in Johannesburg before heading off to Namibia. But what I discovered was, if I stopped in Johannesburg, then took a separate flight to Madagascar, it would instantly knocks $5,000 off the price. $5,000! Just changing the way I booked the flight took 75 percent off the airfare.
Booking Namibia as a separate flight added $400 to the price. If I booked it instead as the second stop on my multicity trip, it would only be $50 more! Does that make any sense? Of course not. It’s easier to predict the weather than make any sense out of airline pricing. The moral of the story is: use several good sites and experiment with flexible dates, stopovers and even nearby cities.
Changing your hub can make a world of difference. If you’re going to Rome, for example, Turkish airlines can be significantly cheaper if you don’t mind a stop in Istanbul. Fuel is subsidized by the Turkish government, and prices are lower as a result. Flying to Europe from New York can be much cheaper due to demand, as well as the fact that some international carriers only fly into New York. Flying from Miami to the Caribbean or anywhere south of the US can also be a smart choice. Chances are you’re going to have a stop there anyway, so figure out what it costs to fly from Miami to your destination and then check into a separate ticket from your departure city to Miami. I’ve saved money flying into Miami in the evening and catching a morning flight to my destination the next day. If the savings are significant, it’s worth the price of a hotel or car there for the night.
Signing up for travel deals is a good way to save your travel cash. Travelzoo’s Top 20 is a weekly hand-picked set of deals that are delivered to your inbox weekly. The Travelzoo site also has a “deals from your city” search feature as well as last-minute bargains. Spirit Airlines has frequent sales if you don’t mind a no-frills carrier. Frontier Airlines, Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines will often slash prices spontaneously. If you’re on their mailing lists, you’ll be the first to know.
Loyalty programs can save you money as well. Join the frequent-flyer program of any airline you use, and you can use your points for free travel. Hotels.com will give you a free night after you book 10 hotel nights on their website. Other hotels like Hilton and Omni offer customer rewards. Many hotels in Las Vegas can offer free rooms and comps as part of their loyalty programs.
Finally, after you’ve found your deal, do an internet search for a coupon code for the websites you’re using. You might have to try a few before you find one that works, but you can often shave a little more off the cost of your trip.