Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Flights and Hotels

by heather

Welcome back to my Travel on the Cheap series! This article is #2 in the series, and will be covering the journey itself, and how to save money on hotels.

If you want to catch up on other articles in the series:

Saving Money on Flights

Thanks to the travel bug I’ve had infecting my heart for the past decade, I’ve booked a ton of flights. Flights can really escalate the cost of your trip fast. So, it pays to do legwork here.

1. Be Your Own Travel Agent

When I book my own flights, I use Expedia almost exclusively.

Why?

Because I’ve found that 95% of the time, they have the cheapest airfare.

You can also save big by using Expedia for another major reason: they don’t charge you a Change Fee if you have to change flight plans.

Booking direct through Delta or any other airline is dangerous simply because if something comes up, they’re going to charge you around $130 per ticket to change your travel dates.

Expedia doesn’t do this. So even if prices are a bit higher at Expedia (which rarely happens) I still like to book with them anyway to have that security.

Expedia also offers incredible deals when you book a package. For instance, we went to New Orleans this February. I booked our flights and hotel with them, and saved almost $600 on everything. It’s definitely worth it to check out Expedia’s package deals!

You can also score some great deals through Kayak.com. Kayak lets you see flight prices for several different sites at once, including Expedia. This is a great way to save time and ensure you truly are getting the best price.

2. Travel in the Off-Season

Whenever I travel I do it almost exclusively in the off-season. For instance, when we were planning our trip to Spain last year we initially wanted to go in late summer. But that was the height of the tourist season over there. Flights were expensive, hostels were expensive, and the cities and restaurants would have been packed with people.

So, we waited and went in October. We saved hundreds on our flight, we got a great deal on our hostel, and the streets and restaurants were much, much less crowded. Bliss!

When you travel in the off-season you can really experience a place more fully. You can talk to locals without getting jostled by the crowds, you can get tickets to awesome shows, you can spend more time in museums…it’s just less hassle and more fun.

Keep in mind that every country and region has a different off-season. For instance, Europe is packed with tourists in the summer. But ski resorts, like Aspen, cut their rates 50% or more during the summer months to get tourists to come. Sure, you can’t ski, but the mountains are gorgeous. You could go hiking, horseback riding or kayaking instead!

A region’s off-season is usually determined by weather. For instance, Paris’s off-season is November through March/April. So, you can see the city on the cheap during these months. But, the weather is likely to be cold and damp.

For some people, it isn’t worth it to tour the city in less than prime weather. But to me it just adds to the adventure! There are other benefits, however. France’s wine-making season is in the fall, and this can be an incredible time to tour vineyards on the cheap if you’re willing to wear a sweater.

When deciding when to go anywhere, Kiplinger gives good advice: look at what most other people are doing, and just do the exact opposite.

3. Don’t Fly on Peak Days

You might have heard this one before but in case you haven’t, here it is: the cheapest flight date is usually Wednesday. Most people fly on Fridays and Mondays, which means you’ll pay for higher airfare on these days.

If you can, straddle your vacation so that you fly in and out mid-week.

4. Book at Midnight

You could also save big by booking through the airline itself, between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m on Wednesdays. Ok, I know how weird this sounds. And no, I haven’t tried this one yet.

But Sound Money Tips says this is when the airline’s computers let go of all the “booked but not yet paid for” flights. You know, when you start a search for a flight, put it in your cart, but never pay for it because “you’re thinking about it”.

Well, those flights get held until Wednesdays. Apparently if you scour the airline’s flights during this Golden Hour, you can get some really great deals.

Saving Money on Hotels

4. Book Strategically

When you book has become an important part of the “travel on the cheap” strategy.

For instance, Kiplinger suggests that if you want to snag great deals for your trip to Europe, travel in the fall and book in late August.

Of course, this is going to vary greatly depending on where you’re going, so you’ll have to research your destination beforehand to find out the cheapest time to make your reservations.

5. Find Bargain Hotels, NOT Duds

Have you ever found an amazingly cheap hotel, only to get there and find the staff rude, the beds filthy, and the carpet bare?

I’m raising my hand here.

Getting a hotel dud is NOT fun. Which is why I check out every place we stay at on TripAdvisor before I ever book a room. The site is chock full of hotel and hostel reviews from real travelers. I’ve avoided some really bad places thanks to this site, so definitely give it a look before you plop your money down on a room.

6. Stay in a Hostel

Hostels aren’t just for broke backpackers and college kids. At least, not anymore. Many hostels resemble hotels, and are just as clean. The only difference? They’re much cheaper.

How much cheaper? Well, just check out Hostels.com. You’ll need to pick your mouth up off the floor.

For instance, want to stay in Dublin for 8 Euros a night? Rome for 15 Euros?

Yeah, that’s what you get with hostels.

I love staying in hostels because it’s a more personal experience. You really get a chance to meet other guests when you stay at a hostel. And, I’d much rather splurge on food or experiences during the day than drop a ton of money on a room that I’m just going to be sleeping in.

Don’t forget to check your hostel out on TripAdvisor! Not all hostels are great. In fact, some of them are downright awful. So make sure you pick a hostel that has a great reputation!

Last Word…

If you guys have your own travel savvy tips for saving money when you’re on an adventure, I’d love to hear them!

Additional Resources:

{ 2 trackbacks }

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Getting Around and Having Fun | The Greenest Dollar
July 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm
Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Staying Safe | The Greenest Dollar
July 26, 2010 at 12:37 pm

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Stilgar July 21, 2010 at 9:39 am

Not to be picky, but isn’t flying about the worst way you could Save Money. Save the Environment or Be Happy? I mean its horrible for the planet, is super expensive, and a miserable way to travel. Why not stay closer do a bike tour, take a train, visit a local state park, etc etc etc. Seems to me that gallivanting all over the planet in giant co2 machines is a really good way to waster money, be unhappy, and destroy the planet.

heather July 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

@Stilgar- You bring up a very valid point, thank you.

Yes, flying is bad on the environment. And I have written posts in the past on how to reduce the environmental impact of travel (especially using trains, and buying a TerraPass to offset your footprint when you travel). But this post had one aim: saving money on travel. And most people fly when they leave on vacation. I thought about incorporating both aspects (since my blog is about frugality AND green living) but felt it would have made the article too long.

I also thought about incorporating ideas about staying closer to home, but again, this would have turned the article into a tome!

Although you’re right: these issues should be addressed, and I should include a Resources link at the bottom that highlights these other articles.

Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention!

Doug L. July 21, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I hadn’t heard about the “magic hour” approach. I’m going to check out some flights tonight to see if it actually works!

heather July 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm

@Doug- Yeah, I stumbled onto that tip this morning. Again, I haven’t tried it, but please let me know if it really works! I’m sure other readers will want to know as well. 🙂

karen July 22, 2010 at 10:28 am

Although Stilgar makes valid point, flying is inevitable sometimes. I, for one, have to travel at times…just can’t get to San Jose from NY in one day. But having said, I never go on vacations where I have to fly anymore. I offset those times I do have to fly by staying close to home when I don’t have to – like vacations.

But since I do fly and have to check various websites for cheap tickets, I learned a few tricks along the way. When I check for prices on Expedia or Sidestep or any other travel browsers, I never buy on the first try. Walk away from the puter for a couple of days, and re-check. You’d be surprised how the prices vary depending on what previous prices were quoted for you the last time you checked. They have cookies that keep your quoted prices and will keep giving you similar prices in one sitting. So walk away for a couple of days and re-check.

Hotwire and Priceline are cheaper options if you don’t have to fly on certain times or stay at certain hotels. I’ve gotten hotels at 1/2 the price by using those two sites. Sometimes going to specific hotels with AAA membership can get your some decent rates too. And there is no penalty for cancellations. Hotwire and Priceline will be difficult to get refunds from. I once complained to Priceline about a hotel that was rated higher than what should have been but I got nowhere with them. I ended up staying somewhere else because the hotel that I got thru Priceline was inhabitable, in my opinion.

I could go on forever on this topic. Great topic!

Mare Wiley August 18, 2010 at 7:58 am

How and where do I get a cheap passport in Maine to go to Jamaica?

Where website is very informative and helpful thank you for all the great green helpful
hints.

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