Ways to save on airfare, lodging, food, gas and more, with tips from an experienced travel writer.
Business or pleasure? No matter the reason, we all like to save money on travel, even if we’re heading to luxury resorts. Here are 10 tips culled from my own experience for saving on trips no matter where you’re heading.
TRAVEL IN THE OFF-SEASON
You can often cut your costs in half by vacationing when other people stay home.
You can save 30 percent to 40 percent by traveling in the so-called “shoulder season,” which typically is during spring or fall when the kids have gone back to school.
The off-season offers even more most savings, and that’s when I like to go. Usually, the weather’s not perfect — it’s bitterly cold in Europe or scorching hot in Palm Springs. But I like Europe in the winter. I’d rather put on a coat and avoid the crowds and high prices, especially because summer can be uncomfortably hot, too.
I’ve been to the Costa Rican Caribbean twice now during the rainy season, when most people stay away, and not only did we get an excellent airfare, but our cabana was discounted too. Yes, we had to put up with some rain, but it’s warm tropical rain. A novelty for us.
Typically, the week before Thanksgiving week, the first week in December and the first week of May are excellent times for bargain hunters.
TRAVEL ON WEEKDAYS
This is a similar concept: Head to the hills when everyone else is at work. Not only will your ski-lift tickets be cheaper, but so will your cabin and everything else. Las Vegas, Big Bear, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, they’re all cheaper during the week before the thundering hordes arrive on Friday night. And you won’t face the same traffic driving home, either. Conversely, if you’re on a business trip, hotels that cater to you will be cheaper Saturdays and Sundays.
USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Sometimes, you have to rent a car because there’s no other way to get around, but don’t just reflexively jump in that direction. Cities like Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and Portland, Ore., have easy-to-navigate transit systems, and you don’t have to worry about paying for parking when you get there. The Metro, the BART or the ferry can be part of the adventure.
I’m a big fan of the Las Vegas Deuce bus, which runs up and down the strip and then cuts over to the downtown area, enabling you to jump from casino to casino without having to get your car out of the garage or hire a pricey cab. Unlike the monorail, it runs right along the Strip, giving you a view, instead of being buried away in the backs of casinos.
GET A KITCHEN
You may have to pay more for a place with a kitchen, but you won’t be eating out every meal, and the savings can add up fast, especially with kids. Check out sites that rent timeshare condos to non-owners. You can often find deals there, or look for suite hotels.
Don’t cringe when I say this, but hostels have nice shared kitchens and most have private rooms nowadays. They’ll even give you a cubby for your personal food, and some offer benefits like free pancake batter on Sunday mornings or the chance to buy eggs for a dime each.
Even if you don’t have a kitchen, you can ask about having a fridge or microwave put in your room, and you can use the coffeemaker for hot water.
GO TO COSTCO
Yes, there are now Costco stores on Jupiter and Mars. If you go to Costco.com, you can find a locator that shows every store in the galaxy. Buy cheap gas, eat lunch for cheap and look for local deals on restaurants, shows and things to do.
At Southern California locations, you can find deals on the Catalina Express ferry, local skiing and local restaurant chains like Ruby’s and Lucille’s, where you’ll typically save 20 percent. You can also buy things that locals use, such as snorkel gear and paddleboards, often for less than renting them at a resort.
This smartphone app shows you the cheapest gas stations near you — a godsend when you’re out of town.
The cheapest days to fly are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and sometimes Sundays, depending on destination. You can generally guarantee you’ll get a deal on a Tuesday. Mondays and Fridays are often the most expensive days, especially Fridays, which are popular both with business travelers going home and weekenders heading out, and you could get bumped.
GET OUT OF THE TOURIST DISTRICT
Everything’s more expensive within a city’s tourist district, including food, lodging and things to do, because rents are higher there. I do like to stay within walking distance of tourist attractions but just slightly outside the boundaries, where prices are lower.
ASK A LOCAL
I like to read guidebooks, but sometimes they’ll steer you to the biggest tourist traps in town. I always ask store clerks, cops, postal carriers and such where they eat, because they know the local haunts. Our parking attendant in Indian Wells, Calif., sent us to a delicious breakfast spot favored by residents.
JOIN THE CLUB
Once you’ve figured out where you’re going, sign up for loyalty clubs offered by various chains. For example, Hyatt hotels and Holiday Inns will give you free Internet if you belong to their clubs, which are free to join. Restaurant chains will usually send you some kind of freebie for joining such as a free appetizer or coupon for $5 off. And, if you ask for an upgrade or something special, they are more likely to accommodate you if you’re a club member.