I’m a firm believer in traveling often. But it can get expensive, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Based on popular demand, here are my 5 tips to help you save money and travel more!
1. Join Hotel Reward Programs. Always. Even if it’s your first time there. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever go back. And even if it’s only for one night. Always join the hotel reward program. It’s FREE, and the points work at more than just one brand. For example, Marriott reward points work at Ritz Carltons, and Hilton points work at Waldorf Astoria’s. Most have a lot of brands under one roof.
Not only do points accumulate towards free nights, but some programs also offer perks just for members, like free wi-fi, complimentary morning beverages, etc. It’s almost like a game to see how many reward programs you can be a part of. Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton, Omni, the list goes on and on.
Most hotels have their own credit cards too. These offer even more bonuses (like upgrades, free nights, complimentary breakfast, etc). It’s easier to rack up points on a credit card, because you get points for everyday purchases. I suggest joining the standard reward program for each hotel first, and after a while see which you like best before deciding on a credit card. I’d then stick to one or two credit cards to make the most of your benefits. For the other hotels you visit (the ones you don’t have a credit card with), just keep collecting points through their standard reward program. Be sure to keep an eye out for when they expire, and what you can do to keep them from doing so. It usually involves staying at the brand once every so often, or cashing in points once every two years or so.
2. Be Careful When Using Discount Travel Websites. A lot of the time, the reviews are inaccurate. A rating will say “five stars,” when it is in fact not a five star hotel. This can confuse people. Also, most charge a booking or other type of fee (it’s usually hidden well), and on top of that, they don’t let you collect points (usually they DO let you use your frequent flier number). I find it helpful to utilize these sites to research, but almost always book direct. Plus, most of the time when you book direct, a lot of hotels price match (and some even give you a discount on top of the already lower price). I find Kayak.com to be an awesome tool to search when trying to price match. See my good luck with that here.
3. Fly Using Reward Miles. I promise you don’t have to fly a lot in order to rack up miles. Even the most basic traveler can fly for free. Airline credit cards are a necessity, and so worth it. You can pay off whatever balance you may accrue if you’re worried about wracking up debt, but use your reward miles card for… everything! Groceries, holiday gifts, etc, and the miles will add up in no time. Next thing you know, you’ll have enough points to fly round trip to Europe!
When choosing a card, see which airline offers the best mile cash out (vs. just a ‘basic’ travel credit card, where it costs more “miles” to get somewhere). Also, be sure to initially sign up when bonus miles are being offered. There is usually a minimal annual fee associated with an airline credit card, but in return you won’t have to pay for checked bags, and may even get perks like club passes! Pretty soon you won’t believe you ever flat-out paid for a flight in the past.
4. Book The Lowest Category Room. Of course there are a few limitations to this, like if you’re dead set on a specific view or something, you may just want to book that room from the start. However, if you like to gamble, and want to save some money, upgrade at check in. I first learned about this neat little trick in Costa Rica. The room I wanted was super expensive, but at check in, when the resort wasn’t anywhere near full, we were able to upgrade for hundreds less than if we booked that room initially! Of course there’s always the chance of a free upgrade, but that’s rare and just luck. Go in prepared to pay, do so at check in, and upgrade for much cheaper. This works at most hotel, but not all. For example, you cannot do this at Disney World.
5. Save Money When Renting A Car. Most credit cards, especially travel ones, come with rental car insurance as long as you use that card to book your rental car. Also, the name on the card has to be the same as on the rental car agreement. With the right card, you’ll never have to pay for insurance at the counter ever again. Car rental agencies like to tell you otherwise, but beware. As soon as you concede, the insurance that automatically comes with your credit card becomes null and void. It’s definitely a huge (and awesome) perk with travel credit cards. Each card offers something a little different (I find Amex’s to be the best, followed by the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card), so do your research prior to deciding!