A Few Random Tips and Tricks for Scoring Great Travel Deals

best flight deals online

As I often do when I’m traveling on vacation, I’ve plowed through a bunch of magazines this week and read a lot of articles about apps and websites that will help you find a great travel deal. It’s a popular subject and there are always new options coming along promising to shave some money off your flight, hotel, or rental car.

A lot of it is just space-filler, however, and half those apps will be gone in two years. [2019 update—one of them mentioned in this article originally is gone, swallowed up by Expedia/TripAdvisor/Hotels.com and killed off.]

As I pointed out in this post on the illusion of choice in your travel bookings, you don’t really have as many ways to shop around as you think you do though. Two big companies—Expedia and Priceline—control most of the online booking sites you have heard of or use. We’re down to three legacy airlines and Southwest in the USA, with JetBlue, Virgin, and the bare-bones (except fees) ones only flying specific routes. There actually might be more Mexican airlines now than there are U.S. ones.

There are a lot of deals going on all the time with the online booking sites, with the individual airlines, and with hotel chains. Keeping track of them all is pretty tough though unless you’re on message boards like FlyerTalk and are watching blogs and your e-mail subscriptions constantly. Sometimes it pays to check in with a coupon site that lists codes you can use for travel discounts. I’ll often check something like this when I need a rental car or a one-night stay in a chain hotel. I care more about price than brands in those circumstances.

car rental dealsSpeaking of rental cars, don’t assume the first price you get is the best you can do. My wife sucked it up and booked a $51 a day rental car during a peak holiday period in Florida starting last night, then checked back a few days later and it was $45 a day. So she made a new reservation and canceled the old one. A couple days ago she checked again and the price had dropped to $35 a day. So she canceled the second reservation after making a third. She cut the price by nearly 50 bucks for three days.

You can do the same with hotels yourself (Expedia will refund the difference if you find it cheaper later) or automate it by booking through a site like Pruvo that refunds the difference. Just be advised that you often won’t get loyalty points from your favorite hotel chain this way and may miss out on the free WiFi many are only giving to their loyalty members. You have to book direct for the perks.

Hotel chains run “point sales” as well, where you can cash in loyalty points and get more than normal out of them because a hotel has a lot of empty rooms. I’m a big fan of the point breaks from IHG’s loyalty program and have scored five nights now in three countries at a rate of just 5,000 points. (Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Staybridge Suites.) Considering I recently got 70,000 points from a credit card sign-up, that’s a screaming bargain. Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott do the same, but not so dramatically—with IHG I’ve even see Intercontinental ones go on sale for that rate. See more on some of the best cards to get here so you can travel more on your current income.

If you’re traveling internationally, use an appropriate booking site for that region or better yet, try working out a deal directly. Many independent hotels are not listed on any of the online travel agency sites and if you catch them when they’re half full, you can often negotiate a better deal than what’s listed. Going old school is sometimes the best approach.

  1. Spiros

    ..hello sir.>my girlfriend and I should be going to the eastern shore
    of Mexico through an “all-inclusive”, from Montreal in February..do you have any
    advice as to the better ones at a reasonable price.>spiros

    • Tim Leffel

      Every all-inclusive is on the major online booking sites, so just shop around and read the reviews so you don’t get an unhappy surprise. That’s the peak of peak season, so you can’t expect many sales unless you wait until the last minute. A package deal with air can result in a better price than buying the elements individually.

  2. Robin

    Nice Post! Information is too good and this tips and tricks are very helpful at the time of travel booking. It saves money. Thank you for sharing.

  3. sunny morris

    https://www.autoslash.com/ This is a great site I have used a few times for saving on car rentals. They will let you know if your price has dropped, which it always does.

  4. ahmed gusto

    a much needed post for all the travelers. this kinds of experiences needs to be shared all. so that other peoples can make better informed decisions
    happy new year

  5. Eric Carrell

    Very nice post, this is exactly what I need right now. I’m trying to do South America on a budget and it’s tough!

  6. Chris

    Hi Tim

    I am really enjoying the experiences you are sharing with us. My wife and I are soon to start traveling and it should last a couple of years at least. You have spoken of credit cards and I am curious as to a home address when applying. Do you have a PO Box or someone who monitors your mail?

    • Tim Leffel

      Someone who monitors my mail. Rope in a relative or friend so you can keep a U.S. bank address. Or you can pay a private service like UPS stores. You can do almost everything electronically though of course you need the physical card when that comes. Stock up on the last ones before leaving.

  7. rajasthan tour operators

    it is a helpful post for those who area going to travel outside their country
    Your tips are useful and helpful, thanks for sharing this with us.

  8. Graham

    These are great tips for anyone looking to save a bit of cash while traveling. Though it seems more efficent in some cases to just forget the rental car and go with a rideshare app like lyft or uber. And once you get off the plane, have a place to crash with airbnb. If you want free promo codes for all those and more (free money, why wouldnt you?) check out http://couponcodeshero.com. They have a free promo code for lyft, uber, airbnb and loads more like doordash (forget leaving to get great food, let it come to you!)

  9. John Mahoney

    Thank you for talking about the importance of getting the right prices when renting a car. It makes sense that looking at several companies and comparing their prices can help you make sure you score a great deal. I would want to make sure I plan ahead and book with enough time so I can cancel is I need it or to avoid extra charges.

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