The 25 Absolute Best Money-Saving Travel Tips Ever

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Carlosphotos / Dreamstime.com

Want the best prices on flights, hotel rooms, cruises, and rental cars? Free upgrades? The fastest way through airport security? The smartest way to “do” major cities, national parks, and romantic islands? Congrats! You’re a Budget Traveler like us. Here, in a nutshell, is our manifesto!

When I tell people that I’m editor in chief of Budget Travel, I always get the same response. Whether I’m chatting with a twentysomething on her first overseas adventure, a seatmate on a fixed income, or a well-heeled TV personality at a dreamy ski resort, they invariably reply. “Cool! I’m a Budget Traveler myself!” I love the notion that each and every person I speak with understands that being a Budget Traveler doesn’t just mean saving money, but also traveling in the smartest, most stylish way possible. It inspired me to jot down a few—well, 25—of the things that we Budget Travelers know. Did I leave any of your personal travel tips out? Drop me a line!

1. A REASONABLE PRICED HOTEL ROOM

Budget Travelers don’t snap up the first appealing room at a decent price that they find. They research location—how close will they be to a city’s major sights?—and make sure that a good price doesn’t also come with a time-wasting long-distance schlep every morning. Budget Travelers call the hotel and ask for the best price, the most appropriate room options, and for a free upgrade. And in a pinch, they turn to HotelTonight for last-minute deals. We’re also pretty proud of our own hotel research-and-booking tool.

2. THE “BEST” DAY FOR AIRLINE TICKETS

This is the question we get asked most often at Budget Travel. Traditionally, the simple answer has been: Buy your airline tickets about two months before you fly, and you’ll likely get the best price by booking early in the week, when airlines often adjust fares. The “real” answer is, of course, “it depends,” and you must arm yourself with an array of information to make an informed choice. That said, we also recommend that you follow all the major airlines on social media, sign up for their rewards programs, and subscribe to their free e-newsletters to get the inside track on deals.

3. PICK UP YOUR RENTAL CAR EARLY

Budget Travelers book the smallest possible rental car and a pickup time as early as possible because in this case the early bird gets the free upgrade. At, say, 8 a.m., most customers won’t have returned their cars yet and it’s likely that the lowest-priced compact cars will be out of stock. The rental agency is obligated to give you an available car at the same price.

4. BOOK YOUR CRUISE EARLY – OR LATE

Nabbing a cruise six months to a year in advance usually means getting the best price. At that early point, supply is high and demand is relatively flat, so you’ll find appealing prices. As rooms get snapped up, of course, demand rises and so do prices—with one exception. Once you get down to the final few weeks before a cruise, the line may scramble to fill empty rooms, and you can again swoop in and find a deal.

5. KNOW THE RESORT FEES

Resort fees are quite a bit like the old joke about the weather: Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. The reality is, there’s not much you can do if you’ve already spent your week at an all-inclusive resort and are staring at a bill that includes a hefty resort fee (which typically covers things you thought were free—those comfy poolside towels, the wi-fi in your room, the newspaper delivered to your door). The only thing you can do about it is to ask before booking so you understand the resort’s fee policy. Don’t care for it? Try another resort. (While you’re at it, find out what beverages are included in an all-inclusive package and which you’ll have to pay for out of pocket.)

6. CHECK OUT VACATION RENTALS

When faced with the notion of shelling out $1,400 per week for a beach house, some travelers will blanch. That’s $200 per night, right? Way more than a Budget Traveler wants to pay for a hotel room. But consider the size of your brood. A rental home that comfortably sleeps five and includes a full kitchen is going to be much more comfortable and likely save you money on food.

7. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS YOUR FRIEND

Those of you who don’t live in major cities may regard life without a car as a bit like that nightmare where you arrive at work and realize you forgot to put on any clothes. Those of us who dwell in urban areas know better. When visiting New York, London, Paris, or just about any major city, learning the routes and pricing systems of the light rail, underground, and bus systems can save you tons of time and money compared with renting, gassing up, and parking a car. These days, even notoriously auto-loving Los Angeles is playing the public transportation game. Get in it.

8. PSST! MOST MUSEUMS ARE FREE!

Sure, the world’s most beautiful museums often have an admission price (or suggested donation) topping $20 per person. But they also typically offer free hours each week and a free day each month. Budget Travelers don’t necessary schedule their vacations around a museum’s free days, but they do weigh the option and decide if they can put that money to better use. They also take full advantage of everything a museum has to offer on a given day. There’s no need to high-tail it from room to room trying to see everything—instead, find out when there’s a guided tour, a hands-on class for the kids, or evening hours when the joint if often much quieter than during the day.

9. GO TO NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS

When documentary filmmaker Ken Burns called national parks “America’s best idea,” he probably didn’t have Budget Travelers in mind. But compared with any other vacation spot on earth, our national parks—and many state parks for that matter—deliver serious bang for the buck. Sure, there’s an admission price (usually per car rather than per person), and you’ve got to line up lodgings (inside a major national park that can be around $200 per night), but once inside the park the wildlife, trails, ranger talks, evening presentations, junior ranger programs, and just about everything else is on the house. To paraphrase Verdi’s famous quote about Italy: You may have the universe if I may have a fire-lit ranger talk at Glacier National Park on a crisp late-summer evening.

10. LOOK FOR PACKAGE DEALS

Don’t tell! Airlines and hotels are willing to practically give away their inventory rather than see it go empty. That’s right. Airlines sell their seats at rock-bottom prices. Hotels do the same for their rooms. Why haven’t you heard this before? Because they don’t exactly go parading down the street announcing it to the world. Instead, they roll those empty airplane seats and hotel beds into package deals. When you book a package deal, you’ll get a good rate on airfare and hotels, some meals, often guided tours, and some ground transportation. Don’t believe us? Take a look at a package deal and then try to book the airfare and hotel separately—the package will almost always be significantly less.

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