Part 1: Airfare and Lodging
I am pretty sure the amount of traveling I do freaks out or aggravates many of my friends. I take many trips a year, but my trips maximize the experiences without blowing money. This article shares ways I have found to maximize my travel experiences by saving on airfare and lodging costs.
Tips for creating amazing travel experiences that won’t break the bank
When you’re thinking of travel, what comes to mind? Adventure, relaxation, and culture. Sometimes all you need is a cheap plane ticket, a solid roof over your head, and some delicious food. I have been able to travel all around Europe, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. I have taken these trips without spending full prices on airfare, or accommodations. Saving on airfare and lodging costs provides more freedom to experience the local surroundings and culture in much deeper ways.
Great things can be done for a fraction of the cost, but it does require creative planning. Here are a few things I have learned along the way. I use these approaches and tools regularly for creating amazing travel experiences that won’t break the bank.
My number one resource for all things travel related is The Points Guy (thepointsguy.com). This is my go-to site and mobile app for co-branded credit cards, and loyalty program updates, and travel updates. This site provides great summaries and comparisons of hotel and airline loyalty programs along with credit card rewards. The entire purpose of TPG is to provide you a central resource for saving money on airfare and lodging costs.
Saving Money with Deals on Air Travel
To find the best travel deals, I have a few key resources that I use every trip. These typically fall into the airfare, lodging, and experiences categories. Between airfare and hotels, I am more willing to spend money on airfare. Living near Washington, DC flights to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and even the Middle East are frequent. Many have direct options several times a day. From here, round-trip airfare is often less than the hotel stays when going for more than three nights.
Staying in the Know
Have you ever heard of mistake fares? What about 5th Freedom Flights? Do you know what airline partners offer the best reward program point redemptions?
I get all of these updates in email updates from Going.com (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Going offers three levels of membership for different annual rates: Limited – Free; Premium -$49/yr; Elite – $199/yr. This is an essential resource. My wife and I get email updates for our preferred locations in our inboxes daily. We have purchased incredible deals through the notices from Going. For example, I am flying to Dublin for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day weekend for less than $400 round trip. Going is the top resource for mistake fares and incredible deals.
Timing is Everything
Timing is very important for saving on airfare costs. Two resources I use to help me plan the best time to buy are the Hopper app and flights.google.com. Both let you select your destination, provide a list of curated destinations, or a random destination. The calendar functions on both let you see when the best times to buy your tickets are several months out. Typically, the more lead time you give yourself, the better your prices will be. Both Hopper and Google Flights will let you see trends and options because market and other factors can change prices. Hopper’s algorithm tells you when to hold off or purchase your tickets. My wife and I flew to Belize this past December for a total of $582 round trip. We booked our flights at the end of January 2022 using Google Flights. We saved nearly $400 from what our friends paid a few months later when they bought their tickets.
I heard that Tuesdays are the best days to buy flights. My wife recently purchased the IAD – DUB flights for the St. Patrick’s Day from a Going email and Google Flights. She bought the ticket for me on a Tuesday, so that works for me.
I prefer to hold my airline miles use them for upgrades, or domestic awards redemptions. My wife has a JetBlue co-branded card that she has used for quite a few of our domestic trips.
Saving Money on Lodging
Maximizing your Points Redemption for Hotel Stays
Unless I am traveling for work, I try to avoid paying for hotels. We use the Marriott co-branded Bonvoy Brilliant card for our daily use, recurring bills, and primary travel card. It gives solid benefits in terms of points accrual, status, Global Entry credits, Priority Pass lounge access, and annual hotel credits. This year the rate annual fee just increased on par with the American Express Platinum cards. Because of this, 2023 may be the last year on this level of the card.
In the past year we have used points to redeem for the following stays:
- Feb 2022:The Cove at Atlantis in the Bahamas – 3 nights
- July 2022 and Jan 2023: Weekend stays with kids to go to Sesame Place (Langhorne, PA) and Nickelodeon Universe (East Rutherford, NJ)
- Oct 2022: Renaissance Paris Vendome Palace – 5 nights, with suite upgrades for my wife’s 40th birthday trip
- Dec 2022: Alaia Belize Resort – 6 nights with a free room upgrade to an oceanfront balcony room.
- Jan 2023: 5 nights Marriott Stelaris Hotel & Casino Aruba for wife’s girl’s weekend
Everyone has different hotel brand preferences. The choice around the specific loyalty programs you use is entirely a personal decision. Use the reviews and summaries on The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time to help you decide. I do not like carrying multiple credit cards to maintain status across programs. We have concentrated on the single Marriott brand family. Keep an eye on periodic specials and deals from your favorite brands. Many will offer “Stay 5 nights or more, receive one night free”, or 30% off stays over 4 nights.
Saving Money on Last Minute Stays or Emergency Bookings
Researching, comparing, and reserving early are key to save on lodging. That is not always possible, or even ideal depending on your trip. I have taken several trips where the only arrangements I made were air transportation. In the days before iPhones and Airbnb, this made finding lodging part of the challenge and fun. More recently I have had to be more responsible. To find last-minute lodging I have used other services like HotelsTonight.com. In a pinch I prefer to book through Expedia or HotelsTonight instead of burning points. I would rather save those for future planned stays. I like the way that Expedia’s and Hotels.com’s rewards programs are evolving. Note: when you book through third-party travel agencies like those, you do not accrue any loyalty rewards with the hotels.
In July 2021 I went to Reykjavik, Iceland for a 6-day jiu-jitsu camp. Three weeks before traveling my original lodging plans fell through for some reason. I searched on Expedia and found a great limited-service hotel in Reykjavik for under $65/night. It was clean, spacious, had free coffee, and a laundry facility that was free!
The Power of Airbnb
If points redemption is not an option, my go-to is Airbnb. Most of the time on trips I just need a secure, well-located place to crash and shower. I’ve found incredible deals and places to stay on relatively short notice using Airbnb. Here are some of my success stories so far:
- Trip to Iceland again in July 2022. I found a 2 bedroom Airbnb to split with my friend for under $34/night each! We spent less than 6 hours in the apartment a day and spent more time exploring the island via car.
- In January 2020 I went to Barcelona while my neighbor was in town for a conference. Crashing at his hotel wasn’t an option as we had hoped. On the flight over the Atlantic I found a detached room in an apartment for $19/night. I ended up making friends with the people who rented the room. With them I saw parts of the city and nightlife I never would have been able to find.
- I often go to Ogden, UT for work. Last summer all the hotels were booked for a conference in town. I went with an Airbnb loft right in the center of town instead of a hotel farther away. I am going that route every time I head to Ogden from here on out. I stayed at the Courtyard last time and it was a disaster.
When evaluating different options of where to stay I weigh location and cost over luxury and amenities. My goal is to find accommodations that are “good enough” but don’t necessarily incentivize me to waste time there. I travel to see the destination
To recap how to maximize travel experiences while saving costs on airfare and lodging:
1. Research and book your airfare and hotels with plenty of lead time (6 months or more if possible). Sometimes waiting until you get to the destination is the right time to find accommodations.
2. You have to find a travel rewards program that aligns with your preferences and buying habits. Different cards give different points for various categories of daily and recurring purchases. Determine if there is a preferred co-branded card you want versus Amex or Chase Rewards. Use The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time to make the most informed decision.
3. flights.google.com, Hopper, and Going.com will allow you to find the best pricing for airfare.
4. Combine hotel rewards points with periodic specials from the companies to get the best deals on hotel stays. Expedia, Hotels.com, and Airbnb can also provide you with great deals on lodging options.
5. Understand yourself and your unique situation – location can greatly affect airfare. It may be more important to save on airfare and redeem points there. I also see that most of my travel has been across the Atlantic. Heading to Asia may completely flip the calculations for me.
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Happy travels! If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to connect and let’s chat! Please check out my other posts here : https://averagegeniuses.com/members/mikesnyder/articles/