Whether you're traveling overseas or closer to home, you want to enjoy your vacation without busting your budget. Here are five tips to help you plan smart, save money and make your journeys more enjoyable.
- When a Travel Agent Makes Sense
A quick trip to the mountains takes less thought than a jaunt across the ocean, so plan accordingly. While the Web has plenty of resources to snag deals on your own, there are times when you might want to consider using a travel agent, which can be a real time-saver, and in general, costs about the same as a do-it-yourself booking. Travel agents have exclusive access to get better deals on hotels and airfare and a wealth of information about potential destinations. This is especially helpful if you're traveling internationally. Check out the American Society of Travel Advisors to find a reputable agent who specializes in the type of trip you want to take.
And don't forget travel benefits that may come with your credit card. For instance, some credit cards features concierge services free of charge to help you find special deals, make personalized recommendations and book your travel.
- Put Your Credit Card to Work
Many seasoned travelers use their airline or rewards credit cards for everyday purchases like gas, food, clothes, etc., to take advantage of earning points or rewards to redeem for airfare, hotel stays and more. Most credit cards come with generous sign-up bonuses, so you can use those points toward your next vacation.
Caution: To use a rewards card for everyday spending, be sure to pay your bill off monthly to enjoy your card's benefits without accumulating debt. Rewards and travel cards typically come with higher interest rates, so if you can't pay your balances monthly, you're better off getting a low-interest rate card and paying down your debt.
- DIY Travel Preparation
There are tons of online travel sites,that aggregrate information to help you plan. Don't overlook user reviews for lodging, restaurants and entertainment. For instance, TripAdvisor has more than 730 million reviews and opinions about travel listings worldwide that make planning trips easier. If you've waited until the last minute to book something, travel sites do offer some inexpensive vacation packages for procrastinators.
- Go Directly to the Source
When booking airfare or lodging, sometimes it pays to go directly to a company's website rather than a third-party travel site. Many major hotels offer a best rate guarantee, so if you book a room and find a lower price somewhere else, the hotel will drop its rate or match the rate, and it's easier to get nice extras such as room upgrades. If you book directly on an airline's site, you'll have to book ahead to get the best pricing which varies by the season. According to Cheapair.com, the prime booking window ranges from about four months to three weeks in advance, depending on where you're going. But if you need to cancel or change your flight, you usually won't be charged fees that many third-party sites charge and the customer service is good if you have special circumstances you need help with. Some third-party sites can be iffy when it comes to good customer service.
- Car Rental Loyalty Programs
Even if you rent a car once or twice a year, consider joining a loyalty program, which comes with incentives such as free upgrades or rate reductions. However, the best benefit comes down to one little word: time. As a member, you'll avoid the long lines and the usual sales spiel designed to beef up your rental costs by adding features you probably don't need, like additional insurance, a navigation system or satellite radio. Your information is kept on file and you can get your car quicker; sometimes you can just go straight to your car and find your keys in the ignition. Check to see if your credit card offers specific coverage for rental cars. For instance, the SchoolsFirst FCU Reward, School Employee and Inspire Mastercards offer a car rental collision damage waiver, in case the vehicle is damaged or you get in an accident.