1. Don’t assume package holidays are cheaper
Holiday packages are great inspiration if you don’t have much holiday planning time. Someone else has already decided which airline to fly and where you should stay. You don’t have to pack anything, but are package deals good value?
The benefits of bulk-buying are passed on to you by package-deal providers. They often include free add-ons such as internet, breakfast, and city tours. However, they might also be keeping costs down by offering roundabout routes to your destination or including only three nights’ accommodation when really you’ll need four, so make sure you understand all the detail.
2. Select a destination that has a favorable exchange rate
Although it’s a lot cheaper to stay home and do nothing, many overseas destinations are looking cheaper than they have in a long time, which is as good a reason as any to grab a few fistfuls of the strong Aussie dollar and see the world.
A US$20 steak dinner would have been 31 Aussies back in March 2009, when the Aussie was buying only 64 US Cents. Today, the same steak will be 19 or 20 Aussies.
Being in the US itself is now around 35% cheaper than it was 18 months ago, but note that many currencies around the world are pegged to the US dollar: if you want to ride the Peak Tram, lose yourself in the ruins of Petra, or check out the world’s highest building in Dubai, you’ll be pleased to learn that the Hong Kong dollar, Jordanian dinar and Emerati dirham are all pegged to the US dollar and so are now 35% cheaper too.
3. You should be aware of which countries have the lowest prices and which ones are more expensive
No matter what exchange rate, travel costs in different countries vary dramatically. Intrepid travelers who don’t mind a bit of dirt and discomfort have the pick of some really cheap ‘off the beaten track’ destinations like most of South and Southeast Asia, some Middle-Eastern and North African countries like Syria and Morocco, and most of South America outside of the slightly more expensive Chile and Argentina. Even those who prefer safety and comfort can make smart decisions.
If you’re after that quintessential alpine holiday, you’ll halve your accommodation, activity and eating expenses by going to the less known but equally beautiful Slovenia rather than neighbouring Austria.
A good guidebook will provide a rough idea of the daily spending limit for any destination. The Economist’s Big Mac Index provides a simplistic but useful at-a-glance comparison of expense.
4. Use comparison websites first, then check out the airlines’ own sites
You will find that discount airlines are always vying for your dollars. So make it work in your favor. Check out great airfare comparison websites like webjet, farecompare, jetabroad and lastminute to compare the prices offered by various carriers.
Then compare your shortlist with the prices available directly on the airline’s website. For domestic flights within Australia, this almost always means you get the same low fare but avoid the booking and ‘price gaurantee’ fees levied by the comparison sites. You can use it for international flights.
5. Enjoy the scenic route
If you have time on your hands or quite like breaking long flights, check out round the world fares or fares that involve stopovers but use routes on which competition is fierce and prices are low. It might seem illogical but there are times when travelling further can actually work out to be the cheaper option.
6. Fly off-peak
Half the world would like to fly December holidays. In Europe, July and August are the most expensive months to fly during summer holidays. Flying off-peak can reduce the cost of your flight.
Similar savings can be made by flying to London in October instead of January. Flying to Bangkok in October instead of January will save you approximately $1,000.
If the season is non-negotiable, specifics like day of the week and time of day also affect how much you’ll pay. You will pay less to fly mid-week than on weekends, or at unpopular times like very early morning, than during peak hours between 9am-7pm.
7. Low-cost carriers are your best option
You can save thousands on flights to certain areas of the world by choosing one of the large number of low-cost carriers. It makes sense to use a major airlines for long-haul flights but once you’re in the region you can jet around for next to nothing using low-cost carriers (for example, Ryanair and Easy Jet in Europe). The important thing to note is that these airlines will not show up on any webjet-type searches you do, so it pays to use a specialist information source on low-cost carriers like attitudetravel . You can only book overseas low-cost airlines online through their websites.
8. Sign up to become a courier
How do I fly to London, return for $200? And other amazing destinations for pocket money? You can travel as an airline courier. DHL or UPS may need air-couriers in order to transport sensitive cargo around the world. If you’re flexible and available to travel at short notice, getting listed with an international courier service could lead to heavily discounted (or even free) flights to some very interesting destinations.
9. For peak season, book well in advance. Last-minute bookings for low-season are not recommended.
People generally book accommodation approximately one month before they travel. Prices in major hotels tend to peak around a month prior to check-in. Booking well in advance is the best way to secure accommodation deals in peak season when hotels are most likely to sell out. In the low season, however, hotels are likely to find themselves still with empty rooms just a day or two before your check-in date and might be so eager to get some of them filled that they’ll discount heavily.
If you’re happy to look around for accommodation once you’ve arrived in your destination, especially in Europe where many hotels are privately owned, look for boutique or owner-operated hotels where the person at the desk actually cares whether or not you check in. Ask them the price, then ask them if they can arrange something cheaper – it can’t hurt to ask and they’d rather have the room filled than not.
10. Check out the internet and find the best aggregation site.
Many websites and hotels claim to have the ‘lowest rates available on the web’ but don’t be misled by advertising; you’re always going to be better off shopping around. If the quote you find on a hotel booking website is drastically lower than the rate quoted direct from the hotel’s website, it can’t hurt to call them up and ask them to match or beat it.
To read independent reviews of the hotel you’re considering, visit tripadvisor.
11. Give a “secret hotel” a shot
If you like the sound of champagne hotels at beer prices, give a lastminute “secret hotel” a shot. The premise is that by booking a ‘secret hotel’ whose identity is only revealed after you book and pay, you can receive as much as a 75% discount on luxury hotels. Although the discount, star rating, and location of your choice are guaranteed, the hotel should be a pleasant surprise.
12. Swap, house-sit or couch-surf
If you want a change of scene but haven’t got the cash to blow on the Ritz, couch surfing, house-sitting or house swapping are some free alternatives. Couchsurfing is a social networking website for travelers who move from couch to couch, sharing stories and making friends. Caretaker is a place to get listed for house-sitting or find a caretaker for your place, and homeexchange has descriptions of potential house-swaps around the world. Every website includes testimonials and honor system to make it safe and fun.
13. Start your search for car-hire comparison sites
To find the best deal on any given day, start your search on car hire comparison websites like compare2save or webcarhire. Then compare your shortlist with what you can find directly on the hire company websites, and remember to check you’ve included all fees in your calculation.
14. Book well in advance
Many hire-car companies will tell you that their pricing is fixed and encourage you book ahead. This is generally the best thing to do. One sure-fire way of paying over the odds for car hire is to turn up at the airport terminal without any prior booking, although even if you do unavoidably find yourself in this situation it’s worth both comparing prices at the different companies’ desks and asking for discounts off the rates they first quote.
15. Don’t limit yourself to the big brands
You don’t have to go to the big companies to get the best car rental prices. Many local family-run and boutique car rental companies will offer lower rates than the big ones. You might get an older car or a smaller choice of pick-up and drop-off points (some will not have airport offices, for example, or will require you to get a shuttle bus to their office five minutes away from the airport), but particularly for long hires the saving can be worth it.
16. Don’t pay extra to lower the car-rental excess
Paying to reduce the excess on your rental car insurance is the hire-car equivalent of – ‘would you like large fries and coke with that?’ There’s no doubt that paying just a little more each day for holiday driving peace of mind is a compelling idea, but the $20 or thereabouts they ask for will add up quickly over the length of a holiday. You should have your excess covered, but there is a smarter way to do it – via your regular travel insurance.
Many travel insurance providers provide rental car excess coverage in addition to other insurance basics, such as personal injury or theft. Some even provide rental car excess cover as a basic inclusion – so don’t make the easy mistake of paying for it twice.
If your current travel insurance provider doesn’t offer rental car excess cover, check out the offerings from QBE, GIO, as well as private health funds like MBF and HCF. Paying for one-off comprehensive travel insurance with all the inclusions will cost you a lot less than $20 per day, and you’ll get a lot more coverage for your money.
17. Pay attention to hidden extras
You can keep your costs down by avoiding unnecessary extras that could lead to unpleasant surprises.
The petrol surcharge is one of the largest expenses associated with hiring cars. It covers the cost of returning the rental car with an empty tank. Most car hire places will charge between $2.20-$3.00 per litre to fill it up for you – nearly $1 more per litre than you would have paid to fill your tank around the corner. On a 50L tank, that’s $50 better off in your pocket than theirs, so be sure to fill your tank to within the required 7/8 before you return it.
Also, quite frequently – whether by mistake or sneakiness is hard to say – hire companies will hit you for all kinds of oddball fees. Common offenders include tolls you’ve already paid for, tire fees, extra-driver fees, fuel surcharges and charges for pick-up outside of ‘normal office hours’ (particularly dangerous if your hire begins on a Sunday). Query any charges that you don’t understand and you might find they’ll take them off the bill.
18. Ask about relocation rentals
If you want to save seriously big bucks on car hire and aren’t on a tight schedule, call around and ask if any of the hire companies have cars that need to be relocated.
Many companies will give you a free pass to drive the car anywhere you like for two to three weeks as long as it is there by the scheduled date. Everybody wins – you get dirt-cheap car hire (from A$1) and the company doesn’t have to pay for an employee to drive the car out and fly back. Check out standbycars or relocationcarrental for $1 per day car rentals waiting for you right now.
You can be really smart by relocating your motor home. This will allow you to take care of both your car and your accommodation. Get inspired at drivenow
While you’re there
19. Go where the locals eat
You can save even more money by getting off the tourist path, no matter where you are. If you want to save money (and eat the best food around) – eat where the locals eat.
Walking two streets back from the main tourist street can lead you to great places to eat. Look for restaurants filled with locals and without ‘tourist-friendly’ menus – you’ll find the food will both taste better and cost significantly less.
As for basics like bottled water, snacks and chocolate bars, avoid buying these from the vendors in the tourist districts at all costs – typically they will charge between two and three times the prices charged in a local grocery store or supermarket.
20. Mini-bars are outmatched
To stock up on water, snacks and soft drinks as soon as possible after arriving in your destination, make it a habit to find your local supermarket. After you’ve checked in, make sure to pack your hotel’s goodies away so that they are out of your sight and your mind.
21. Take a look at things for free
Once you’re on the ground, fed and rested it’s time to explore your destination. You can start by listing the things that you can see without paying anything. Walking tours, or even jogging, are great ways to explore a new place and see the sights. Walking is not only good for you, but allows you to really soak up the local atmosphere in a way that those tacky tourist buses won’t. It’s worth paying A$25-$50 more to get something the local council and hotel might provide free. Ask your concierge for a guidebook or consult the tourist information office.
A great way to get to know a city is by using its public transportation system. Take the bus or train instead of taking cabs. You’ll not only save money but also get a much richer experience.
22. Get city passes
Many major cities have comprehensive public transport systems. They sell tourist cards or city passes that allow you to use a variety public transport options without having to navigate the complex ticketing systems. Also, they offer entry to many tourist hotspots and free rides to other destinations. They are usually more suitable for those who want to do a lot of sightseeing in a short amount of time than those who prefer to go at a slower pace.
23. Get involved in the online coupon revolution
Whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch hasn’t discovered the online coupon revolution, which can mean 20-90% off the things you want to do. Forget snipping those squares out of your local newspaper – just get online for a list of today’s deals for wherever you are in the world.
These websites have amazing discounts on all kinds of activities – great deals like 50% off a day’s sailing and scuba diving courses reduced from $600 to just $99. You’ll also find discounted entry on popular tourist destinations and markdowns for your favourite retail outlets.
International travellers should check out sites like couponcraze .
24. Your credit card can be used
The list of merchants willing to swipe your Visa or MasterCard is getting longer all the time so there’s no longer many reasons to carry much currency around with you at any one time.
25. Use ATMs overseas – but wisely
Since travellers cheques were once the best way to send money abroad, the world has changed a lot. While fantastic plastic can take you far, sometimes cash is just what you need.
Global recognition of cards bearing the Cirrus/Maestro logos means that your cash card can be used in many thousands ATMs all over the globe.
Like with credit-card spending, you’ll pay a 2-3% currency conversion fee on your ATM cash withdrawals, and on top of that most banks will charge a flat fee per use of $4-5, but the exchange rate they apply should be sufficiently better than the rate you’ll get over-the-counter for you to end up better off… to say nothing of the convenience factor.
However, the flat fee of $4-5 per international ATM withdrawal makes it more expensive. This is why you should try to limit the amount of ATM withdrawals you make.