Just like many life hacks, the myriad range of tips and suggestions people have for saving money on travel can feel endless. If you’re getting frustrated spending time on tactics that don’t pay off, perhaps this list can help.
From sneak discount shopping hacks that can knock literally thousands off the price of flights, to freebies you might not have known you could get, there’s plenty to look into when you’re planning your next trip.
Including flights and accommodation, navigation and translations, mobile usage and cutting the cost of added extras, here are 8 best ways to get freebies and discounts on your next getaway.
You’ve set up price alerts, you’ve spent hours browsing SkyScanner, Expedia and every other discount deal site you can think of, but you still have the suspicion you aren’t getting the best price. And you’re probably right.
Flight operators and accommodation providers will often give people in different countries a varied range of prices for an identical service. For example, research has found that two people booking flights with the same start and endpoint, flying at the same time with the same airline, can pay prices as much as USD 1,000 more or less than one another.
So how do you get the cheapest rate without befriending someone in another country? For that, you’ll need a virtual private network app or VPN. VPN apps are really designed to be a cybersecurity tool – they encrypt your web traffic so that people can’t read your emails or steal your bank details. But in the process, they route your connection through a server somewhere else in the world.
Some VPNs will let you pick from hundreds of locations while others may only have a few dozen, but regardless, anywhere they have a server is a location you can shop from. Simply switch your connection to make it appear that you’re in Malaysia or Poland instead of the USA or UK, and voila, the cost of your journey could more than half.
The best part is, you aren’t breaking anyone’s terms or conditions by doing this — you’re buying a legitimate offer, that just happens to be much better than the offer the airline would like you to have.
Want to save money on accommodation while simultaneously giving yourself more time to sightsee? Be sure to fit sleeper journeys into your plans.
Including overnight flights, dedicated sleeper trains and comfy recliner buses, the idea of sleeper transport is that you get from A to B during dozing hours, instead of splashing out on a hotel and then losing half a day to travel.
Sleeper trains and buses are generally much cheaper than flying, and the extended length of the journey doesn’t matter so much when you’re sleeping through it – so make sure you’ll have access to either a simple bed or a comfortable reclining chair for the route.
Instant menu and sign translations, the fastest route from your hotel to a great bar, WiFi and walking tours: nowadays there’s an app for pretty much everything. The best part is, the range extends not only to free apps but to free apps that connect you with free travel services as well. No need to pay extra for premium or enter credit cards to make a booking; you just need to get a little app savvy.
By saving information to use offline in Google Maps and Google Translate you can ensure you don’t need to splash out on extra data, while CityMapper and Transit are great free apps for navigating public transport and walking routes in a new destination.
There are also all manner of free WiFi finders that can stop you from falling foul of costly international roaming charges, and even a range of apps which either offer guided audio tours, or let you know where to find free walking tours in major cities. Rather than factor in extra costs like traditional guided tours and mobile data bolt-ons, get free apps and services instead.
While there is no specific ‘best day to book’, there is an approximate best period before travel in which to make your reservations. As a general rule, tour operators slash the prices on hotel and flight deals in the period around six to eight weeks before departure date — which may be why one study estimated that 53 days before departure is often the ideal booking time.
If you’re happy to be flexible on exactly where you stay and when you fly, waiting until the not-quite-last-minute deals appear is a great way to get around 70% off the usual package price. Check sites like Holiday Pirates, Holiday Hypermarket and Jack’s Flight Club, where vendors selling charter flights and hotels offer their unsold seats and rooms at a fraction of the price.
If you don’t want to wait until the last minute, or you have your heart set on a specific venue, there is another way to get a better price on your hotel or guesthouse stay. Once you’ve found the best deal on a booking website — like Booking.com or Trivago — contact the venue directly to see if they can beat it.
As a general rule, hotels and other accommodation providers pay a commission to booking websites for each reservation made through the platform. So, while they value the business that these sites bring in, they make more money if you book with them direct.
In many cases, that means they’re keen to undercut the lowest price available on a third-party site, and will either offer you a better rate or a host of free extras if you contact them yourself.
It’s understandable that many people find it easiest to get taxis from place to place while they’re away, to save the hassle of negotiating public transport in an unfamiliar location. Sometimes, it might even seem like splitting a taxi is going to work out cheaper than paying for a bus, tram or train ticket each.
Before you go away, take a look at local transport passes. Day, week and month-long passes are commonplace in many areas, and if you’re planning on doing a lot of sightseeing or eating your way around the foodie hotspots of a particular destination, chances are it’ll be cheaper to use a public transport pass than to keep getting taxis.
Alternatively, you could also look for accommodation that offers bicycle hire as part of the deal. This tends to be more common in hostels and guesthouses than in fully-fledged hotels, but means you won’t have to spend time waiting for the next bus and can always start and end your journeys in exactly the place you need to be.
Finally, this tip is easier said than done, but once you get the hang of it you’ll never look back. When you travel hand luggage only you save on time spent waiting by the carousel, you remove the risk that your luggage gets lost in transit, and you save on baggage charges.
You might like to fly out with hand luggage and back with a hold bag, in order to shop until you drop while you’re away, but at the very least it’s a good idea to make part of your journey with just the hand luggage included in your ticket price. Here are some travel packing hacks that might inspire you.
As well as reducing the cost of flight tickets, you can also save on things like luggage storage fees. In cities where you can’t take large bags on public transport, you can feel smug as you get those cheap transport tickets while other travelers have to fork out for pricey private taxis.
If you are convinced to take the leap, here is our guide to carry-on luggage.
Armed with the right information and a willingness to track down a deal, there are many ways to reduce costs. In some places, people offer free tours to visitors in return for the opportunity to practice their English. In others, guides will show you around their city for ‘free’ — you pay a ‘tip’ at the end, but the amount is at your discretion. When traveling alone, try searching out tours with special discounts for solo travelers; you might have to share a room with a stranger, but it’s a great way to meet people. Finally, it’s always worth checking travel company’s websites for discounted last-minute deals you can snap up if you are flexible.
Whether it’s getting region-locked flight prices or haggling with hotels, there are plenty of ways to make savings on your next trip. With completely free services thrown into the mix, it won’t take much before you’re feeling like an expert and reaping the benefits of the money you’ve saved.