Guide to Cheaper Travel
Cheap travel can be bad travel, but it is possible to travel cheaply and stay in the same quality of accommodation even stay in the same hotel. Cheaper travel is possible if you do the research. The two biggest costs for travellers are accommodation and transport – namely airfares. If you are willing to undertake the research, then one can make considerable savings. Other significant costs where cheap options can be found are food and laundry, and all these areas are detailed below.
Choose The Correct Time To Travel
Best to avoid popular tourist areas during peak seasons – these places are crowded and more expensive than necessary. Why pay more to have the inconvenience of crowds almost everywhere you go. Either visit in the shoulder or low season or find somewhere else. Low season has the cheapest prices, but it is low season for a reason. For example, low season is summer in places such as Dubai and accommodation will be only a third of what you will pay in the peak winter season. However, in summer most tour operators suspend their outdoor activities and safaris – there is not too much demand for heading outdoors when the temperature exceeds 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). If you are happy to stay within your luxury hotel and their massive shopping malls, then summer will suit you fine, otherwise, come at another time. By comparison, winter in Ireland is their low season and the cheapest time to travel, but a number of businesses that rely on tourism shut down during this period so your accommodation, dining and even visiting options to some tourist attractions become limited.
Shoulder seasons (such as the rainy season in Malaysia or green season in Zambia) means different things in different areas. In the tropics it is usually a short, sharp storm of 1-2 hours in an afternoon whereas the rest of the day is fine. The advantage of travelling to these places during their rainy season is that prices are lower and your only inconvenience is 1-2 hours of rain on an otherwise hot, sunny day. In Zambia the green season means you see less animals, but the cost of accommodation during that time is definitely cheaper. My advice for cheaper travel is to travel during the shoulder season – it may not have the ideal conditions for travel, but the cost saving can be significant.
How To Find Cheaper Airfares
The general rule is this – the earlier you book, the cheaper your airfare. The cheapest fares always have the strictest conditions, which can include a no-cancellation clause. If you want more flexibility then best to purchase a more expensive fare.
Whether you book your airfare direct from the airline or through a third party website does vary, so it is worth checking both options before committing to a purchase. I tend to use airline websites mainly for the ability to choose my own seat and to accumulate points – if there is any issue with my booking, it is easier for the airline to deal with one of their own bookings than a third party booking.
There are some cheap ways to craft your airfare, especially longer haul. Sometimes it is better to purchase two return airfares (one to take you half way, and the other for the second part) than purchasing one ticket for the whole journey. For example, flights out of Australia can be expensive – especially to places such as Africa and Middle East. In this case, it may be best to purchase one return airfare to a place such as Bangkok and then a second airfare to take you to Africa or the Middle East. Airlines with an extensive route within a region (such as Singapore Airlines in Asia and Emirates or flydubai in the Middle East) it is always best to purchase just one ticket especially if flying wholly within the region. For example, if flying to a place in the US that does not have an international airport, it is far cheaper to make two bookings – the first to the international airport hub in the US, and the second a domestic flight from the international airport hub in the US to the destination airport.
Generally speaking, transferring through a hub to a third destination is cheaper than stopping at the hub. For example, travelling from Bangkok to Dubai with Emirates (Dubai based airline) may be more expensive than going via Doha (Qatar Airways), whereas heading from Bangkok to Doha can be cheaper with Emirates (via Dubai) than with Qatar Airways.
If a carrier is using a code-share service, check the prices from both code-share partners. Usually the lesser known partner will have cheaper seats for the same flight – and this difference can be significant. Also, if an plane is stopping at a place before heading to a third destination (For example the ‘Seoul-Taipei’ sector of a Seoul-Taipei-Hong Kong route with Cathay Pacific) the Seoul-Taipei part of the route can be very cheap, and even Business Class may only be 100 dollars more than economy.
Remember to consider airlines that don’t offer full service as they can offer tremendous value for money. Both flydubai and AirAsia have an excellent network and service and their quality is still very high.
One word of caution, some very cheap airfares involve long layovers or multiple connections. Unless there is a very good reason to do so, try to avoid such routes. Staying in an airport for 9 hours without access to a business lounge to relax in or an airport hotel to sleep in is going to be a very tiring experience. Likewise a direct flight that would normally take 10 hours could take double that time if you have two connections during the journey. This may sound fine, but after undertaking such an arduous journey, you are likely to entirely miss your first day or two of sightseeing in your destination due to your recovery from both this and jet lag.
How To Find Cheaper Accommodation
There are a myriad of places to stay whilst travelling. The rule is to check the prices of a place early, often and through different sources. It may be cheaper to book directly with the hotel or it may be cheaper to book through a third party website (such as Booking.com). Prices of hotels on third party sites can change daily, so one needs to be vigilant.
In some countries discounts are provided on hotels if you book early (such as Asia) whereas in others, better discounts are gained if booking late (such as Europe). Accommodation providers may offer discounts for longer stays (four nights or more) and also offer discounts on weekends or during the week, but that depends on when their less popular nights are. Vary the nights you could stay at a place too – there may be a significant different in staying at a place Saturday-Sunday-Monday night instead of staying Sunday-Monday-Tuesday night.
If you want to travel very cheaply, hostels are difficult to beat. However, it does mean sharing your room with other people. This is something I have never liked doing, and I’ve only stayed in dorms in a handful of stays after years of travel. Be aware that private rooms in hostels are almost always more expensive than budget hotels and so if you prefer privacy for a decent price, you are likely to find better value away from hostels.
There are other accommodation options. AirBnB and Housetrip are just two providers that allow people to deal directly with owners of houses or apartments. Mostly this involves staying in a room in someone’s house or apartment. The value of such providers does vary greatly when compared to other accommodation. For me, AirBnb provides great value in Europe and Asia but can be overpriced in other areas. Check the prices against apartments and hotel rooms offered by more standard means.
The two cheapest options are Couchsurfing (where you stay in someone’s house or apartment for a few nights for free) or house sitting through such sites as Housecarers and Trusted Housesitters where you can look after someone’s home (mainly to care for pets) when the owners are away. House sitting is definitely better suited to longer term stays. Solo female travellers should be warned that in some countries a certain portion of male Couchsurfing hosts only accept female guests as they use it for a pseudo-dating service. Check the credentials and previous reviews of the person you are staying with before making a decision.
How To Find Cheaper Food
Another big expense is food – being forced to eat in restaurants is going to quickly increase your food budget. I always search out supermarkets for self-catering options. I usually purchase items for sandwiches, as well as fruit, yoghurt, and other meals that you can eat straight from a cup (such as noddles or pasta). However, don’t just rely on this for your food as you will miss out on eating local cuisine – and local food is one of the great joys of travel. Remember that street food is always affordable and is much better cost wise then sitting in a plush restaurant. Also, if you are staying in a hotel that provides a buffet breakfast, eat up big and remember to bring some small items with you to snack throughout the day (such as bread and fruit).
How To Save On Laundry Costs
You want to clean your clothes at some stage during your trip? If you are staying in a hotel, be prepared for a shock as the prices can make your head spin. If I am staying away for a period of more than 2 weeks (which ensures I need to wash a pile of clothes) then I chose an apartment with a washing machine during this middle of the trip. I’ll then spend a morning or afternoon inside and clean every single thing in my bag. Even if the apartment is slightly more expensive than the hotel, I guaranteed that the cost of washing powder and the more slightly more expensive apartment will be significantly cheaper than the laundry service of almost every hotel.
How To Benefit From Loyalty Programs
For middle to high end travel, consider becoming a member of a loyalty program. You will often hear the term ‘travel hacking’ but this terms almost always applies to people living in North America. If you live elsewhere the travel hacking approach works quite poorly. The two most effective loyalty programs are your two biggest travel expenses – flights and accommodation. Remember, if you like getting free flight or room upgrades this is significantly more likely to happen if you are a member of the airline’s or hotel’s loyalty program.
For flights, stick with one airline or airlines within one loyalty program. Emirates Skywards is my first loyalty program choice and this is used for all flights with Emirates, flydubai (my 2 favourite airlines) and Qantas. There are a number of high quality airlines you can choose as your preferred carrier – but given my proximity to the Middle East and the different destinations on the Emirates/flydubai network – it is an obvious choice for me. Emirates reaches almost every distant destination I wish to visit and flydubai’s choice of lesser visited destinations (my preferred places to visit) is outstanding with an extensive network in Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Both are high quality airlines with excellent customer service, strong food offerings and In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) options – the IFE options on Emirates is outstanding, and on some flights they can offer more than 4000 channels of entertainment.
Points can be hard to accrue and they don’t have a long lifespan. I find that for rewards the best ones are obtained when upgrading a flight rather than buying a flight. Emirates Skywards has 4 tiers – Blue, Silver, Gold, Platinum. Blue is the entry level but once you gain any other tier the benefits are enormous. For Silver you will get priority check-in, priority boarding, extra luggage allowance, free seat allocation, and access to the fantastic Business Class Lounges in Dubai – the Emirates Business Class Lounge in Terminal 3 Concourse A is my favourite airport lounge in the world. The Emirates Business Class Lounge in Terminal 3 Concourse B is my second favourite airport lounge in the world. With smoked salmon, ice-cream and and seemingly endless supply of other food on offer, as well as free showers and beds, this is an incredible place to relax before a flight.
When booking a flight there are usually three types of economy tickets – ‘Economy Saver’, ‘Economy Flex’ and ‘Economy Flex Plus’. I almost always opt for the middle ‘Flex’ ticket – though it is slightly more expensive than the saver ticket (10-20% more) it offers double (or more) the points on offer when compared to the ‘Saver’ ticket – a great benefit when you are trying to reach the important Tier status. Also, the ‘Flex’ ticket has the best combination of flexibility and price if you need to change or cancel your ticket. I always book my Emirates/flydubai tickets directly on their websites.
For accommodation – you accumulate points which can then be used for discounted or free nights later on. I’m a member of the IHG Rewards Club because their points never expire (as long as you stay at one of their properties for one night per year) and they have a very solid range of quality accommodation across the world – including Intercontinental, Crown Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites. My preferred hotel for business trips is Holiday Inn Express – you can be assured of very comfortable beds along with Wifi and breakfast. I don’t need people to carry my bags to my room, neither do I need a gym or swimming pool so this is perfect for my needs.
I tend to book bonus points with them whenever I stay but the price of this varies. Some properties can charge nearly ten extra dollars per night for 1000 bonus points per night, but others will charge only half for every 1000 points. This same rate can be found for 2000 or 3000 bonus points per night. I tend only book bonus nights when the bonus points option is under five dollars for each 1000 points. Sometimes IHG have offers where you can earn a whole lot of bonus points (10,000+) when staying (for example) at two or three of their brands in the space of 3 months – make use of these if you can. However, to access these bonus points you need to book directly on the IHG website – and I always use the website any time I book at their properties. IHG Rewards Club has 4 tiers – Club, Gold, Platinum, and Spire. Club is the entry level, and if you accumulate 10 nights per year or 10000 points earned you head into the Gold tier. Being a tier member has brought me many benefits, such as complimentary upgrades and bonus points. Reaching the Gold tier is easy – just stay 3 nights at an IHG property and avail yourself of the 3000 bonus points per night option (bonus points count for tier status) and you can reap tier benefits after only one stay.
I took the family with me to Prague enroute to a business conference elsewhere in the Czech Republic, and had enough points to stay for 4 nights at an IHG property (Holiday Inn Prague Congress Centre) in the city. It took me around 18 months to accumulate enough points and it showed the tremendous benefits of staying loyal to one hotel brand. Getting 4 nights free accommodation in a 4 star international hotel during peak tourist season is a great reward for loyalty.
I use Booking.com for all my non-IHG hotel bookings, and they have a Genius program for those who use their services a few times. Again, it is better to stay to one website for the majority of your travel bookings than to use many of them. Using a third party hotel site once is almost never going to see you accrue any benefits, but use it five times and more, and it will.
Some loyalty programs allow you to earn points through a linked Credit Card scheme – these can be fantastic way of building points (assuming you remember to pay your card debts on time). However, this is not universal and will only apply to certain countries.
When you sign up to a loyalty program you will usually receive emails of special discounts and offers only available to members of these loyalty programs, including bonus points, extra free services, complimentary gifts, or discounts. These email offers extend to many other accommodation places as well – and can include such deals as ‘Stay for 3 nights and get a 4th night free’, ‘50% off in-house dining’, ‘2 for 1 spa services’ to name just three. Such offers are given during the shoulder and low seasons – it is rare to find them given during any peak season. If you want to stay at a particular property, it is worth contacting them directly to find out about such offers, or subscribe to the email list that is usually accessed from their website.Read more: Saving Money for Travel