Guide to Cheaper Travel

Guide to Cheaper Travel

The Isle of Man Railway - Isle of Man

The Isle of Man Railway – Isle of Man

Cheap travel can be bad travel. If you travel on any budget, you will benefit from cheaper travel – regardless if you prefer luxury travel, backpacker travel or something in between. Careful planning can allow you to pay less and still stay in the same quality of accommodation, or even stay in the same hotel. You can also purchase airfare for a cheaper price when compared to another person who does not do the proper research or planning. Sometimes you can opt to pay more for hotels or airfares, and though this may seem a short-term detriment, it saves you money in the long term if you correctly use loyalty programs.

The two biggest costs for travellers are accommodation and transport – namely airfares. If you are willing to do research, then one can make considerable savings. Other significant costs where cheaper options can be found are food and laundry, and all these travel tips are detailed below. Travel is affordable if you plan properly.

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 many 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 fewer animals, but the cost of accommodation during that time is 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.

An almost Empty Cabin during flydubai's invite only Inaugural Flight to Moscow

An almost Empty Cabin during flydubai’s Invite Only Inaugural Flight to Moscow

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 – this means you lose your money if you cannot travel, or you will pay large fees to change your fare. If you want more flexibility then best to purchase a more expensive fare that has more generous refund and change rules. Airfares can drop approximately 90 days before your travel date, but this is not always the case. If you have a preferred airline, sign up to their newsletter or better still, join their loyalty program so you are kept informed on forthcoming sales.

Whether you book your airfare direct from the airline or through a third party website the price does vary, so it is worth checking both options before committing to a purchase. I always use airline websites mainly for the ability to choose my seat and to accumulate points in their loyalty program. Further, if there is an issue with a booking, the airline will assist with bookings made directly with them, whereas they don’t handle third party bookings.  Be aware, some lesser-known third-party websites offer seemingly incredible flight deals, much cheaper than the airfare on the airline’s page. Some sites inform you (if you read the fine print) that the ticket is only confirmed if they can obtain a ticket at the price you requested. Don’t risk tying your money to such a deal – look elsewhere.

Many carriers (termed as low-cost or budget) require you to pay extra for services such as checked luggage, seat selection, meals or priority check-in. They can also sometimes have the option of a package that includes all of these services that may be cheaper than choosing these options individually. Check the difference in price and determine which is the better deal for you. No need to pay extra for services that you won’t use or don’t need. Also, remember that these airlines will charge you much more to purchase checked luggage at the airport when compared to purchasing it in advance on their website.

There are some cheap ways to craft your airfare, especially long 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 the 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 North America or Europe to Hong Kong via Singapore (with Singapore Airlines) is usually cheaper than flying directly to Hong Kong (with Cathay Pacific). Whereas travelling to Singapore via Hong Kong (with Cathay Pacific) is usually cheaper than flying directly to Singapore (via Singapore Airlines). This does not always apply with every region, but it is worth checking your options just in case.

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 a 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.

Emerald Sea Resort in Ngwe Saung - Myanmar

Emerald Sea Resort in Ngwe Saung – Myanmar

How To Find Cheaper Accommodation

There is 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 of your stay too; as an example, there may be a significant difference in staying at a place Friday-Saturday-Sunday instead of staying Sunday-Monday-Tuesday.

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, so if you prefer privacy for a decent price, you are much more 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 better suited to longterm 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 will 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 be significant. If I am staying away for more than 2 weeks (which ensures I need to wash a pile of clothes) then I chose an apartment with a washing machine during the 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 extra cost of washing powder and the more slightly more expensive apartment will be significantly cheaper than the cost of the laundry service of almost every hotel.

Emirates Business Class Lounge Terminal Course Concourse B - Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Emirates Business Class Lounge Terminal Course Concourse B – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

How To Benefit From Loyalty Programs

For middle to high-end travel, consider becoming a member of a loyalty program. To benefit most from membership of a loyalty program, you may pay more money in the short-term, but the benefits of such membership accrue over some time. Pick your favourite airline or your favourite hotel group and book with them whenever possible. You can become a member of more than one airline or hotel loyalty program, but best to concentrate your travel money to one brand. Even if my preferred hotel group is slightly-moderately more expensive than alternatives, I will still book with them to make use of the benefits that loyalty brings.

You will often hear the term ‘travel hacking’ but these terms almost always applies to people living in North America. If you live elsewhere the travel hacking approach works either less well or very poorly, depending on where you live.  The two most effective loyalty programs are your two biggest travel expenses – flights and accommodation. If you like getting 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 many 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 on The Road Less Travelled (my preferred places to visit) is outstanding with an extensive network in the 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 on Emirates is outstanding, and on some flights they can offer more than 4000 (yes, four thousand) 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 a 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. Gold and Platinum tiers have extra benefits such as lounge access anywhere in the world, free unlimited Wifi on board, and guaranteed seat availability even on full flights.

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) points 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, Candlewood Suites and Kimpton Hotels. 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. My preferred hotels for family trips are Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza as they have extras services such as concierge and room service.

I tend to book bonus points with IHG properties 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. Some hotels also offer the choice of 5000 bonus points per stay. I tend only book bonus nights when the bonus points option is under 5 dollars for every 1000 points. Sometimes IHG has offers where you can earn a whole lot of bonus points (10,000+) when staying (for example) at 2 or 3 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. The 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. Platinum and Spire provide extra benefits such as early check-in, late check-out and guaranteed room availability. 

I took my family with me to Prague en route 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 group. Getting 4 nights of free accommodation in a 4-star international hotel during the peak tourist season in a popular tourist destination is a great reward for loyalty – and they even gave me an upgrade.

I use Booking.com for all my other hotel bookings, and they have a Genius program for those who use their services a few times. Again, it is better to stay with one website for the majority of your travel bookings than to use many of them. Using a third party hotel site once is rarely 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 a 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.

E-Mail Offers

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