“I am by no means a hardcore travel hacker. I’m just a guy who wants to take advantage of everything I can to travel better and cheaper. I’ll leave the esoteric stuff to others!”
There are a lot of interesting ways to save money when you travel. I really enjoy trying to assemble frequent flyer miles, hotel chain loyalty points, American Express points, Ink card points, etc., into a usable mix of discounts and free stuff! We are leaving for Paris in May, 2015, and I’ve already done the following:
1. Booked direct RT flights from San Francisco to Paris on Air France using miles ($240.00 total fees for 2 people and 130,000 miles), and paid a deposit on an apartment in Paris for 7 nights (we got a small discount for staying a full week). We are still figuring out the rest of the itinerary, but the Paris portion of the trip is confirmed, so now I have to see if we will need to book any hotels for short-term stays.
I’ve got to find the ideal apartment to rent in the Provence region of southern France, so we can spend another 7 nights there and visit all of the interesting Roman sights that this area is famous for. I’ll be doing travel articles on all the places we visit. I’m looking forward to getting some great pictures from the top of the Eiffel Tower and from the Pont du Gard in the south of France! I’m so glad that I can take all the pictures I want. Years ago (for you youngsters), we had to load rolls of film in our 35 mm cameras and every shot had to count or there would be a lot of wasted pictures. It’s so great that I can shoot all the pictures I want these days. And, we can take video, too! Isn’t technology grand?
2. Hotel points – I’m checking all my accounts for hotel points to see what I can get from Hilton and also from the Chase Ink card I have. I’ve converted my American Express points to Avios (British Airways) and will see if I can put enough Avios together to stay at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) in Paris. We’ll need to stay close to the airport the night before we return home. It’s amazing how the points can pile up on some of the credit cards we have. Using an airline mileage credit card can be a good way to add to your mileage accounts. There are many good resources for choosing a card that is right for you, so I won’t get into that here. Go here if you want to learn more about airline miles and how to collect them. Travis will get you on the right track.
3. City cards – This isn’t a travel hack – just a good way to save money and avoid some lines. Who wants to wait in hours-long lines? Yet every time I go to Italy, I see people waiting in unbelievably long queues just to buy a ticket to a museum or attraction of some sort. When you can book your admission on the internet and go straight to the entrance, why wouldn’t you? I wouldn’t wait for two hours to buy a ticket to see something. I’d skip it and get a good cappuccino and people-watch instead at a sidewalk cafe somewhere.
There’s no secret to booking your tickets to sights you want to see in advance. Just do a little research ahead of time and find out how to purchase tickets before you go. I always buy a Rick Steves travel guide book before I go to Europe. That way, I can decide where I want to go and what I should see. There’s always information on how to skip lines, which is more than worth the price of the books. So pick a guide book and learn about the City Cards that are available where you’ll be going. Here are some examples of City Cards and Museum Cards you can get to save money and speed your entrance into the various attractions:
Roma Pass – Check the Roma Pass and see if it will save you anything. We used the Roma Pass and were very glad to skip the ticket line for the Colosseum (but everyone has to wait in the security line).
Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass – Here’s a good review of the two passes. I’m going to study this post in detail before we go to Paris. I want to make sure to buy the pass that is right for us.
The London Pass – A card covering many of the sights in London that you’ll want to see.
Whatever city you plan to visit, you can Google the name of the city and add “pass” or “card” to see if a good value card is available. For example, if you were planning to visit Milan, Italy, just type “Milan city card” in your favorite search engine and you’ll most likely receive a list of available discount cards for transportation and attractions.
4. Timing your flight reservations – I’ve learned one really valuable thing about booking trips with frequent flyer miles. You have to book as early as possible if you want to get seats as soon as they are released. The airlines only make a certain number of seats available for each flight. You must start searching for the flights you want about 330 days prior to your departure date. That means that you need to pick travel dates early and be a little flexible. If you go on an airline’s website and go to the booking page, you can see how far out their calendar will let you make a reservation. You’ll find it to be about 330 days, give or take a little. I started checking for potential travel dates for our last two European trips more than a year in advance. I’d come back to the site once in a while, just waiting for the dates I wanted to come up. Finally, when both the outbound and inbound flights I wanted were showing as available and the price was right, I pounced. Next year’s trip to Paris is on a non-stop flight and we’re booked on the new Airbus A380. We’re on the second deck, which looks to be a little more comfortable. I haven’t seen the inside of an A-380, so that will add the to the anticipation and the fun.
Note: You can still book frequent flyer seats right up to the departure date – if they are still available. On the most popular routes, don’t expect to find seats as they will go fast. The secret is advance planning and pulling the trigger early! Check out this 10MinuteTravel tip.
5. Booking a place to stay – I mentioned that I had reserved an apartment in Paris. I spent a lot of time looking for a place in a good location. I wanted to be able to walk to restaurants and shops in the area, and to be close to transportation so we could take the Metro. I finally found a really nice apartment in the Montmartre area. It has excellent reviews and should be ideal for us. The total price for the apartment, including a cleaning fee, is 600 Euros. Thanks only $108.00 per night for a fully-equipped apartment in a great location. And the best thing about it is, we’ll be meeting with the owner’s sister, who can answer our questions and recommend some local places to eat. People who rent apartments know that they have to be a cut above the hotels whenever they can. Many of the apartments I’ve stayed in have provided a bottle of wine as a welcome gift, along with fresh fruit or pastries. I don’t recall ever getting a similar welcome gift from a hotel.
In addition to the extra room you will have in an apartment, most are also outfitted with a full kitchen, plates, silverware, pots and pans. We’ve cooked some really nice meals in Venice, Florence and Milan in the places we stayed. If you go out to eat every day, it can get really expensive. So plan to cook a few simple meals while you are staying at your apartment.
We also had a wireless internet connection and a washing machine at each rental. When staying at a hotel, it is always a hassle to wash clothes. But when you have a washing machine in your apartment, it is one less thing to become an annoyance. Who wants to be annoyed with finding a place to wash your clothes when on vacation? I’d much rather be out sightseeing and eating runny cheese!
Here are some excellent websites you can use to find an apartment for your next trip. Rental units are available all over the world, so do a little research and save some money, too!
Here’s an example of what we will save by renting an apartment instead of a hotel room:
Paris – Seven nights in a desirable location.
Hotel Room (2 or 3 stars in the Montmartre area) = about $147.00 per night (based on Hotels.com prices) = $1,029.00. This will get you a lower-end hotel. You can spend a lot more for a hotel room anywhere in Paris.
Apartment (rated 5 stars on Homeaway.com) = about $108.00 per night = $756.00
We’ll save $273.00 just for the Paris portion of our trip. And, I have no doubt we’ll live better to boot! Our $273.00 savings will pay for more than half of the cost of seven more nights in Avignon (southern France in the Provence region), as it’s cheaper to rent an apartment there than in Paris. Check out some of the websites and have a ball finding your perfect apartment.
Summary – We’ve done enough traveling over the years that we know a few ways to live better and save money when out in the world. If you are planning a visit somewhere soon, you can benefit from some of these ideas. Have a good trip. Let me know if you have any good ideas for saving that hard-earned cash! I’m always open to some new ideas.