Save Big on Summer Travel
Lift Off From a Smaller Airport
You can reap significant savings if you’re willing to put up with a bit of inconvenience. Often you can snag a better deal on airline tickets if you bypass the majors and fly out of a regional airport instead. For example, at press time, Real Simple found that it was $50 cheaper to fly to New York City from the Akron-Canton Airport than from the Cleveland hub. Use the search feature on the easy-to-navigate Kayak.com to compare airfares near you. But bear in mind: Given the high—and rising—prices at the pump, the cost of driving to a more remote airport could wipe out some of your savings. Go to FuelCostCalculator.com, run by AAA, to estimate your outlay on gasoline.
Check a Bag for $0
Baggage fees have become a massive profit center for airlines: In 2010 the industry raked in more than $2.5 billion in these charges. But two airlines still let you check bags for free: JetBlue Airways allows one bag per passenger; Southwest Airlines permits two. Fly on them whenever possible and you’ll save $50 or more round-trip per passenger. If those airlines don’t suit your plans, sign up for a credit card with travel perks: Delta Air Lines waives one baggage fee per flight for customers who use its American Express SkyMiles credit card, and Continental Airlines allows two free checked bags per traveler when the flight is booked on its Chase Presidential Plus card. Also, see if your hotel refunds baggage fees. Kimpton hotels currently credits up to $25 toward each room on request, and the Intercontinental Hotel Group offers a promotion for baggage-fee reimbursements from time to time, says Anne Banas, the executive editor of the travel site SmarterTravel.com.
Find Hidden Hotel Freebies
Room prices are down from their peak—averaging $99 a night as of this past February, compared with a high of $109 a night in 2008, according to the data firm STR. But à la carte fees, for everything from Internet access (about $10 to $15 daily) to parking (about $20 a night or more), can cause sticker shock when it’s time to pay the bill. Go to priceline.com/freebies to search for hotels that provide guests with complimentary breakfast, parking, or credits toward spa treatments or rounds of golf. And check out wififreespot.com, which lists hotel chains, such as Homewood Suites by Hilton and Hyatt Place, that offer Wi-Fi on the house.
Cruise From a Port Closer to Home
Until a few years ago, many vacationers had to fly to Miami or Orlando to hop on a cruise. No longer: Several companies, including Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, now set sail from ports located near large population centers around the country, such as New York City; Seattle; Galveston, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore. And if you live near one of those locations, that can save you a bundle. Case in point: As of mid-April, taking a Carnival Cruise Lines trip directly from Charleston to the Bahamas cost $569 less than flying from Charleston to Miami, staying one night in a hotel, and departing the next day. The only drawback? “It takes longer for the ship to reach the destination, so you spend more time on the boat,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of the review site CruiseCritic.com. “But for most people that’s preferable to killing time in the airport.”
Get the Cheapest Possible Set of Wheels
Prices for loaner vehicles fluctuate constantly, but not many travelers take the time to recheck rates after booking, even though there’s no fee to cancel or change a reservation with any major car-rental company. To make this task easier, book with AutoSlash.com, a site that continues to check prices (on both domestic and foreign reservations) until your pickup date. If it finds a lower rate, you are automatically rebooked for free, and the new confirmation details are sent to your in-box. For a recent weeklong car rental in Los Angeles that originally cost $227, AutoSlash rebooked the reservation twice, reducing the price by $19. It also offered a free upgrade from a compact to a midsize car.
Use Bing’s Price Predictor
Who hasn’t read about a major fare sale the day after putting down a nonrefundable deposit on a reservation? (Ouch.) Bing.com/travel helps you decide when to pull the trigger. After you put in your desired flight itinerary, the site tells you whether to buy your ticket now or to wait, based on historical fare data and price trends. (The site claims to have about a 75 percent accuracy rate, which independent experts don’t dispute.) You can use Bing’s “rate indicator” to shop for hotel rooms, too. It tells you whether a current price is a “deal,” an “average rate,” or “not a deal.”
Follow Twitter Sales
Twitter has become the place for travel companies to announce sales that seem too good to be true—but aren’t. Followers get first dibs on fare cuts before they go viral on the Web. The specials are often for last-minute getaways. A recent one advertised tickets on Spirit Airlines (@SpiritAirlines) from Washington, D.C., to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for just $54 each way. JetBlue Airways (@JetBlueCheeps) also offers noteworthy deals. The boutique-hotel specialist Quikbook (@Quikbook) is another good source, informing followers of discounts of up to 40 percent at independent hotels in major U.S. cities, such as the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles and Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel.
Look for Overseas Discount Carriers
Flights by low-cost foreign airlines (such as EasyJet, based in the United Kingdom) don’t show up on Expedia.com or Orbitz.com. But you can still take advantage of their rock-bottom prices: Book a ticket to a hub like Paris or Rome on a major carrier, then use Skyscanner.com or Momondo.com to reserve seats on a low-fare airline if you’re headed to a smaller city, like Copenhagen or Nice. “These tickets can be ridiculously cheap. My husband recently flew from London to Girona, Spain, for less than $20 one way,” says Pauline Frommer, the creator of the Pauline Frommer Guides travel books.
Don’t Get Dinged by Credit-Card Fees
Many banks add a 3 percent foreign-transaction surcharge to the total cost of your purchase when you use a credit card abroad. But you can find ways around this charge by signing up for a credit card that waives the fee. Capital One does not assess the fee on any of its cards, and American Express has dropped the fee on its Platinum card. Citi has followed suit on its Thank You Premier and Prestige lines, and Chase waives it on cards issued with British Airways, Hyatt, Continental Airlines, and United Airlines, among others. You might also avoid ATM charges by calling your bank before you travel and asking if it has any financial partners at your destination.
Invite Yourself to Private Hotel Sales
Lately more and more premium hotels are offering discounts on rooms via members-only websites. Some of the “deals,” however, aren’t much different from what’s being offered on the hotels’ own websites. But two sites—Jetsetter.com and TripAlertz.com—make good on their promise to give users access to exclusive bargains. Recently you could get a room at the Vintage Inn, in Yountville, California, for $285 a night instead of $405, or stay at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon, for $100 a night instead of $159. To get free access to the sites, sign up at TripAlertz.com and jetsetter.com/realsimple.