Money Travel

Small Savings – Travel, Part One

Travel is one of my favorite hobbies in the whole world. To me there’s few things better than the anticipation a week or so before a trip – scouring through various TripAdvisor reviews, looking through guidebooks, and dreaming of all the cool things you’re going to do. It makes getting through the work week so much easier when you see your calendar coming up with the words “VACATION” blocked off.

Because of that, I try to go somewhere and explore as much as I can, which of course is never as much as I’d like. I’m limited by both time and money. Sometimes, lots of money. I used to be the kind of person who defined travel as a “priceless” experience – those three weeks in Europe spent dithering around, boozing in the afternoon and drooling over boutique window displays? Invaluable for broadening my horizons and exposing myself to unique and vital cultures! Now, I feel differently. I don’t think travel is priceless at all – it definitely has a real value, and I try my best to maximize it.

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I’ve been asked several times to put together my tips for traveling on a budget, which I’ve hesitated to do as I’m much less Rick Steves (love him by the way), much more priss who generally spends unnecessary amounts on cushier travel. I’ve put together some tips and rules that I follow though – and I hope that you find them helpful.

Book hotels early….and then periodically check on prices.  As soon as we decide to go anywhere, my first step is usually to find a hotel. Yes, even before flights! For me, hotels are an integral part of almost all travel experiences. You can go out and have a great day, but it can be all ruined if you end up spending your night on scratchy sheets in a smoke filled room.

As soon as we’ve identified our preferred hotel, I go ahead and make a booking. Almost all hotel reservations in my experience are guaranteed by just your credit card number, and no deposit – so making a booking costs you nothing, and locks in a rate. This can be very valuable, especially as more and more hotels these days are doing fluctuating rates, just like airlines.

After I make my booking, I go and check on rates periodically. About 30% of the time, I do find that they have dropped as the date comes closer, and I can then just rebook.  You can see how early I plan below…I’ve already begun my research for a potential Thanksgiving holiday with my parents (and yes, I have to do all the work in checking and rebooking…the road to travel savings can be a lonely one).

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My number one enemy when booking a hotel? The non-refundable deposit of course! Though some extraordinary properties do have them, and in those cases, I just make 100% sure that I can make the dates before reserving.

Use points wisely. Mr. Feather and I both rack up our air miles, and Mr. Feather used to also collect Hilton points through work travel (no longer the case).

Even though it can seem like a while to accumulate any amount of points to actually redeem something, please keep collecting. They can be incredibly valuable, and I always have viewed and used our points balances as “emergency funds”. In the past, whenever we had a last minute event pop up and all hotels were at very high rates, we  always able were to use Hilton points instead.

The same also goes for air travel – sometimes when ticket prices are really high, I’ve still been able to find award seats available to use miles to book. Also any flight I think we might be in danger of having to cancel later, I try and use points for, since our United status means that we don’t pay any charges for redepositing the miles. We’ve had to cancel flights more than once in the past few years, and we would have had to pay big fees if we hadn’t used miles!

Negotiate for some extras. This is largely a tip I share with those who are booking into higher category rooms at luxury hotels (aka those big suites with special names you can do cartwheels in), or anyone who might be planning an extended stay (2 weeks+). If you’re dropping $10K or more on a single hotel stay, a property is really incentivized to keep you happy (and to make sure you  return!). Before booking a stay, contact the property either yourself or through your agent, with details about the length of stay and room, and ask what they can do for you. You’d be surprised on the flexibility on price and services (free massages anyone?) some properties may provide.

In Bali, via

In Bali

Show your loyalty. This of course applies to airlines, where staying loyal can get you points and status (and access to some decent German food at the Lufthansa lounges). And of course also to large hotel chains, where loyalty can get you perks like upgrades and free breakfasts (ever noticed that almost all consultants use the SPG Amex)?

I rarely stay enough at Hyatts, Hiltons, or Starwood hotels in a row to get any type of high status at these chains. But even independent and/or luxury hotels appreciate loyalty. I have a lovely reader (who asked to stay anonymous) who receives a very good rate at the George V in Paris in a preferred suite, because she and her husband return year after year, and stay for several weeks at a time.

Of course, while some hotels will automatically note your loyalty, some may not unless you call it to their attention. So maybe send a note to the manager, saying hello and mention that you’re a regular customer.

 

PS: While writing this post, I realized that I actually have quite a few tips! Enough for another post….so stay tuned for part two, and please share your favorite travel savings tips in the comments!

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  • bluepodotpjs
    February 5, 2014 at 8:55 am

    I’ve never thought of negotiating with a hotel. I’ve learned something new! You motivated me to start planning for our summer vacation. Looking forward to the part 2. Have an awesome day!

    • bluepolkadotpjs
      February 5, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Is there a way I can delete this comment? Sorry for the duplicate. =P

  • bluepolkadotpjs
    February 5, 2014 at 8:56 am

    I’ve never thought of negotiating with a hotel. I’ve learned something new! You motivated me to start planning for our summer vacation. Looking forward to the part 2. Have an awesome day!

  • Feli
    February 5, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Hi Katherine Thanks for the tips! I never thought negotiate with a hotel is possible! I should try next time when I plan my trip. I go to this hotel in San Jose every year for the last 4 years, and recently when I noticed dramatic increase of the price compare to few years ago I ran away and just booked another hotel … I should try calling next time

    Can’t wait for your next post!

  • alice
    February 5, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I almost always end up using AirBnB to save money on lodging, but of course that means sacrificing all the amenities of a hotel. I think especially in Paris, you get the charm of apartment living in a neighborhood of your choice, at a much much lower rate. Our hotel savings end up being used for meals hah. I would kill to stay at the George V some day though.

  • Trang
    February 5, 2014 at 11:02 am

    A few things hubs and I always do:
    1.Call the hotel to book and let them know the special occasion that we’re going there for. i.e., major birthday/anniversary, etc. We usually discover an extra treat in our room with a nice handwritten note. Also, they may offer special rates and not charge your credit card the nonrefundable deposit if you call.

    2.Sign up for hotel/airline credit cards. We are loyal to Amex SPG and as a result, I have not paid for an SPG stay in the past five years. All points. And they gave us so many extra perks for our wedding party when we hosted our families there.

    Hope that helps!

    • Katherine
      February 5, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Thank you for the tip on the special occasion – a great one and often the property will try to do something, you are right!

  • Jennipher
    February 5, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Love these tips, and love all of your travel posts! I am so excited to see that you are considering the Four Seasons Hulalai! I just returned from a week on the big island. We stayed at the Fairmont, which was lovely, but visited the Four Seasons for dinner. We’ll definitely stay there for our next visit – it looked amazing! We also had our best meal of the trip at Ulu at the Four Seasons – the setting, service and food were all superb – enjoy!

    • Katherine
      February 5, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Jennipher! I love the Hualalai and haven’t been back in many years since I was a little kid! Unfortunately it seems it may not happen for Thanksgiving 🙁

      How did you like the Fairmont?

  • Jennipher
    February 5, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    The Fairmont was very nice, with really beautiful grounds and a nice beach / lagoon area so the mr could swim in the ocean (a must for him in Hawaii!) It wasn’t the nicest Fairmont property I’ve seen, but the service was top-notch and it was definitely a great place to spend a week away from winter!

  • Small Savings – Travel, Part Two | Feather Factor
    March 5, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    […] few weeks ago, I shared some of my cost savings tips for travel in a post from my “Small Savings” series. Here is part two, and the last of it (for […]