Squeezing More from your Travel Dollar

I’ve been planning a trip to Madagascar for some time time now. Maybe it’s the mystique of singing lemurs and clever penguins that interests me.  I look for airfare deals, but the bottom line is that it can be really expensive to go there if you don’t shop around. Last week I plugged in the 2 places I wished to go (Madagascar and Namibia) and discovered the airfare to be $6500! There’s no airfare in this planet that should be so high, so further investigation was necessary.

Every airfare search engine has strengths and weaknesses. Skyscanner usually finds great deals, but doesn’t give you alternative date options or a multiple city option. Some engines omit low cost carriers like Ryan Air or Pegasus. Just when you think you’ve found the best one, you might discover another one that gives you a better deal.

If you’re doing multiple cities, you can try breaking the trip into sections. This was the method I used for my Madagascar trip. I knew that the plane stopped in Johannesburg before Madagascar. After Madagascar, the next flight stopped again in Johannesburg before the flight to Namibia. If I stop in Johannesburg and take a separate flight to Madagascar, it instantly knocks $5,000 off the price. $5,000! Just changing the way you book the flight takes 75% off the airfare. If I book Namibia as a separate flight, it adds $400 to the price. If I book it instead as the 2nd stop on my multi-city trip, it’s only $50 more! Does that make any sense? Of course not. It’s easier to predict the weather than make any sense out of airline pricing. The moral of the story is: use several good sites, experiment with flexible dates, stopovers and even nearby cities.

Changing your hub can make a world of difference. If you’re going to Rome, for example, Turkish airlines  can be significantly cheaper if you don’t mind a stop in Istanbul. Fuel is subsidized by the Turkish government and prices are lower as a result. Flying to Europe from New York can be much cheaper due to demand, as well as the fact that some International carriers only fly into New York. Flying from Miami to the Caribbean or anywhere south of the U.S. can also be a smart choice. Chances are you’re going to have a stop there anyway, so figure out what it costs to fly from Miami to your destination and then check into a separate ticket from your departure city to Miami. I’ve saved  money flying into Miami in the evening and catching a morning flight to my destination the next day. If the savings are significant, it’s worth the price of a hotel or car there for the night.

Signing up for travel deals is a good way to save your travel cash. Travelzoo’s Top 20 is a weekly hand picked set of deals that are delivered to your inbox weekly. The Travelzoo site also has a “deals from your city” search feature as well as last minute bargains. Spirit Airlines has frequent sales if you don’t mind a no frills carrier. Frontier Airlines, Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines will often slash prices spontaneously. If you’re on their mailing lists, you’ll be the first to know.

Loyalty programs can save you money as well. Join the frequent flyer program of any airline you use and you can use your points for free travel. Hotels.com will give you a free night after you book 10 hotel nights on their website. Other hotels like Hilton and Omni offer customer rewards. Many hotels in Las Vegas can offer  free rooms and comps as part of their loyalty programs by just signing up.

Finally, after you’ve found your deal, do an internet search for a coupon code for the websites you’re using. You might have to try a few before you find one that works, but you can often shave a little more off the cost of your trip.

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