One of the things I do a lot as a planner at Financial Finesse is travel. I have to go up to our office in LA for training sessions (training never ends at Financial Finesse, even for the trainer) and meetings. I also travel all over the country to facilitate workshops, meet with employees for individual consultations, and occasionally film a video. As you might have picked up from reading my blog, I consider myself to be quite frugal and like to get as much value from my money (or Financial Finesse’s in this case), so here are some travel tips I can share with you for your next trip:
One of the toughest parts of booking a flight is knowing when to buy your ticket. I’ve heard that the Wednesday 3 weeks in advance of your trip is generally the best time but rates can still come down afterwards. One site to check out is yapta.com. It’s powered by kayak.com so you get a pretty wide selection of flights. What makes it unique is that if the price of your ticket comes down for more than the cost to switch your ticket, yapta will send you an email alert so you can get a refund for the difference. (By the way, if you’re worried about needing to make a change for any reason, consider Southwest since they don’t charge fees to change your flight.)
I always sign up for the rewards program since I might as well be earning points towards a free flight. If you’re a frequent traveler and want to maximize your points, another site to check out is milewise.com. It factors in the rewards points you would earn in ranking which flights are the best deal and lets you know whether to use cash or points in booking a flight. I personally don’t use this one for business travel, but I might use it to see how best to use my points on a personal trip.
By the way, in case you ever wondered, I actually did the research and found that the safest part of the plane is in the exit row furthest to the back of the plane (I have an admittedly irrational fear of flying, but it helps me to know that I can do something to make me a tiny bit safer). That’s because the biggest cause of death in airplanes is from fires and the closer you are to the exit, the likelier you are to survive one (another reason to enjoy the extra leg room there). In addition, people in the back of the plane are statistically slightly better off in the rare event of a crash (you’re actually more likely to die on the way to the airport than in the plane).
My favorite site to book hotels is hotels.com. First, they guarantee that they have the lowest prices you can find. Second, they have the best rewards program I’ve found. You simply get a free night for every 10 nights you book on the site equal to the average price of those 10 nights, which works out to be the equivalent of a 10% rewards rate. If you want to use it for a hotel that’s more expensive, you just pay the difference. I’ve looked at lots of other hotel rewards programs and I haven’t found anything even remotely competitive in how quickly you can earn a free night. Most programs have something closer to a 2% rewards rate. In addition, you’re not limited to any one hotel chain so you have more flexibility. Finally, they don’t charge a fee to cancel a reservation (although the hotel might) and they’ve provided great customer service when I’ve needed to make last-minute changes over the phone.
Another option to consider is taking a timeshare trip. I recently was able to stay for 3 nights at Harrah’s hotel in Las Vegas for essentially no cost, and got a free breakfast and a $100 hotel voucher out of the deal too. I had to pay $200 upfront (they gave me a choice of several locations including Vegas, San Francisco, and LA) and attend a breakfast presentation and take a tour of one of the company’s time share resorts. The presentation was actually mildly entertaining. From my past experience with these things, the worst part is that they will often try to high-pressure you to buy a time share at the end but in this case, they didn’t even bother quoting me a price after I made it very clear that I had no interest in buying one. (Not buying the time share is obviously key to saving money with this approach.) After their dog and pony show, they gave me an American Express gift card for $200 (essentially getting my money back since you can use it anywhere American Express is accepted) plus a $100 voucher for a hotel in their chain.
If I need to rent a car, I typically use hotwire.com since it does a pretty good job of finding low rates and one rental company seems about the same as another to me. Just be sure to check to see if your rental car is covered by your auto insurance or your credit card before paying for their rental car insurance, which is a major profit source for them. Unless you won’t have time to refill the gas tank before returning it, pre-paying for gas is just a bad deal.
For long solo trips, I also like taking a bus. Before you scoff, bus travel has come a long way in recent years. New competition like the “Chinatown buses” has led to lower fares and better service, including more comfortable seats and free wi-fi. Those two things can really make a 4 hr bus trip go by a lot quicker.
When it comes to frugal traveling, I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers so if you have any additional tips or resources to share, please do so in the comments section. I’d love to find out how you can save me, Financial Finesse, and other readers more money!