In case you weren’t convinced by our enthusiasm on the podcast this week, Jordan and I love to travel. After visiting over 50 countries, we’ve picked up some great tips, but we haven’t always been the smartest with stretching our travel dollars.
We were 22 and 23 years old when we took our first trip together: a hiking trip through the rainforest in Belize. The actual trip was cheap: we paid a couple of hundred dollars for a week-long expedition, which included all camping gear, food, and a guide. We took buses around the country for just a few dollars. And we capped off the trip out in the islands spending $25/night for a room in guest houses and eating fish dinners at a bbq on the beach.
Our whole trip was cheaper than the cost of the cramped, coach airfare to get there. We each spent $900 on a roundtrip ticket, which we just chalked up to “this is how things are, flights are expensive.” Once we arrived, we learned that every other backpacker had found a much cheaper way to get there.
While we used to be those people that overpaid for flights, we quickly learned that we could travel more if we got a little smarter with how we spent our money.
We do a few things that we always see recommended:
- We search in an incognito browser (jury is out on whether this really helps or not)
- We use points when it makes sense
- We look at nearby airports to see if we can get a cheaper flight
- We use cheap search engines to comb the web for the best prices
But there are two things that always help us get the best deal possible, without much effort:
We fly when no one else wants to
Who wants to fly on Christmas? Or New Years Eve? Or the down period between Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Granted, this may change once Henry is older and we have a school schedule to deal with, but flying on days that no one else wants to fly has saved us so much money over the years. Plus, flying on an emptier plane is so much nicer than being squished in like sardines. You know that feeling when you get a whole row to yourself? Winning.
But there’s also another perk to this: any upgrades are going to come at a serious discount. Jordan and I flew to visit his parents in California over the holidays. When searching for flights, we struggled to find a reasonable fare. It felt like every single person was leaving London for Los Angeles and we were going to pay a premium for it.
That is, until we searched to fly in on Christmas Eve and out on New Years Eve. Those two flights were at a serious discount. Not ideal, but also not a bad idea.
The flight deal got even sweeter when we went to check in for our New Year’s Eve flight home. The business class was empty and they were offering upgrades for a bargain basement deal. And let me tell you, being able to lay down and sleep the whole way from Los Angeles to London with Henry sleeping soundly beside me was worth every single penny.
We do a 24-hour check
After we hit purchase on those well-priced flights from London to Los Angeles, we set an alarm for the next day. Our online tickets came with a 24-hour cancellation policy: we could cancel within 24 hours of purchase and get a full refund, no questions asked.
The next morning we got up and searched for the same flight we had just bought the day before. Guess what? Prices had dropped by nearly $150 a ticket. We immediately bought new tickets and called to cancel the ones we’d purchased the day before.
This 15-minute exercise saved us close to $300. Well worth it.
We don’t always get this lucky, but we always look. Just a quick search the next day can sometimes save you an amazing amount of money.
Want more tips? Get the Don’t Go Broke Guide to Travel. It breaks down some of the tips we’ve used to visit more than 50 countries while not completely blowing our budget.
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: personal finance and family travel. website. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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