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This summer, inflation has wheels. And wings.

The rising cost of living gets talked about most in terms of groceries and gasoline, which make sense because we buy both on a daily and weekly basis. But travel inflation has taken off, too. If you’re planning summer or fall travel, you’re seeing flight and hotel prices rising quickly.

For some ideas on how to navigate the rising cost of travel, I invited an expert on the personal finance of travel do to an e-mail Q&A. Nora Dunn is a onetime financial planner who now lives the life of a digital nomad. Her website is called The Professional Hobo, and her articles can be found on NerdWallet. Here’s a transcript of our exchange:

Q: Nora, can you tell us how much are travel costs up right now?

A: Statistics Canada says airfares were up more than 20 per cent in April 2022 compared to pre-pandemic April 2019. In a March 2022 NerdWallet study conducted online by The Harris Poll among 1,018 Canadians, 31 per cent of respondents said they don’t have enough money for travel. That’s nearly one-third of Canadians feeling the effects of rising travel costs. With the high fuel prices, “revenge travel” and summer being a popular travel season, we may see prices continue to rise.

Q: Let’s say I need to book a flight for a vacation – how far in advance should I buy to get the lowest price?

A: Conventional wisdom suggests the optimal window to book a flight is one to three months in advance. However, these days with so many unprecedented factors affecting travel prices, all bets are off. That’s why it’s more important than ever to track flight and hotel cots.

Q: What are your go-to websites or apps for tracking flight and hotel costs?

A: I really like the app called Hopper. It uses artificial intelligence to not only track prices but also advise when to buy. Other options include Google, Kayak, Yapta, Airfarewatchdog, Skyscanner, and Fare Compare.

Q: I’ve got a whack of travel reward points on my credit card -- use them now, or hoard for a future blow-out trip?

A: In frequent flyer mile circles, we have a saying: “Earn ‘em and burn ‘em.” You never know when the airline could revamp the program and your hard-earned miles could lose value. The best strategy is to accumulate miles with a specific travel goal in mind, and to use them for that goal rather than save them for a rainy day.

Q: Are there any travel hacks or perks that people often overlook?

A: Most people track flight and hotel prices until they book their fare and then they call it a day. If you buy a non-refundable fare, you’d think that would be the end of it, but it’s not. I keep tracking fares after I buy, not because I’m a sucker for punishment, but because fare drops open the possibility for a price drop refund. I tried this a couple of months ago with a major airline, and I got the fare difference (almost $150) refunded to me in the form of airline credit, even though I had purchased a non-refundable ticket. You may not always get one, but there’s no harm in asking.

Q: How much are people saving these days by using Airbnb compared to a hotel? It seems like the savings gap has narrowed.

A: While Airbnb positioned itself in the early days as being more affordable than hotels, that was also when the majority of listings were private hosts offering up a spare room or renting out their homes while they traveled. Now, with investors scooping up properties for the sole purpose of turning them into vacation rentals, the pricing structure has shifted. It’s important to consider what you want from your stay. Hotels are often located centrally, which will save you money on transportation and time in-transit. But Airbnbs offer a more local experience, which often includes kitchen facilities that will save money on meals.

Q: Can you share with us what travel reward credit card you use, and why?

A: I charge groceries to Amex Cobalt (which earns a 5x multiplier on groceries and dining). I use the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite for transit (2x multiplier), and I take it abroad because it’s one of the few Canadian credit cards with no foreign exchange fees, saving about 3 per cent on every purchase in foreign currencies. It also has free airport lounge membership.

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