February is the worst: The holidays are a distant memory. Summer is still months away. And short, dark days and biting winds are a constant reminder that you’re not on a beach in the Dominican Republic. To make matters worse, your bank account is likely still recovering from your most recent big adventure. To make a vacation happen at this time of year requires some ace sleuthing and a bit of legwork, but if you’re ready to make your getaway dreams a reality, these cost-saving tips will help.
Set an alert: Google Flights, Hopper and Skyscanner are just a few of the sites that will let you know when that flight you’ve been eyeing is on the price move. Log in some of your favourite destinations plus the travel window you’re hoping for and let them do the work for you.
Choose locations where you’ll get some bang for your buck: The Canadian dollar isn’t doing so well these days, but there are still places in the world where the loonie comes out on top. Look for getaways in Mexico, Southeast Asia and South America for great deals. Of course, you’ll also want to weigh the cheap costs against any health or travel warnings in effect.
Research on-the-ground costs: How much will your pop habit or a bottle of wine run you in your chosen destination? The site expatistan.com will help to give you a sense of prices on everything from snacks to gas so you don’t end up surprised and overbudget.
Set your sights on a less expensive “sister city”: Yes, Paris is nice in the spring but that also means more expensive flights. To offset that cost, consider continuing to a nearby destination that is a little less popular at that time of year. You might find that Lyon, for instance, satisfies your French cravings just as well with less money spent during your stay there.
Take advantage of stopovers: Combining a high-cost destination with a lesser-known spot nearby can make for an unexpected pleasure and reduce costs. Two examples: TAP airlines has stopovers in Lisbon and Turkish Airlines has a program that offers you up to two nights in Istanbul. The 2-for-1 nature of these trips could offset any pricing concerns.
Bring travel companions: Villa and home rentals can provide enormous value if you’re travelling with enough people to divvy up the costs. Plus, kitchens can mean lower priced meals and more local interactions at nearby shops.
Don’t pay for travel companions: On the flip side, watch for deals that offer a price for a hotel room versus a price for each person, especially if you’re footing the bill for all of its inhabitants. (Hello, family of four.) Look for hotel chains where kids sharing the same suite as their parents stay or eat free or at a discount. For example, Barcelo Bavaro Palace’s second child stays free offer, available for guests booking the Family Junior Suite Premium Level, means a little more money in your pocket for ice cream later.
Choose an airport with lower fees: Take a hard look at the price differences (and relative inconvenience) that comes with flying out of smaller airports. The fees of larger ones can make up a sizable portion of a flight’s price tag. Opting to depart out of Hamilton’s airport instead of Toronto’s Pearson could save you cash, although you’ll also want to weigh whether it’ll mean longer or inconvenient layovers, as well as increased transfer costs.
Consider an all-inclusive package: Don’t automatically turn your nose up at this idea. Last-minute flights can often be the most expensive part of a late-day decision to fly. Deals can be found in package vacations where filling manifests is key.
Have a trusted travel adviser: Time is money, as they say. And while you may not have time to spend seeking out the best deal, a travel adviser does. They also often have exclusive access to deals that go beyond the initial price tag. Virtuoso travel advisers, for example, can offer you room upgrades and other perks that might sway your initial choice of destination.
Check the airline website before you book the web fare: If you’ve been researching flights on an online travel agency such as Expedia, make sure you visit the airline’s website so you’re aware of all additional costs, such as meals, luggage, seat selection, etc. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
Join the loyalty program: Those airline and hotel loyalty clubs can be a bonanza of value, from appetizers at the hotel restaurant to cutting your baggage costs from the flight. Take the time to sign up with the ones that best match your lifestyle, familiarize yourself with the perks and then actually be loyal.
Check your credit card for offers: Whether its points that allow you to book flights at a lower rate, access to an airport lounge or cash back on purchases, using your credit card before or during your trip could help cut costs.
Travel midweek when you can: Travelling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday will likely come in a little bit cheaper than a Friday or Saturday departure or hotel stay. Trips that include a Saturday hotel overnight tend to come at a premium price.
Keep the weather in mind: There’s a reason that flights are cheaper to destinations during hurricane and rainy seasons. Those reasons might not matter to you but the reality is they could ruin your entire vacation. Know before you go by checking weather apps such as AccuWeather so you aren’t scoring a deal for a disaster.
Use public transit/bike shares: They are often inexpensive options for seeing both the tourist-heavy spots and those just outside the city. E-scooter rentals have also become hugely popular in major European cities. Make sure you have a route/road map and a good understanding of how fares are paid or where bikes are permitted/parked before setting out.
Visit the tourism office: Most major destinations will have a tourist office filled with free maps and brochures. Ask about discount cards and savings opportunities. Everything from two-for-one meals to free tours awaits.
Talk to the locals: They’ll be your biggest savings tool. Tourists get tourist prices wherever they go. With tips from a local on what things really cost, where to find inexpensive meals and where to explore on the cheap, you’ll be well on your way to saving.
Travel overnight: The bonus with a long overnight trip is that you won’t need a hotel that night because your ticket covers both transportation and lodging. Plus, you’ll get a full day in your destination when you arrive. It’s a win-win.
Know the best ways to change your currency: Skip the exchange booths at the airport unless you’re desperate. You’re usually going to get the best rate (aka the most up to date rate) by using your credit or debit card. But be aware of the fees that your bank (and the bank that the ATM belongs to) will levy. If they’re steep, think about how much cash you’ll need before you withdraw vs. making several trips. If you travel to the U.S. often, consider an American credit card or U.S. savings account here in Canada. That will allow you to exchange money when the rates are favourable and store it until you need it. In the research phase and deciding on where to go? Check out xe.com for rates.
Pay in the local currency: If you’re using your credit card in destination always pay in the local currency. Though it may be offered, the seemingly convenient option of paying in your home currency usually comes with a foreign transaction fee plus the vendor’s exchange rate.
Spend on memories: Know when to save and when to splurge. Fall in love with an item in the market you know you’ll never find at home? Go for it. Offered an experience to scratch an activity off your bucket list? Snap it up! You’ll never regret a once in a lifetime experience. Have a simpler breakfast or lunch the next day to make up for it.
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