No, this is not about packing less on your next trip. This is about spending less. Yeah, yeah, yada yada you say. But give me a few more sentences. For the past two years, we have been striving to lower our travel costs at CellStream – this in light of rising prices – especially in hotels and rental cars. If you do a lot of travel, you know what I mean. To this end we think we have done pretty well lately although we are not satisfied yet and would love to hear what others can add. So lets get right to our proven methods to date:
1. Start all your travel planning at one web site: www.kayak.com . This is the best travel search engine out there. It searches even the Travelocity’s and Expedias. We could go on and on about what we like about kayak, but that is not the point.
Start with the plane travel. We love the way you can quickly adjust dates and times through their user interface. This tip alone will save you hundreds – even thousands if you are a road warrior. Now go to the hotel and rental car searches – get baselines for all this.
Join every frequent flyer program you can. If you fly a lot, you can select the least cost air fare and earn privileges. This can be helpful when flying stand by, getting upgrades, and getting preferred access to seats, check in, and boarding.
When checking in – always ask about how full the flight is. If you are willing to move your seat – you might get a empty seat beside you. Remember that all the seats take off and land at the same time!
2. Once you have your flights, now go to Thrifty or Dollar sites to compare rental car prices to that of the Kayak search. We sometimes find their web site to be cheaper. We seem to end up getting the best deal with a fair number of locations from Thrifty. They also have a Blue Chip Rewards program that we urge you to join. Rent X number of days and you get a day free. They send you certificates and there is essentially no restriction – you can use the certificates on any car. We have found good rates on Expedia as well.
Certainly you can find cheaper alternatives to Thrifty and Dollar, but they usually require you take a shuttle as they are not in the airports we frequent, and if schedules are tight, this can be problematic. This does not mean that using Hertz or Avis is a good idea because they are convenient. Quite the opposite. They cost more – even the corporate programs! We often save 20-75% by avoiding Hertz, Avis and National.
3. Do the same for hotels. Check the sites of your favorite chain, then compare to kayak search results. Whatever you do – join a hotel rewards program. The nights add up and you get free nights after a while. Honestly the free nights aren’t the best deal. Once you reach upper tiers you will get better rooms, amenities thrown in and preferred treatment. It is a no brainer.
That said, be careful. We know people who will only stay at a given hotel chain “for the points”. Nine of ten times, they pay a price for this, and the price is not worth it. Make sure you look at it with a spreadsheet!
4. Consider transport not a rental car. Here is a great example: when traveling to Atlanta, you could rent a car for $35/day for 3 days or you can take the Marta train for about $3 a trip, a taxi from the Marta station to your hotel or business runs less than $10. For the cost of one rental car day, you can get around for all 3 days using alternate transport. Ask hotels about options like this at your destination.
5. Travel is stressful and many people satisfy the need for a good feeling by eating. This can get costly and unhealthy, so the next two tips are about food:
Don’t eat at the airport. A little planning and you can avoid this – even make it a challenge. Plus it is healthier. We tend to get on a plane and eat. Or to get to the hub and eat. Brown bagging your lunch and switching off the “I have to eat” thinking will save money and inches on your waist. We burn no energy sitting in a seat for 3 hours. This does not apply to delayed flights of course.
Don’t eat at the hotel or at least not if you can avoid it. Ok, some hotels have great restaurants, but most are over priced. Ask the front desk for a restaurant list, or check into a hotel that has a suite kitchen so you can make your own.
We hope this helps someone, and welcome additional thoughts.