Flights and hotels are more expensive than ever: 6 smart travel tips to save money

This story is part of money movingCNET’s coverage of smart money decisions for today’s changing world.

I took a trip to Spain via Chicago in early March and thought travel is back. Airports were full of sardines and plane seats were stuffed, although COVID-19 testing requirements for international travelers were hidden at the time.

More than a month later, the travel picture for the rest of 2022 is in sharper focus. In the near future, travel is expensive. At least in the United States, the The authorization mask is basically nothing more But cancellations and delays by airlines are on the rise, along with fuel costs. These higher prices will affect road trips as well as flights. In fact, airfare costs rose 10.7% in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The boom in travel comes at a time of inflation It reached its highest point since 1981. Gas price hike The ongoing war in Ukraine worsened around the world. food costs also higher (Some warn of global wheat shortages as a result of the conflict), and global economies continue to be understaffed as a result of the pandemic.

However, 85% of Americans expect to travel this summer, according to the American Travel Association. If you’re one of them, you’ll need to use every tool you have to cut costs, whether you’re hopping in a car, boat, or plane. Here’s how to save on travel despite the costs of climbing.

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Take advantage of booking flexibility in the age of COVID

Many of the COVID-related changes for airlines and hotels are here to stay. “Airlines have mostly eliminated punitive change fees that have been a long-term source of frustration for travelers,” said Scott Mairowitz, executive editor of CNET’s sister site The Points Guy.

Now, most major airlines will allow you to change the flight without incurring fees to most domestic, Caribbean and Mexican destinations. However, the change fee will still apply largely to international flights, Mairowitz said, so keep that in mind if you plan to travel further abroad.

The same applies to flights booked using miles. Myrowitz said airlines used to charge a mileage re-deposit fee. Now, you can book a direct flight with an airline using points and cancel without penalty.

Longtime backpacker Stephanie Zito said in an email that this blanket cancellation of the change fee could be a money-saving opportunity. “Book early when tickets are cheaper,” she said. “Then change or cancel if your plans change. If a price drop occurs for what you booked, you can still cancel and rebook” at a lower rate.

Basic Economy is cheaper, but think carefully before booking

While changing scheduled flights has become easier to change or cancel due to COVID, basic economy tickets are becoming more restrictive. Basic economy tickets usually offer the lowest prices up front, but they lack flexibility – you can’t reschedule or cancel at all – and they charge extra for just about everything from bringing a handbag to choosing a seat. You will most likely be one of the last passengers on board.

It is important to keep this in mind because most booking portals, including portals Airlines and credit card loyalty programs, it will show you the basic economics options first, sometimes unobtrusively. You might think you’re getting a great deal, but if you read the fine print on that fare – as you always should with any travel booking – you’ll realize you’re painting yourself into an option that may cost more than you bargained for in the end.

A quick search for flights from Austin, Texas, to Amsterdam in April on Kayak and Expedia showed me return trip options ranging from $560 to $612, which seemed pretty good for this route. But it was just after, after I chose the tickets on which all restrictions appeared. When I chose the economy option, the cost of the same trip jumped hundreds of dollars to $842 on both sites.

Travelers need to do their research first and be comfortable with the restrictions they agree to. If you need to be flexible with your dates and can afford the extra cost for standard tickets, they may be of better value in the long run.

Pack Strategically to Save Money (Yeah, Really)

Can the way you pack your bags save you money? Certainly, although it depends on the situation.

If you’re traveling on an airline that’s not a member of your loyalty, packing everything you need into a hand luggage can save you up to $30 per passenger per part of the flight. If you check bags, doubling down on carrying one large suitcase that holds two people’s clothes (especially if you’re part of a family group) can cut your total costs in this department in half.

While some airlines, such as Delta, are experimenting with removing baggage fees to reduce delays, low-cost Frontier Airlines has lowered the maximum weight for checked bags to 40 pounds from 50 pounds — the industry standard. In this case, reducing the filling volume may save more.

(remember a lot Airlines credit cards They offer at least one free checked bag, in addition to priority boarding, as part of their benefits.)

Keep in mind when checking bags that you risk handling Unexpected delays and lost baggage – And at worst, a night without your bag.

You might want to bring more snacks, take medication for extra days, and change clothes in your hand luggage, Mairowitz suggested, in case your flight is canceled or plans change.

“Airlines are making pretty big changes in the agenda to this day,” he said, and restaurants aren’t fully operational in many places yet: “As a traveler, you just have to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios.” While some The airlines will compensate you for basic needs In certain circumstances, you’ll be pretty much on your own to get food, toiletries, and additional amenities.

Redeem those points you were sitting on

Thousands of travelers have not gone on a trip since the pandemic began. If you are one of them, indulging in reserves now is an easy way to save cash.

“There’s just a massive inventory of unused points and miles out there,” Mairowitz said. how many? Travelers have accumulated more than 27 billion unused miles by the end of 2020, according to a study by ValuePenguin.

“I think the cost of flights in cash rebounds a little faster than the cost in points,” said Emily Sherman, senior editor at education site Optimal and a fanatic of points and miles. “The cost of a trip in points is often more affordable than its cash counterpart, and you won’t feel the sting of fees hitting your account,” Sherman said in an email.

Not all point structures are the same, and the longer the trip, the more expensive the points in general. However, indulging in a reserve of points may help reduce the total cost of travel while saving for your next trip.

Join your favorite hotel membership club

Sign up for a hotel loyalty program – like Marriott BonvoyAnd the Hilton Honors or life world It can save you money in the long run in several major ways. Remember, these are the rewards that accumulate. I’m not talking about room upgrades, although they are always nice. Benefits such as free faster Wi-Fi, free breakfast, late check-out, and bonus points have cash equivalent value.

Taking the family on a five-day trip now can help you earn a free night later in the year. And a room that gives you checkout at 4 PM instead of the usual 12 noon may save you money by using hotel amenities for longer before a late flight, compared to finding other activities to fill your time before heading to the airport.

Joining hotel loyalty programs is free and they usually offer discounted or guaranteed lowest rates to their members, but you will have to book directly with the hotel to reap the rewards. using file hotel credit card When booking directly into a hotel, it can help increase your rewards and savings even more.

Just keep in mind that benefits can vary by hotel chain and individual properties, so you are not guaranteed all benefits every time you travel.

Say yes to alternative destinations – and low season

While millions of travelers stayed put during the first two years of the pandemic, many popular destinations that were sinking under the weight of tourist overcrowding – also known as overtourism – have had the opportunity to rethink their approach to visitors. Cruise ships are now officially banned from the historic center of Venice, Italy. Barcelona, ​​Spain, has banned the rental of private rooms for short periods. Amsterdam in the Netherlands has banned new hotels and souvenir shops in the city center. Other places such as Dubrovnik, Croatia and Machu Picchu in Peru are taking similar measures in response to the potential massive return of tourists.

Choosing alternate destinations, traveling locally, and taking trips during the so-called shoulder season — the time between and off peak seasons — is a time-tested way to reduce cash flow while exploring or relaxing.

An avid points collector, Sherman said, tools like Hopper and Google Flights can help get good deals in unexpected destinations. “It’s amazing how much you can save by traveling outside the normal tourist season, and there’s still so much to do at your destination,” she said.

Whether you’re traveling locally or planning to expand further, make sure you stay updated Travel Restrictions To avoid unexpected obstacles. If you are worried about uncertainty when planning a trip, you can consider travel insurancewhich you can buy as a stand-alone policy or get travel credit card. This may give you some peace of mind while protecting you financially.

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