I was writing a random post about our furlough, and at the very end of the post, I realized that there was a great opportunity for me to share some of the things we did on furlough to save money traveling.
However, the suggestions were too many to tack onto the bottom of that post, so I decided to break up my thoughts into an independent post.
Money Saving Travel Tips
1. Fly Southwest Airlines. Every time our family travelled domestically in the US we flew on Southwest Airlines. There are essentially two reasons why we fly Southwest:
a. Bags fly free: I’m guessing we saved between $150 – $200 per leg of our journey just because of the free baggage. Multiply that by four flights, and that adds up to a huge savings.
b. You can create your own lowest price guarantee with Southwest. On my travel blog I chronicled how we saved $500 just by booking one flight trough Southwest and taking advantage of a fare that dropped after our purchase.
2. Walk into the hotel and ask for their best price. When we were in Rotorura, New Zealand, we didn’t have a hotel reservation. We stopped in a couple of places and asked for their best price. We found a hotel that had two rooms, so it was well suited for our family. The price was higher than the other hotels, but since we asked, they matched the lowest priced hotel room we found. For the same price as the cheapest single hotel room we ended up with a two bedroom hotel room.
3. Use an ATM. We never get money out of a currency exchange booth. The rates are very unfavorable. Instead, we use our credit union debit card (which charges a 1% foreign currency exchange fee) and find an ATM that doesn’t charge fees for outside cards. Here’s a full analysis on the best way to exchange foreign currency.
4. Carry a non-foreign currency exchange credit card. Since our debit card does charge a 1% fee, when given the opportunity, we use our FIA Services (formerly Schwab) credit card that has no foreign currency exchange and gives us 2% back. Over the last few months we spent money in PNG Kina, Australian Dollars, New Zealand Dollars, US Dollars, and Canadian Dollars. Especially when you’re only going to be in a place for a day or two, you’ll probably want to use your credit card.
5. Use credit card bonuses to collect air miles. Yea, yea. I know. Every time I say anything positive about credit cards on this site people want to roast me. Seriously, I’m just saying that the best way to get free (or almost free travel) is by signing up for credit cards just to get the sign up bonus. Over this furlough, I was able to use 25,000 miles and $10 to buy a flight that I booked within 5 days. If I’d paid cash for that flight, it would have been $900. Also, over furlough I booked (haven’t traveled yet) two tickets to an undisclosed destination overseas (my wife doesn’t know the destination) and two tickets from Thailand to Toronto. Those flights are valued at $10,000 and I paid about $400. I earned all the miles from credit card signup bonuses.
6. At hotels, always ask, “How much does it cost …?” In your mind you may have a fair market value for an item in a mini bar or for a hotel services. However, they are not bound by what you believe is appropriate. In Port Moresby, my wife was in a hotel and needed to call me. She called the front desk and they told her the call would cost 49 toea (15 cents US). She made the call and it was K10 (3.50 US). In that case, we did ask and got bad information, but it goes to show that asking is the best policy before partaking.
7. Typically I find that booking 60 days + in advance will yield the best prices for airfare (as soon as possible with Southwest). With hotels, you can usually book a week or two in advance and still find good rates. Some of my favorite sites are kayak.com, priceline.com, hotwire.com, and expedia.com. Lately, I’ve tried not to purchase any travel before visiting Evreward. This site helps you know what program offers the best cash back or bonus for the website you intend to buy travel from. Actually, the site is great to use before buying anything online.