Arranging travel isn’t rocket science, but there’s a lot more to it than throwing your suitcases into the trunk of your car. Garden gnomes and Negotiators are on our televisions telling us how much we would have or could have saved if only we had consulted their websites before we actually spent money. Some of their claims are likely true, others more along the lines of wishful thinking. Regardless, their main point is valid – if you pay attention to just a few things, you can squeeze a little more out of your travel budget.
1. Autoclub and similar memberships can save enough with just a few nights’ hotel stay to pay for themselves. Beyond roadside assistance, maps, savings on prescriptions, at theme parks and at restaurants, a $64 AAA membership can save you money on airport parking (up to 15% in Nashville, Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale) and on hotels ($9 per night at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown). So, even with that relatively small discount, you’ve paid for the membership with all its benefits in just seven hotel nights. Some credit card and frequent flier groups also offer discounts. It’s worth your time to check your memberships to take advantage of all of the features.
2. International travel is cheaper Tuesday through Thursday. As of today, if you depart on Tuesday, July 13, and return on Tuesday, the 20th, the lowest non-stop American Airlines ticket price with a two-week advance purchase is $1315.40, including taxes. For the same trip on Saturdays with a departure on 17th and a return on the 24th, the lowest non-stop ticket price is 1560.40. So, if you’re planning to go to the UK for a week, you’ll have more money for bangers and mash if you fly on Tuesdays.
3. Depending on the size and weight of your luggage, you may be better off to ship your clothes to your destination than to check it, especially on your return. A large flat rate box from the United States Postal Service ships domestically for $13.95. Granted, the 12″ x 12″ x 5 1/2″ box isn’t all that roomy; but, if you pack it carefully, you can fit the contents of a small suitcase into two of them. So for $27.90, you can ship the contents of your second suitcase directly from your hotel in Seattle to your home in Baton Rouge rather than paying the airline $35.00.
4. Back-to-back ticketing can save huge amounts of money, but is forbidden by most airlines. However, if you are traveling on different carriers along the same route, you are using each carrier’s ticket as the routing and dates are defined. While the carriers may still get in a twist over this, you’ve abided by each carrier’s rules.
5. A good travel agent can find better fares and better routings than online booking sites, particularly for international travel. The computer reservations systems (CRS) that travel agencies use have access to more inventory than online resources – or at least any on-line resource I’ve ever found. This allows a travel agent to get you the best ticket price for the set of rules you want. If you want to purchase a fully non-refundable ticket from Omaha to Sacramento, an online service may work fine. However, here’s a little trick I learned as a travel agent: when an agent is pricing an itinerary, she can ask the computer to price it like it is booked, to give the lowest possible fare on that itinerary or she can ask it to give the lowest non-penalty fare. In my Fare Game post, I told you about inventory buckets. There may be more than one coach class non-penalty fare code. The fare code for that is often noted with the letter Y; however, sometimes it’s noted with other letters like B. Neither fare is restricted, but the B fare may be $50 cheaper than the Y fare for the same seat with the same set of restrictions. You will not see these differences on most online ticketing sites, but the travel agent can see them easily. In addition to being able to see inventory, travel agents can see more schedules than the online sites offer. When we were operating an aircraft in Western Africa, I called Jan, a former colleague when I was a travel agent. Without exception, Jan was able to get us better fares and schedules on British Airways than we were able to get on even British Airways’ website. She saved us more money than she charged in her fee and her efforts on our behalf were worth it at twice the price.
6. Air charter can be more cost effective than airline travel. Even now, there are many people who assume that a private plane is out of their budgets. And, while a private plane isn’t always the most cost effective solution, it’s worth asking the question. We’ve posted a couple of posts on this subject: my article, Eleven Hours to Texarkana and Allen Howell’s Real World Efficiency From Business Aviation, both articles give real world, actual examples of how people actually saved both time and money by using business aviation. If you wonder how using a private aircraft compares to air mass-transit for your trip, call a charter operator. They will be happy to look at the trip for you and it costs nothing to ask the question.
The economy is picking up and things are beginning to move again. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t all still trying to get the biggest bang for our travel buck. By remembering these keys, you can make your budget go a little further without turning every trip into a time and energy pit.