We long for travel, but we long even more deeply for affordable travel.
Type the word “cheap” in an Internet search, and the terms that automatically pop up, based on the popularity of previous searches, pertain largely to travel: “cheap tickets,” “cheap flights,” “cheap hotels.”
To that end, we asked industry experts to weigh in on budget travel: from getting there to eating there to staying there.
• Who: Chen is online editor for frommers.com
• Getting there: Set up fare alerts using sites such as airfarewatchdog.com or tripadvisor.com. For example, I had alerts set up from New York City to Oakland or San Francisco. I received emails from airfarewatchdog notifying me of fall sales from Southwest ($280) and Delta ($284). These fare alerts gave me a sense of what prices to look for when ready to book.
• Staying there: Flash-sale sites like Groupon Getaways (groupon.com/getaways), SniqueAway (sniqueaway.com) and Jetsetter (jetsetter.com) constantly have tempting hotel deals, but make sure you understand the fine print. Can the travel dates be changed, or is it nonrefundable? Would you be better off booking directly with the hotel? Most hotels still let you cancel 24 to 72 hours before arriving.
• Eating there: Hotel breakfasts that are included in the room rate can be a good value for families. Many hotels now go beyond the basic cereal and bagel options with made-to-order omelet stations and do-it-yourself waffle-makers. Buying bottled water adds up so I usually buy a liter (or a gallon if I’m staying in one place for a few nights) to keep in the hotel room. I refill a smaller bottle as I go. I once paid about $16 for an in-room bottle of FIJI water — never again!
• Doing things and getting around: Look into weekly transit passes and tourist passes. For example, CityPASS cards (available in nearly a dozen cities; citypass.com) can be an easy way to cover a lot of ground if you plan to sightsee. But be realistic and consider whether you will see all the museums and attractions included in the card, otherwise you won’t save a ton of money. If you need to rent a car, check for online promo codes (try a quick Internet search) or use a site like autoslash.com to find the lowest rental rates.
• Who: Purcell is a travel advisor for cheapair.com
• Getting there: Choosing a regional location or going somewhere in the off-season keeps flights more affordable and can reward you with savings beyond just flights (tours, hotels, things to do). Websites like ours can save you as much as 40 percent due to searching thousands of fares across multiple airlines.
• Staying there: We recommend looking beyond just the flat price of a hotel but rather the entire package: What are the amenities? Where is the hotel located? If you can, stay out of city centers and busy downtown areas where demand is likely to spike — staying 20-30 minutes away can save big bucks.
• Eating there: Saving money on dining and food is one of the easiest things to do on a trip if you keep an open mind. If you’re staying in a hotel with a refrigerator, pack simple lunches and eat them in a park. Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be excellent; for $5 to $10 a meal, gourmet experiences can be had with food trucks. Ask locals where to find good grub at a decent price; they know better than anyone.
• Doing things and getting around: Avoid the urge to hop into a cab several times a day; it adds up quickly. Get yourself a good map (if you don’t have one on your phone, that is) and walk; it’s more enjoyable anyway.
• Who: Hobica is the founder of airfarewatchdog.com
• Getting there: Sign up for airfare alerts (on websites like airfarewatchdog.com, tripadvisor.com/flights and orbitz.com). Fares change all the time and are unpredictable. Pounce when they do.
• Staying there: I really like the Hilton Garden Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and so on. They’ve really upped their games and are every bit as comfortable as five-star hotels. And consider tingo.com; if the hotel lowers its price before you arrive, you get an automatic refund to your credit card. Also, it sometimes pays to sign up for hotel loyalty programs for special rates only available to members.
• Eating there: Rent an apartment or house! You can eat cheaply because you have a kitchen and can cook at home.
• Doing things and getting around: Public transit. Also, look for city pass booklets with admissions to multiple attractions for one low price.
• Who: Peyser is the editor of Budget Travel magazine
• Getting there: Be flexible. It’s a snap to compare airfares in a million ways; among different carriers, between airports going to nearby cities, on different days of the week or hours of the day. If you do your research, a little flexibility can save hundreds of dollars.
• Staying there: The hottest bargain accommodation at the moment is what travel folks call a “vacation rental,” which really means renting out someone’s apartment or house (at websites like homeaway.com, vrbo.com or airbnb.com). It’s an especially smart choice if you’re traveling with a group or family that would need more than one hotel room, or if you’re staying in one place for a week or longer, when you can negotiate a deal.
• Eating there: If you like to eat at fancy places (and who doesn’t?), you’ll get much more for your money if you do your haute-cuisine-ing at lunch, when prices and portions are smaller but the thrill of the experience is the same. Turn dinner into a more low-key affair, eating where the locals do instead of the tourists.
• Doing things and getting around: Package tours aren’t for everyone, but they come in all shapes and sizes (you don’t always have to trek around with a large group of strangers), and they often mean great deals because the tour operator buys in bulk — and knows the territory. Depending on what kind of tour you go for, you can also save on airfare, hotels and even meals. There’s something to be said for a vacation where you don’t have to plan every bit of the trip yourself.