Travelwise

Web sites, apps that help you cut costs

 

The New York Times

Break a resolution yet?

If any were travel-related, here’s some good news: In 2014, you can save while staying the traveler that you are.

In other words, set your nonnegotiable standards, then minimize costs and maximize value. For example: Let’s say you refuse to sleep in the same room with a stranger. That means you won’t be staying in hostels, so concentrate on lowering costs on hotel stays or short-term rentals.

Here are issues about which budget travelers of good faith can differ, along with some tips on cutting costs no matter which side of the debate you’re on.

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN?

This is no longer just a hostel versus hotel debate. Private rentals through Airbnb have long been in the mainstream, and hospitality exchange sites like Couchsurfing and BeWelcome are thriving — two visitors from Lyon, France, who found me through Couchsurfing, are staying in my living room.

Hostels, however, will still be the mainstay for backpacker types. Many use the booking sites Hostelbookers.com or Hostelworld.com, but it’s also worth getting to know Hostelz.com, a search aggregator, not unlike Kayak. You’ll get to compare prices for Hostelbookers and Hostelworld (as well as the Eurocentric site HostelsClub). But even better, the site also shows ratings from all the sites, as well as lengthier reviews Hostelz pays travelers to write.

For those who need their privacy, don’t write off Airbnb; you can set filters to show you only private rooms or even entire houses. And despite the name, I’ve found that many Couchsurfing hosts (although not me) offer spare bedrooms.

If you really want to stick with just hotels, there are ever more ways to save. Two new sites monitor hotel prices after you reserve in case prices go down: TripRebel simply refunds you the difference, and TripBAM alerts you if the price drops in the same or nearby hotels and offers to rebook your reservation. TheSuitest uses hotel features and amenities to calculate a room’s value relative to its price, so you can find the best deal on a place with, say, a gym or great views.

And finally, a compromise of sorts: the growing, Britain-based Camp in My Garden (campinmygarden.com), on which users can offer their backyards to potential campers. It’s dirt cheap, and tents are, after all, completely private.

CONNECTING THE STOPS

On a flight from New York to São Paulo, I sat next to a young guy headed to Buenos Aires quite indirectly. He had long layovers in São Paulo and Montevideo, lengthening a 10-hour trip to more than 24 hours. But to him it was a no-brainer; he’d save a few hundred bucks.

If that sounds familiar, you probably already know how to list flights by price and set filters to allow multiple layovers on sites like Kayak and Bing Travel. And here’s another tip for flights in Europe: The WhichAirline app and site (whichairline.com) can help you find inconvenient but very cheap connections that other engines don’t. For example, it found me a $119 flight from Paris to Budapest on budget carrier Ryanair, with a layover of about five hours in Milan each way. (The cheapest option on the usually dependable Vayama.com was $280.)

If you’re anti-layover, consider making your dates more flexible. It’s far easier than it used to be. About a year ago, Google introduced Flight Explorer (google.com/flights/explore), which displays a bar graph for the best prices to a specific destination over any specified time range. Even better, be flexible about your destination: Pick a region (“Western Europe”) and it will show you those same graphs for multiple destinations, starting with the cheapest options. You can also set the maximum length of the trip.

MILES MANIA

There are two kinds of fliers: miles obsessives, who pay more upfront for airlines in a specific alliance and shuffle miles-accruing credit cards to reap free flights at the end; and others, who can’t be bothered, who just look to save on each individual flight, car rental and hotel, regardless of the brand.

Being a miles maniac comes with a steep learning curve. Navigating this world requires a lot of help, and many turn to sites like ThePointsGuy.com. Two new ones are also worth a look: Altimetr.com debuted in June, and although it often takes a higher-end approach, evaluating business class service and private jets, it includes plenty of articles for the rest of us, like comparisons of frequent-flier programs and a useful intro to the whole points game.

RichmondSavers.com, courtesy of a husband and wife team of CPAs in Virginia, focuses more closely on how to save big. Their step-by-step guide to a free family trip to Disney World is a good test of whether miles mania is right for you.

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