Travel can be affordable! I am just like the majority of the population who work for a living and with limited number of vacation days per year. For every trip, I put a lot of time to plan out my vacation to maximize what I get from what I paid 🙂 Many of you might not have much interest as I do on planning or might not have much time to plan so here I put a list of useful tips to make your vacation planning easier and save some hard-earned money!
Updated: March 14, 2017
Cash Back Rebates
The easiest way to get some money back on most of the travel booking sites as well as regular online shopping is via cash back portal (that means first you need to start with one of those cash back rebate website and then search for the store/website then click through it to receive whatever the % cash back listed, sometimes they have special promotion to give extra percent), very easy to sign up and start collecting cash back! I would very appreciate if you click through my referral links below so I can get referral bonus 🙂
Mr Rebates: http://www.mrrebates.com?refid=898146
TopCashBack: http://www.topcashback.com/ref/Yiyoumei you’ll get $10 as sign up bonus
Points and Miles
If you have good credit score or a frequent flyer, check the following blogs/sites out for how to travel for almost free:
The Frugal Travel Guy: http://www.frugaltravelguy.com/
The Points Guy: http://thepointsguy.com/
Million Mile Secrets: http://millionmilesecrets.com/
Flyer Talk: http://www.flyertalk.com/
If the above doesn’t apply to you, you can still save on your travel by the following tips:
1. Google Flights: https://www.google.com/flights/
I use Google Flights when I have a general idea where I want to go but not exactly on place and date, for example, the Caribbeans. I usually input my home airport and select a date and then click on the “map”. Then, it’ll display all the flight prices to everywhere in the world during that time period so that’ll give me an idea of the price around that area. When I know exactly where I want to go, I can search on “lowest fares” and select the duration of the trip for example 8 day trip. That’ll display all the prices of a 8 day trip from now up till 11 months for some destination so I know when is the cheapest time to travel. Note: Google travel is like a search engine, not an agency, so it’ll direct you to the airline to book. You can also track the price and Google will notify you when the price changes.
2. Hotwire: http://www.hotwire.com/
I use this when I know where to go and when to go because sometimes Hotwire offers “hot rate”, this is discounted rate that you can’t choose the airline or the time of the flight; information will be revealed once booking is confirmed. But it will listed the specify departure time range, number of stops, and guaranteed connections of no more than 3 hours within the US and Canada but might be longer on international flight. However, hot rate is not qualified to earn frequent flier miles. I did this on my Hawaii trip, $550 roundtrip from Boston 🙂
3. Directly with the airline
Sometimes airlines have special sales that the rates aren’t available in other 3rd party booking agency like Expedia. Sign up for the airline’s email notification to get alert of sales! I saved at least $100 with my Grand Cayman flight from JetBlue’s two days fare sale event!
4. SecretFlying: http://www.secretflying.com/
If you are not sure where to go, try Secret Flying to see where on sale (sometimes they found error fares which can save over 80% off regular flight price) to spark some interest! I constantly checking this site everyday to see if any place super cheap to go!
5. The Flight Deal: http://www.theflightdeal.com/
This site constantly update with the latest fare sale, check often as you might miss out a deal!
Hotels (make sure you check if there’s extra cash back from Mr Rebates, Ebates, and TopCashBack first and then decide which one offers the highest to get to those sites to book the hotels)
1. Booking.com: http://www.booking.com/
What I like more about booking.com than other hotel booking sites is that it displays pictures of each category of rooms. It’s really important for me to know how the room looks from pictures than text description of the room. Also, booking.com has more “local” hotels and bed and breakfasts in smaller villages and towns than other major booking sites.
2. CheapTickets: https://www.cheaptickets.com/
This site has the same inventory of rooms as other major booking sites but it often offers 20% off (now 16% is the norm) with discount code (does not apply to major hotel chains). It saved me a lot of money! And don’t forget to check Mr Rebates, Ebates, or TopCashBack for additional cash back sometimes as high as extra 10%!
3. Orbitz: https://www.orbitz.com/
This site has the same inventory of rooms as other major booking sites but offer 15% with discount code (does not apply to major hotel chains). In addition, sign up for an account so you can earn Orbucks which you can apply on your next booking! And don’t forget to check Mr Rebates, Ebates, or TopCashBack for additional cash back sometimes as high as extra 10%!
4. Agoda: http://www.agoda.com/
Sometimes Agoda offer more discounted rates than other websites and don’t forget to fill in your preferred airline frequent flyer account, some rates give airline miles!
5. AirBnB with my referral link for $25 credit for both of us: http://www.airbnb.com/c/ymei3?s=8
When traveling in more than groups of 4, it’s often hard to find a hotel room that can accommodate more than 4 adults. That was what happened on our London trip, my cousin decided to tag along with us last minute so I turned to AirBnB for apartment. I was wary on AirBnB but lucky that the one I picked ended up as pictured! My rule of thumb when booking via AirBnB is make sure the pictures are “verified” so what you see will be what you get (although the pics could be taken years ago so might not always be 100% accurate), contact the host to see how responsive he/she is, read the reviews (you can only write reviews on places you have actually booked and stayed), understand the total price (sometimes there’s cleaning fees) and cancellation policy, and if you have issue call AirBnB right away when you first check-in. AirBnB hold your payment and release to the host 24 hours after arrival so if you have any issue call right away!
6. Hotwire: http://www.hotwire.com/
Once again, Hotwire’s hot rate offers one of the deepest discount but it won’t tell you the name of the hotel until booking is confirmed. However, it does have the hotel’s star rating so you can narrow down the range to guess which hotel is it or know which hotels will you be expecting. For example, I booked a hot rate on a 5 stars hotel on Giudecca Island, Venice. Since the hot rate guaranteed the 5 stars rating, I told myself the worst it would be is still a 5 stars! I ended up getting Hilton Molino Stucky Venice for 3 nights for $471.64! Huge saving!
FlyerTalk forum has an excellent compiled list of discount codes of major booking sites here: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/hotel-deals/934858-general-list-codes-promos-orbitz-hotels-com-expedia-travelzoo-etc.html
Trains in Europe
The fastest, most convenient, and affordable mode of transportation in Europe is usually trains. There are ways to save on train tickets. One of the best resource to find out how is TripAdvisor http://www.tripadvisor.com/! Go to the TripAdvisor forum and search, usually transportation is under the “top questions” on the right hand side of the forum. If not, just post a question and I am sure many experts will jump in to answer! Here are some common ways to save:
1. Rail Pass: http://www.eurail.com/
If you know how many trips you’ll be taking and want some flexibility on travel dates, sometimes a rail pass can save. You’ll need to do some calculations between a rail pass versus book directly and individually for each trip via the train company to determine which way saves more. Also, if you are under age of 25, a youth rail pass is the cheapest way to travel with flexibility!
2. Book Direct
Book direct with the train company since many 3rd party providers charged a fee and/or marked up the price. Some people choose to book with the 3rd party for convenience because many experienced difficulties with their credit card payment. I have booked many times with many companies and never have a problem! Many countries’ rail companies have English version and very easy to navigate! Plan early and book early to take advantage of advanced discounts as much as 70% off!
France rail: http://www.sncf.com/en/passengers
Germany rail: http://www.bahn.com/i/view/index.shtml
(If you are traveling with 2 or more people including yourself, DB Bahn offers a group ticket for less per person, also look for a one-day pass for unlimited travel within a region)
(I like new trains from Westbahn, free wifi which makes a 4 hour ride passed quickly)
I also wrote a quick guide on how to plan a day trip to Hallstatt: http://missvacation.blogspot.com/2014/03/quick-guide-on-how-to-plan-day-trip-to.html
Spain rail: http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/
Italy rail: http://www.trenitalia.com/
UK train schedule and prices: http://tickets.southernrailway.com/sn/en/JourneyPlanning/MixingDeck
Look for a pass like the museum pass is available for your destination. I had the Paris Museum Pass and it gave free and direct access to many top attractions in Paris without waiting in the line ticket line. It saved us time and money!!! If you plan to visit many attractions then the pass is the way to go. However, if you plan to visit a few attractions then do the calculation to see if it makes sense 🙂
Before you book the museum pass, check out Viator. They sometimes sell the exact same pass and when you sign up with my link above, you and I will get $10 credit 🙂 You can also search for their coupon code as well for extra savings.
I found this when I was planning my trip to Paris: http://www.thefork.com/. This website offers discounts and promotions on restaurants like 50% off and special set menus. This really save us a lot of money in Paris – often viewed as expensive dinning out!