50 Little-Known Ways to Land a Cheaper Flight or Hotel
Take the mystery out of landing a bargain with these insider tips and tricks.
Expert-backed tips, techniques and money-saving tools to help you secure a deal.
As any seasoned traveler can attest, guidebooks, magazines and trip-planning websites are saturated with cost-saving strategies for landing enticing deals and discounts on hotel rooms and plane tickets. And while every budget-minded jetsetter loves scoring a bargain, the reality is many well-intended pieces of advice floating across the internet are often unoriginal tricks of the trade or rookie mistakes to avoid. Some techniques require extra time, effort and hassle – and ultimately result in minuscule savings. That's why U.S. News collected insider secrets and lesser-known hacks from world-renowned globetrotters and industry experts to cut through common misconceptions and bring you underutilized money-saving booking strategies for your next trip.
Stay informed and be proactive.
To benefit from time-sensitive flash sales and promotions, you have to act quickly, says Gary Leff, co-founder of MilePoint and author of frequent flyer site View from the Wing. They're often available when business travelers are not booking them, he explains. Aside from using price-tracking tools (add Hopper and Google Flights to your tool kit), scope out pricing on the airlines' websites directly. Andrew Zimmern, creator, executive producer and host of the "Bizarre Foods" franchise on Travel Channel, suggests trolling airline booking sites. "Today's $1,000 flight is tomorrow's $500 flight. Sadly, it's also vice versa, so be vigilant," he says.
Combine points with cash for award stays.
Some hotel loyalty programs offer a points plus cash redemption option that allows you to book award stays with a combination of cash and points. For example, World of Hyatt's Points + Cash option allows members to book a standard Category 1 hotel room at a tempting price, starting at 5,000 points or 2,500 points and $50 per night. Leff suggests comparing both redemption options to determine whether a minor copay will yield the best value. IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, Hilton Honors and Club Carlson also offer points and cash copay opportunities, but keep in mind you'll want to be vigilant about redeeming points at a low point threshold to optimize value.
Leverage loyalty to cash in on extra nights.
Don't discount travel card promotions. "My favorite trick is to book a four-night stay with the Citi Prestige Card," says Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of the points and miles advice site The Points Guy. Book online or through a concierge, and you can stay for a fourth consecutive night for free. Best of all, "you can even pair the promotion with free night offers from individual hotels," he explains. The catch: You'll have to pay a $450 annual fee, "but you get $250 each year toward airfare purchases, and the card includes airport lounge access and many other perks," Honig says. Other programs offer similar perks. Hilton Honors elite members, for example, can stay for a complimentary fifth night.
Connect with a chatbot.
If you're intrigued by the prospect of booking your next hotel room with a travel bot, look for deals with SnapTravel, advises Clem Bason, CEO of goSeek, a site focused on surfacing hidden hotel discounts. A variety of AI-driven mobile messaging tools strive to match travelers with hotels based on their desired price point and selected criteria (think: neighborhood and preferred brand) via Facebook Messenger and SMS. "By doing so and creating a one-to-one conversation with each customer, SnapTravel is able to offer discounts that you won't find on other travel sites," Bason explains. After entering trip details, the algorithm searches for top value options and provides three to four matches.
Redeeming miles for award travel? Start with Google Flights.
Say you're ready to cash in your miles or points for an award flight. The first step is comparing flight prices and route options so that you're prepared to pounce when a deal becomes available. "When booking flights, I recommend searching for your airports and dates on Google Flights, even if you're planning to use miles," Honig says. "If the airfare is especially low, you can often come out ahead by redeeming credit card points for paid flights, rather than transferring to an airline partner to book an award," he adds. For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can transfer points to partners such as United MileagePlus and British Airways Executive Club at a 1-to-1 rate.
Book with the right card to dodge hidden fees.
If you don't want to pay unnecessary airline fees (think: baggage fees and in-flight food purchases), there's an easy solution: Carry the right cobranded travel card. Book your trip with the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card or the JetBlue Plus Card, and you won't pay fees for a first checked bag. And though these cards come with annual fees, they boast other coveted and cost-saving perks, such as discounted in-flight cuisine purchases, priority boarding access, waived foreign transaction fees and points bonuses. The Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card even offers travel accident insurance and two annual passes to United's club lounge.
Utilize flight-trackers and other smart websites to price drops.
"Airlines are trying to fill planes with cheap seats at the margin, while not undercutting the prices that they're charging business travelers," Leff explains. To get a feel for current pricing, "it pays to watch sites like The Flight Deal," Leff says. But keep in mind different tools should be utilized for different things, he explains. While the Flight Deal can help you stay attuned to the latest deals, conduct your own searches to get an approximation for yourself, he says. That way, you can cast your own predictions rather than relying on airfare-forecast tools like Hopper to tell you when to book. Other handy tools to look for rock-bottom prices include Airfarewatchdog.com and Skyscanner.
Look for a package deal.
Value-minded travelers should consider vacation packages where flights and accommodations are bundled into one predictable rate, yielding great values, Zimmern says. You can search for vacation packages at warehouse clubs like Sam's Club and Costco, as well as a variety of venerable online travel agencies, such as Kayak, Priceline and Cheap Caribbean. Also check out bundled vacation packages available from your preferred carrier or hotel company. Zimmern points to Delta Vacations as an enticing option if you're looking to capitalize on bonus miles and discounted prices with affiliate hotel brands, car rental companies and other travel partners. JetBlue Vacations also offers savings on bundled hotels and flights, plus the opportunity to collect frequent flyer points for package trips.
Stay savvy on social media platforms to collect loyalty points and snag a deal.
Anthony Melchiorri, host and creator of the Travel Channel's "Hotel Impossible" and "Hotel Impossible: Five-Star Secrets," suggests staying attuned to promotions on social media channels. "Everyone now has a presence on Facebook," he says. "Though some [companies] primarily post photos, many are creative and offer social media-only deals," he explains. "It's worth checking out not only your hotel but also restaurants for online-only discounts, coupons, specials or other potential money-saving deals." It's also a wise idea to type in your desired destination and buzzwords such as "discount" and "sale" on Twitter to search for deals.
Collect miles and points quickly – without going anywhere.
Even if you're not an avid globetrotter, you can stockpile points and miles quickly without jetting off on long-haul international flights. Thanks to extensive network alliances, a variety of frequent flyer programs offer consumers the chance to earn points for dining, shopping expenses and even concerts. With JetBlue, United, American, Southwest and Delta, for instance, you can rack up points for eating at affiliated dining program restaurants. And with the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping and Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping airline portals, you can gain points by shopping at stores such as Apple, Gilt, Groupon and Macy's. Check out Evreward.com to see where you can shop and accumulate points.
Be an insider.
To stay up-to-date on the latest deals and promotions, sign up for email alerts from airline and hotel groups, Zimmer says. That way, you'll receive "lots of alerts on last-minute deals," he explains. Beyond staying in the know with notifications from your preferred airlines and hotel brands, you can also opt in for alerts from tools such as Airfarewatchdog.com, which tracks price fluctuations and sends email notifications when fares drop, so consumers can pounce on deals when they're available. You can also sign up for deal-focused newsletters from savvy websites such as TheFlightDeal.com, Travelzoo.com and Scott's Cheap Flights to stay informed on time-sensitive deals and discounts.
Track fluctuating fares with Google Flights and other flight-trackers.
During the trip-planning process, use Google Flights as a trusted ally. "Google Flights is my go-to for everything airfare," Honig says. "It's always the first place I go to search. The tool is super fast, making it easy to search for airfares on many dates and between alternate airports – and there's integrated price tracking, so you can get an email alert if the fare goes up or down," he explains. With the tool, you can compare fares in a pricing graph to identify the cheapest days to fly, switch around your desired airport and stay in the know when a fare is expected to spike. Other helpful fare-monitoring tools include Airfarewatchdog, Hopper and Skyscanner.
Buy a reduced-priced reservation from another traveler.
Melchiorri suggests purchasing someone else's discounted hotel reservation with the site Roomertravel.com. "This website is a peer-to-peer marketplace for buying and selling unused hotel reservations," he explains. "Guests with prepaid reservations they can’t use offer them for sale here." He suggests looking for rooms based on your travel preferences, desired destination and price point. "Just like traditional hotel reservation bookings, there is a free cancellation window, and you can earn credits toward free bookings for future use of the site," he adds. Another website, Cancelon.com, allows consumers to list and buy hotel reservations at a significant discount.
Stack up points and miles by double-dipping.
Some rewards programs let members optimize their point and mileage accrual with earnings opportunities that allow them to collect both hotel loyalty and frequent flyer points. For example, Hilton Honors enable members to increase their points by attaining elite status, using a cobranded credit card and opting to earn points and miles with an affiliated frequent flyer program. You can also stack up points by using a travel credit card for purchases with partners. For example, if you're a frequent Uber rider, you can take advantage of the ride-sharing services partnership with Starwood to leverage points. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card, and you can collect three points per dollar spent on Uber rides, in addition to SPG points.
Get the most out of price-tracking tools.
While there are myriad tools that aim to predict the best times to buy flights to lend a deal, Melchiorri highlights Hopper as a go-to price-monitoring platform. "This app lets you know what airport currently has the cheapest flights and what dates make the best to decide to fly," he says. Plus, "you have the option to set up alerts according to price, which then sets push notifications to your phone," he adds. If you can keep you travel dates flexible, you can use the tool's new customized "Flex Watch" tool, which allows you to plug in a desired date range and trip length for one or multiple destinations and get notified when prices drop or are about to climb.
Take advantage of competition from low-cost carriers.
"The competition from low-cost carriers is driving down costs," Leff explains. If you're toying with the idea of booking a low-priced, international flight, you can take your pick from Norwegian Air, Wow Air and other XL Airlines among other carriers. And thanks to the brewing competition, you can score cheap economy-class tickets to destinations such as Barcelona, Paris and London. Closer to home, you can also take advantage of rock-bottom rates with budget-friendly carriers such as Spirit and Frontier. Even if you're not interested in flying with a low-cost carrier, you can still take advantage of competitive, lower-priced rates with legacy carriers that have dropped fares and introduced Basic Economy options to attract budget-minded flyers on the same routes.
Search both one-way and round-trip options to net the best deal.
While it may seem counterintuitive, it's a smart idea to search for round-trip fares to spot a deal. "Recently, I've found that multi-city tickets are often considerably more expensive than round-trips and even some one-way flights," Honig says. "Oftentimes, a round-trip flight is the most cost-effective option, especially when booking international travel or on business-heavy domestic routes," he explains. That said, it's always wise to compare pricing, "so if you're planning to book a round-trip or multi-city trip, consider pricing each leg out individually," he suggests.
Use credit card points wisely.
While seeking loyalty status can often help you vault into a higher room category, you won't necessarily land a deal, Leff says. On the other hand, stockpiling points with a cobranded travel credit card that gives you the flexibility to transfer points easily with partners can be a high-value rewards strategy. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt at a 1-to-1 rate, offering a great deal, Leff says. And with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you can also take advantage of a 1-to-1 transfer ratio with Marriott Rewards. On the other hand, American Express offers a 1-to-1.5 transfer rate with the Hilton Honors program, but a less lucrative transfer ratio with airline partners, so it pays to do your homework.
Keep your options open.
The broader the scope of your search, the greater your odds of getting a flight deal, Leff says. Search for routes in and out of alternative hubs, such as Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport rather than Miami International Airport or Baltimore-Washington International Airport instead of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Other airport swaps to consider are General Mitchell International Airport in nearby Milwaukee versus Chicago's Midway International Airport and Long Beach Airport rather than Los Angeles International Airport. Also, look for hubs offering a larger presence of low-cost carriers such as Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit to optimize savings. The only snag: These routes may be less convenient, so weigh the trade-offs of cost-savings versus comfort.
Decode whether you're getting a good room rate for a blind booking.
When you book with certain online travel agencies, such as Hotwire and Priceline, you can compare critical details such as the room rate, amenities and location, but there's a catch: You can't view the property name until you book. If you're the type of jetsetter who would prefer not to book in complete suspense, turn to trusty tools like Betterbidding.com and Biddingfortravel.com. Use the forum Betterbidding.com to arm yourself with information and resourceful details to make a better, more informed decision before you book, Leff explains.
Snag another guest's room at the last minute.
While it can be a risky move, if you've procrastinated booking a place to stay, you can try your luck a getting "another guest's canceled rooms by booking 48 to 72 hours out from your arrival time," Zimmern says. Because hotels tend to have a 24- to 72-hour cancellation window, by looking for rooms at this time, you may wind up with a significantly reduced rate. Still, if you're traveling on a whim and you don't want to use tools such as Roomer Travel or Cancelon, turn to the trusted, easy-to-use Hotel Tonight to secure a discounted room with a few taps on your touchscreen.
Download the right smartphone tools to secure the lowest rate.
Bason points to the app FinalPrice as a go-to tool for getting the lowest possible rate on hotels as well as flights and car rentals. While the service comes attached to a $99 annual membership fee, "they sell you the flights, hotels and rental cars at cost," he explains. "Selling at cost is impressive, but what they won't tell you is that by being a closed membership club they're also getting access to lower prices than other websites even before they would have marked them up," he explains. What that translates to is not just a good deal, but an exceptional one, he explains. Aside from hotels, you can secure rock-bottom rental car prices, he adds.
Be a status seeker to dodge extra hotel costs.
With elite status, in addition to reaping the rewards of coveted perks and privileges such as late checkout times and complimentary room upgrades, you can often circumvent hidden hotel charges, such as Wi-Fi access (typically $10 to $20, depending on the property) and breakfast fees. For example, Marriott Rewards Gold and Platinum elite members can take advantage of complimentary in-room internet connectivity, lounge access and breakfast for two. Meanwhile World of Hyatt Explorist and Globalist members can receive Club Lounge passes and room upgrades. Those in Hyatt's highest elite membership tier can even enjoy waived resort fees for award stays.
Shop at warehouse clubs – online.
If you love Costco or Sam's Club, add Boxed Hotels to your arsenal, Bason says. The wholesale retailer delivers "bulk products to you for the same or lower price than you’ll pay elsewhere," he explains. While the supplier doesn't sell rooms at cost – like Final Price – the service does not impose a membership fee, he adds. "I’ve found many of their prices to beat competing travel sites like Expedia and Priceline," he explains. What's more, you can filter your search by neighborhood, hotel rating, hotel name, price and other criteria, making the booking process less opaque and more straightforward.
Watch out for resort fees.
Pesky resort fees can translate to an extra $20 to $30 per night (in addition to tax) for your stay. To curtail extra unnecessary fees, before you book consult resources like ResortFeeChecker.com, where you can peruse imposed fees, compare amenities and scout our other prospective charges for your stay at more than 2,000 properties. Even better, you can research customer reviews before you commit to booking your stay to prevent sticker stock. Aside from resort fees, take stock of other potential charges for spa and pool usage, cleaning fees, rollaway bed fees and breakfast fees.
Transfer your points strategically.
By transferring flexible credit card reward points to partnering hotels and airline groups, you can reap rich rewards. For instance, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program allows cardholders to redeem points for award flights with United, British Airways and Singapore Airlines at a 1-to-1 transfer ratio. Meanwhile, the Citi ThankYou program enables cardholders to redeem ThankYou points at a 1-to-1 transfer ratio with Etihad, Air France and KLM, and even has a higher 1-to-1.5 transfer ratio with Hilton. Consider your travel goals and patterns before you transfer to partners to determine where you can get the most value from your points.
Look for inclusive offerings.
Say you know where you want to go and the types of amenities that are well-suited for your trip (think: a pool, a fitness center and versatile on-site dining choices). If you want to enjoy your vacation without sweating the pricing details, book an all-inclusive hotel or resort where all meals, entertainment, activities and accommodations are included in a fixed rate. You can easily slash costs, particularly if you're traveling with a big group, by booking a stay at an all-inclusive resort. For instance, if you're planning a trip with a family of four, you'll trim costs by staying at an affordable kid-friendly property that offers all-inclusive breakfasts and programming geared toward toddlers and preteens. Another perk for families: All-inclusive properties often offer free babysitting (read: free day care), helping you save a bundle and enjoy some adults-only downtime.
Sidestep foreign transaction fees.
While traveling abroad, stay vigilant of foreign transaction fees, typically a 3 percent charge tacked onto overseas credit card charges. Even when making a reservation on U.S.-based hotel-booking sites and property sites while traveling internationally, you can wind up with steep extra charges. To avoid this fee, invest in a travel rewards card that waives foreign transaction charges, which will not only help you net a lower-priced room, but also a reduced cost for all expenses on the card while traveling abroad.
Rely on the lowest currency for the lowest rate.
Book international flights in the local currency for the best price. For example, when searching for flights with the European-based Norwegian Air, you can score a better deal on the foreign travel site geared toward Norwegian flyers than the U.S. site. Keep tabs open in different browsers to compare pricing. Prior to purchasing your flight in Norwegian kroner ($1 U.S. dollar equals roughly 6.30 kroner), you'll want to ensure you understand the current value against the dollar and use tools like Google Translate to understand the terms and conditions. The same technique can apply when booking flights with the Chilean airline LAN Airlines when you book in Chilean pesos.
Search for flights with multiple airlines.
"It's often cheaper to fly out on one airline using one-way airfares and back on another airline. It might be cheaper flying out on Delta, for example, and back on United or Southwest," says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "One advantage of booking on online travel agencies such as Expedia or Priceline is that their websites and apps sell airfares that combine flights on different airlines to save money," he explains. But there is a caveat: "Southwest’s airfares appear only at Southwest.com and that Delta Air Lines does not appear on several popular travel apps and websites such as Hipmunk, FareCompare and Hopper," he says. Compare prices you see on third-party sites with your preferred carrier's site before you book to ensure you get the best price.
Keep your miles from expiring.
The last thing you want is for your hard-earned points and miles to go to waste. Avoid leaving unused points on the table – or worse, letting them vanish – by monitoring your earnings with tools such as Points.com, AwardWallet.com and TripIt. TripIt Pro offers a special points tracker tool for TripIt Pro members that enables you to receive an alert when points are at risk of expiring. Plus, with TripIt and Award Wallet, you can track a variety of programs on one platform. Even better, with AwardWallet.com, you can plug in details for multiple family members and pivot your rewards earning and redemption strategies accordingly.
Don't neglect hidden-city discounts.
You can land a deal by breaking the airline rules and searching for hidden-city flights, Leff says. A hidden-city flight, or a route with multiple legs where a flyer departs from the hub at the layover stop rather than staying on the plane until reaching the final destination, can result in deep discounts. However, there are a few noteworthy caveats. For one, you won't be able to check your bag. Second, you won't be able to collect frequent flyer miles (or elite-qualifying miles) on such routes, Leff adds. What's more, you're rolling the dice with getting rerouted to a different destination, Leff cautions. Still, if you're willing to take your chances, turn to the trusted tool Skiplagged, which shows consumers where to find hidden-city options to score "real, meaningful flight discounts," Bason explains.
Use a layover to score a two-for-one trip.
With a rising number of carriers offering a free stopover option, it's easy to tack on extra destinations to your trip – without blowing your budget. You could spend extra time in Helsinki, Reykjavik or Honolulu, without paying a lofty nonstop flight fare. Icelandair, for instance, offers a seven-night stopover option in Reykjavik, giving you the chance to soak in the iconic Blue Lagoon, before continuing onward to your final European destination at no additional cost. Meanwhile, Air Canada offers a free stopover in Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto for flights that are longer than six hours, and TAP Air Portugal offers a stopover in Lisbon for flights en route to Madeira, the Algarve or the Azores.
Skip paying steep hotel or airport parking fees.
Hotel parking fees – along with outrageous extra surcharges for early check-in, baggage-holding and minibar restocking – can tally up to a steep final bill. Instead of paying $25 to $30, consider parking at a nearby lot offering more cost-effective rates. The tool BestParking.com can point you to budget-friendly garages nearby. The same applies for parking at the airport. If you can, opt to use a ride-sharing service or public transit to dodge unnecessary costs and time in transit getting from the parking lot to your designated terminal.
Check-in on a Sunday.
"Like airlines, hotels have days that are typically best for lower pricing," Melchiorri says. While demand varies according to destination, time of year and other factors, generally one of the less-popular travel days is Sunday, he explains. "As large groups depart earlier in the morning, the hotel shifts gears for its standard business travelers arriving for the week. Try arriving at a hotel on a Sunday and save a few dollars on at least one night while rates are lower," he advises. On weekends (and less popular business travel times, like summer), you're also likely to get a better deal at business-friendly hotels and convention areas in destinations that cater to road warriors, such as Cleveland, Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas.
Book a midweek reservation.
If you have some flexibility, skip traveling over a peak-season weekend and instead plan a midweek trip, when demand dwindles and prices drop at top resort destinations. By visiting during the week, a less in-demand travel time for leisure visitors, you'll have added availability at the hotel's restaurants and facilities. Conversely, business-oriented destinations will see an uptick in visitors and a spike in nightly rates during the week, so plan accordingly. As a general rule of thumb when trying to snag a deal, plan to venture in the opposite direction of the majority of globetrotters. This means heading to business hubs on weekends and during less in-demand times of year for business and leisure destinations during the week.
Crack the hotel-booking code.
When researching prospective hotels, "check rates on the hotel's website," Melchiorri says, highlighting that in an effort to bolster direct bookings "all large chains are monitoring their traffic and want people to pay attention to promotions through discount codes." To unlock discounts and promotions, he advises typing the name of the hotel plus the word "code" on Google and other search engines to peruse "plenty of discounts, add-ons, day specials and coupons." While you're at it, consider using the browser extension Honey to your computer, which searches for discounts and identifies saving opportunities while you shop around online.
Watch hotel rates and keep looking for a better price.
Booking your flights and hotels at "magic" times to net the best rates is a travel myth, Hobica says. After all, fares and rates change frequently, he explains. Instead of trying to book a certain number of days out, rely on handy price-tracking tools like Tingo.com, he says. "Once you book a room on Tingo, the site monitors your room rate and automatically refunds to your credit card if the hotel lowers the price of your prebooked room," he explains. So, even if you've already booked your reservation, you don't have to sweat getting a better deal if there's a lower price available.
Shop around for flights.
With recent direct-booking campaigns from leading hotels, it may seem counterintuitive to browse other websites, but when it comes to finding cheap airfares, Hobica suggests clicking around. "I have seen many instances where an airfare was cheaper on a third-party online travel agency than on an airline's website," he says. "I recently saw fares on Delta for flights to Italy that were $200 cheaper if bought on Priceline than on Delta.com for the same flights and dates," he explains. Just make sure to keep the caveats in mind. For example, if you want to avoid dealing with tricky customer service issues with third-party site or ensure you collect Delta SkyMiles for award miles, the trade-off of a lower-priced ticket might not be worthwhile.
Don't forget about coupon codes, memberships and other discounts.
You can score significant savings on your hotel room with coupons. Search for current coupon listings on Coupon Sherpa and Coupons.com, which offer codes specifically for frugal-minded jetsetters. Aside from hotel rooms, you can score discounts on other travel-related costs, including airfare, car rentals, attractions and tours. Also, make sure to ask about hotel discounts available to AARP and AAA members, as well as government and military rates.
Dodge common (and costly) booking missteps.
"I often hear horror stories from travelers who booked flights on the wrong dates or spelled their name incorrectly during the ticketing process," Honig says. Avoid paying an exorbitant cancellation or change fee by staying vigilant in the booking process. "It's critical to review all confirmation emails immediately, since you can typically cancel flights or make a correction for free within 24 hours of booking," he says. Another pitfall that can translate to steep unexpected costs is inadvertently booking no-frills bare fares. "I'm surprised by the number of people who do wind up with Basic Economy fares accidentally," Leff says. The extra fees for services like checked bags can be a high penalty and are not well disclosed on online travel agencies, Leff cautions.
Delay booking a place to stay? Use procrastination to your advantage.
If you don't mind the suspense, you can often snap up enticing last-minute deals with tools such as Hotel Tonight and Secret Escapes. Hotel Tonight is especially useful if you're in a bind or planning a spontaneous trip, as you can snag rooms that are up to 70 percent off on the fly. Secret Escapes, a relative newcomer on the hotel-booking site scene, is helpful for pouncing on limited-time flash sales and searching for reduced rates in destinations that interest you most.
Bid for a better seat.
If you're willing to roll the dice, you can take your chances in the airline seat auction game and name your price for a premium-economy or business class-category seat. While the rules vary according to airline, most bidding windows are 24 to 72 hours before departure and allow you to bid for one higher class of service at a time. Use forums such as FlyerTalk to gauge successful bid prices before naming a price. And before you place your bid to score an upgrade at a cheap cost, consider whether the price you're willing to pay really translates to a good deal, based on your route and fare class. Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, Qantas and Lufthansa are just a few airlines that use the popular bidding platform Plusgrade to give travelers the chance to land a better seat.
Keep looking for the lowest price – after you've purchased your plane tickets.
Even if you've already locked in an enticing deal, you can still snag a better price. Flight-monitoring tools like Yapta.com (and its smartphone app) help you stay in the know to ensure you secure the best rate, even after you've booked your flight. Here's how it works: Once you enroll, you can punch in a few key details about your flight and Yapta will search for fare drops before and after you book. If Yapta identifies a lower fare, it will send you a refund alert to help you claim a refund (or travel voucher) from the airline. Aside from Yapta, online travel agencies aim to deliver consumers the best price.
Plan an off-season getaway.
If you're not in a time-crunch and you have the flexibility to travel during the shoulder season, you can take advantage of still-pleasant weather conditions and reduced crowds – and prices. For example, instead of traveling to Europe in spring and summer, plan a winter getaway for the best airfares and epic hotel steals. And if you're pining for a tropical getaway during the holiday rush, opt for a vacation during the first two weeks of December or mid-January for better accommodation rates. Conversely, if you're craving a fresh air and mountain scenery, opt to visit popular destinations in Vermont and Colorado in summer for off-peak prices, rather than during the height of ski season.
Make your voice heard to secure promotions and discounts.
If you're looking for a bargain, sometimes it pays to "call the hotel directly," Zimmern says. He suggests asking to speak to a manager to check if there's a lower rate available than the one listed on the web. Don't contact the company's reservation hotline or call center, but rather engage with a manager and mention any discounts, AAA promotions and specials available. Just make sure to inquire about the hotel cancellation policy before you book. Another easy cost-saving trick to employ during the hotel-booking process is to use handy resources like goSeek.com, which enables you to customize your search to scan for possible discounts, including senior citizen promotions and military rates.
Clear your cookies.
Prevent your search history from making you pay more for airfare by clearing your cache on your computer prior to conducting multiple flight searches. That way, you'll ensure airlines and travel-booking sites aren't monitoring your travel patterns to serve hiked prices based on your IP address. While there's no airtight proof verifying that major airlines are tracking user behavior, it's a smart idea to give yourself a competitive advantage by searching for flights in private mode on Safari, Chrome and Firefox. While some experts contest that search history isn't plausibly being tracked or a factor in frequent airfare fluctuations, it can't hurt to compare pricing.
Make award reservations far in advance to dodge ticketing fees.
As tempting as it may be to book an award vacation with hard-earned points on a whim, don't forget that booking travel at last-minute comes attached to a fee. For example, if you're not a premium elite-status member with United, booking a MileagePlus award ticket with the help of an agent requires a $75 close-in booking fee if you purchase 21 days or less prior to your departure date. American similarly imposes a $75 processing charge for award reservations made less than 21 days from departure that's only waived for high elite status tiers. Delta loyalists, on the upside, have the benefit of no ticketing fees for bookings made within 21 days of departure. To stay prepared, familiarize yourself with award booking rules, and look for seats well in advance to bypass unnecessary fees.
If you have elite status, use same-day ticket changes to your advantage.
From checked baggage fees to in-flight snack charges to seat selection fees, it's no secret airlines impose a variety of extra, often unanticipated fees. But while many major carriers impose steep same-day ticket change charges – American, United and Delta charge $75 same-day change fees, and JetBlue charges $50 for same-day changes – there is a clever way to leverage same-day changes to optimize savings on a whim. If you have elite status with United, American or Delta – or you carry a cobranded credit card – same-day ticket change fees are waived. So, you can purchase a lower-priced ticket for your desired route, and if there's availability, change your ticket the day-of to a more desirable seat and flight option without paying a premium.
Avoid cancellation fees.
Flight cancellation charges can add up quickly – and vary according to company policy – but there are a few clever ways to avoid paying these extras when you need to pivot or postpone your plans. If you need to switch your flight, don't discount the 24-hour booking rule. The U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that flyers are entitled to a full refund within 24 hours of purchasing a ticket with a domestic carrier. However, there is a snag: You must buy your ticket more than a week prior to your departure date for the policy to be eligible and some carrier policies require consumers to book refundable fares, so read the fine print. Stay prepared by familiarizing yourself with individual airline policies to avoid sticker shock in the event you need to tweak your itinerary. JetBlue, for instance, imposes cancellation fees based on the fare category 60 days ahead of departure days; nonrefundable fares priced at $150 or more require a $150 cancellation fee in addition to the difference in ticket price.
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