Kick these habits to the curb.
Let's be honest: Organizing a cost-effective trip can feel like an overwhelming task. Even if you've mastered pro tricks for scoring discounted flights and room rates and devised a well-thought-out travel budget, scaling back costs isn't always stress-free – or attainable. Sure, experts can recommend the right times to book your tickets and list favorable (and cheap) places to travel for the best prices, but it's up to you to put these tips into practice. Maybe you're a spur-of-the-moment adventure-seeker who aims to clinch the best deals by waiting until the last minute for prices to drop. Or perhaps you're a careful planner who always reserves flights months in advance. Are these habits optimizing savings or derailing your chances of cutting costs? We spoke with experts to identify common travel mistakes that can make the difference between a pricey or budget-minded getaway. Banish these bad habits to save time and money on your next trip.
Booking too late … or too early
A common mistake travelers make is reserving their flights too far in advance in the hope of securing the lowest prices. "The ideal window of booking is around 55 days before you fly," says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor in chief of Budget Travel. "It's tempting to think that fares are lower if you buy even earlier, but the truth is, airfares are released months before a flight, and they remain flat and relatively high until about two months prior to the flight, at which time airlines start adjusting based on supply and demand," he explains. Still, procrastinating is not going to yield the greatest savings either, he cautions, pointing out that within two or three weeks of a desired departure date, fares can spike as the number of available seats starts to decrease.
Forgetting to factor in roaming fees
When traveling abroad, it's easy to dismiss roaming fees. But with steep prices attached to texting, calling and using international data roaming, it's essential to take precautions, says Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of Orbitz.com. While it may seem costly to invest in an international plan, it's much less expensive than waiting until you're abroad, she says. For example, Verizon offers a data package plan called TravelPass that allows you to call, use data and text for a $10 daily fee ($2 in Canada and Mexico). Meanwhile, AT&T offers international roaming packages, known as Passport packages, that last for 30 days, starting at $30 with 120 MB of storage. To better understand what's available under your current plan and what packages might be ideal for your travel needs, call your carrier and familiarize yourself with costs ahead of time, Tornatore says.
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Getting hit with credit and currency charges
It's key to contact your credit card companies to avoid paying high transaction charges. "Before you leave, do a little research on the credit cards that you're using," Tornatore says, emphasizing that some travel credit cards have the benefit of zero foreign transaction fees. And when it comes to exchanging your currency, Tornatore advocates "doing the math ahead of time" to avoid overpaying, especially if you're hopping to multiple countries with different exchange rates. And rather than converting money at the airport upon arrival, it's a smart idea to exchange currency at an international ATM or partner bank abroad that offers a low foreign transaction fee.
Going too far off the beaten path
Choosing to stay somewhere that's miles away from your vacation site can seem like a smart way to save money, but it's a "costly habit masquerading as thriftiness," Firpo-Cappiello says. For instance, you may think booking a room in Oakland, California, rather than San Francisco is an ideal way to cut costs, but you'll spend unnecessary time and money on rail transit or driving, he explains. The same would apply to staying in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan in New York, he adds. Instead, look for cost-effective lodging options near the points of interest on your itinerary to maximize savings.
Failing to do your homework before booking
"Make a quick call to your auto insurance agent, and find out exactly what coverage you have when you rent a car in the U.S. or overseas," Firpo-Cappiello says, pointing out that a busy car rental counter at the airport is not an ideal place to narrow down your insurance options. For example, if you're planning to pick up a set of wheels in Mexico, keep in mind that "you are required by law to purchase insurance from the rental company," Firpo-Cappiello says, emphasizing that the prices you may see advertised (as low as $10 per day) don't always include the government-mandated insurance.
It's also important to compare pricing for gas mileage versus flights, Tornatore says. The same applies to ride-sharing services. "Don't just assume that it will be cheaper to book a taxi," she says, pointing out that "it might be cheaper to [rent] a car," and the type of vehicle you choose, such as aconvertible versus a minivan, can make a big difference, too.
Staying loyal to one brand
"Sure, loyalty and rewards programs can save you money, and the comfort and predictability of a chain or airline you love can be just what you need sometimes," Firpo-Cappiello says. However, if you're only loyal to one, you may miss flash promotions, he cautions. He recommends checking out hacker fares, available through aggregators like Hopper and Kayak, which allow you "to fly on one airline to a destination and a different airline home, often with nice savings." Tornatore, meanwhile, recommends scanning for promo codes, which can allow you to slash 10 to 20 percent off your trip.
Skipping travel insurance
Even if you're on a tight budget, travel insurance can be a worthwhile investment, Tornatore says. She recommends factoring in a few variables, such as the cost of your trip, the time of year you're traveling and the types of insurance you might need. The top mistake is neglecting to read the restrictions associated with different policies, she explains. For example, there are some premium insurance options that allow cancellation for any reason, but even these types of policies don't always include unforeseen weather events like hurricanes, she adds. It's also critical to evaluate cost. If you're splurging on a long European vacation that costs thousands of dollars, it's worthwhile to invest in insurance, she says.
Overlooking small towns and failing to dine locally
A costly habit to kick is overlooking small towns in favor of big cities, Firpo-Cappiello says. "Instead of maintaining a big city or bust" trip-planning focus, Firpo-Cappiello suggests considering a trip to America's charming towns, including Berlin, Maryland; Lititz, Pennsylvania; and Grand Marais, Minnesota, which "can be as rewarding as any big-city blowout," he adds. It's also a smart idea to shop locally and eat locally to save money rather than checking out chain restaurants, Tornatore says, pointing out that tucked-away eateries in less-frequented areas rather than metropolitan hubs tend to be more authentic and less expensive.
Carrying an overweight bag through the airport can be exhausting and expensive, Tornatore says. After all, baggage fees can range from $20 for checking a bag to more than $70 for checking oversized bags, depending on the carrier. Pack light to avoid paying a hefty fee.