Travel is back – with airports full of sardines and cushioned seats, despite COVID-19 masking and testing requirements for international travellers. At least, that’s what I thought when I took a trip to Spain via Chicago last March.
Nearly a month later, the picture of what travel will look like for the rest of 2022 is becoming clearer. The immediate future of travel is expensive. At least in the United States, the the mask mandate is essentially no more – but airline cancellations and delays are skyrocketing, along with fuel costs. These rising prices will affect road trips as well as flights. In fact, airline ticket prices rose 10.7% in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The rebound in travel comes at a time when inflation has reached its highest level since 1981. Escalating gas prices around the world are exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Food costs are also higher (some warn of a global shortage of wheat as a result of the conflict), and global economies are understaffed due to the pandemic.
Still, 85% of Americans expect to travel this summer, according to the US Travel Association. If you’re one of them, you’ll want to use every tool you have to cut costs, whether you’re jumping in a car, boat, or plane. Here’s how to save on travel despite escalation fees.
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Take advantage of COVID-era booking flexibility
Many COVID-related changes for airlines and hotels are here to stay. “Airlines have mostly scrapped punitive change fees that have been a longtime frustration for travelers,” said Scott Mayerowitz, editor of CNET’s sister site The Points Guy.
Now, most major airlines will allow you to change a flight without incurring a fee to most domestic, Caribbean and Mexican destinations. Change fees, however, will still largely apply to international flights, Mayerowitz said, so keep that in mind if you plan to travel further overseas.
The same applies to flights booked with miles. Airlines used to charge mile deposit fees, Mayerowitz said. Now you can book a flight directly with an airline using points and cancel without penalty.
This massive waiver of change fees can be an opportunity to save money, longtime globetrotter Stephanie Zito said in an email. “Book early when tickets are cheaper,” she said. “Then modify or cancel if your plans change. If there’s a price drop on what you’ve booked, you can always cancel and rebook” at a lower price.
Basic economy is cheaper, but think twice before booking
As scheduled flights are becoming easier to change or cancel due to COVID, basic economy class tickets are becoming more restrictive. Basic economy tickets usually offer the lowest upfront prices, but they lack flexibility — you can’t reschedule or cancel at all — and they charge extra for almost everything from bringing carry-on baggage choice of seat. And you will probably be one of the last passengers to board the plane.
It is important to keep this in mind because most booking portals, including those of airlines and credit card loyalty programs, will show you basic economic options first, sometimes stealthily. You might think you’re getting a bargain, but if you read the fine print on this fare – as you always should with any travel booking – you’ll find that you’re painting yourself in an option that could cost more than you negotiated at the end.
A quick search for flights from Austin, TX to Amsterdam in April on Kayak and Expedia showed me round-trip options between $560 and $612, which seemed pretty good for this itinerary. But it was only after I have selected tickets with all restrictions disclosed. When I chose the standard economy option, the cost of the same trip jumped hundreds of dollars to $842 at both sites.
Travelers should do their research first and be comfortable with the restrictions they accept. If you need to be flexible with your dates and can afford the extra cost of standard tickets, this may be better value in the long run.
Pack strategically to save money (yes, really)
Can the way you pack save you money? Absolutely, although it depends on the situation.
If you’re flying on an airline where you’re not a frequent flyer member, packing everything you need in a carry-on bag could save you up to $30 per traveler for each leg of the trip. If you’re checking baggage, doubling the volume so that a large suitcase can fit two people’s clothes (especially if you’re part of a family group) can cut your total costs in that department in half.
While some airlines, like Delta, are experimenting with waiving baggage fees to reduce delays, low-cost airline Frontier has lowered its weight limit for checked bags from 50 pounds to 40 pounds – the airline standard. industry. In this case, packing less could save you more.
(Remember, many airline credit cards offer at least one free checked bag, as well as priority boarding, as part of their benefits.)
Keep in mind when checking baggage that you run the risk of processing unexpected delays and lost baggage — and in the worst case, a night without your suitcase.
You might want to pack more snacks, extra days of medication and a change of clothes in your carry-on, Mayerowitz suggested, in case your flight is canceled or your plans change.
“Airlines are making very big schedule changes today” and restaurants are not yet full in many places, he said: “As a traveler, you just have to be prepared for all sorts of things. scenarios.” While some airlines will reimburse you for basic necessities in some circumstances you will be largely on your own for food, toiletries and extra comfort.
Swap those dots you been sitting on
Thousands of travelers have not gone on a trip since the start of the pandemic. If you’re one of them, tapping into reserves now is an easy way to save some cash.
“There’s just a huge stash of unused points and miles there,” Mayerowitz said. How much? Travelers had accumulated more than 27 billion unused miles at the end of 2020, according to a ValuePenguin study.
“I think the cost of flying in cash is rebounding a bit faster than the cost in points,” said Emily Sherman, editor of the education site Optimal and self-proclaimed point-and-mile travel fanatic. “The cost of flying in points is often more affordable than cash, and you won’t feel the sting of the charge on your account,” Sherman said in an email.
Not all point structures are the same, and the longer the flight, generally the more points it costs. Still, tapping into your point pool could help lower the overall cost of travel while saving for your next trip.
Join your favorite hotel’s membership club
Enrolling in a hotel loyalty program — like Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, or World of Hyatt — can save you money in the long run in several ways. Remember, these are bonuses that add up. I’m not talking about room upgrades, although those are always nice. Benefits such as free faster Wi-Fi, free breakfast, late check-out and additional bonus points have equivalent monetary value.
Taking the family on a five-day trip now can help you earn a free night later in the year. And a room that gives you a 4 p.m. checkout instead of the usual 12 p.m. can save you money by using hotel amenities longer before a late flight, versus finding other activities to occupy your time before heading to the airport.
Joining hotel loyalty programs is free and they usually offer discounted rates or guaranteed lowest prices to their members, but you’ll need to book directly with the hotel to reap the benefits. Use a brand hotel credit card when booking directly with a hotel can help you advance your rewards and savings even further.
Keep in mind that benefits may vary by hotel chain and individual property. You are therefore not guaranteed to benefit from all the advantages each time you travel.
Say yes to alternative destinations — and low season
While millions of travelers stayed put during the first two years of the pandemic, many popular destinations that were sinking under the weight of tourist overcrowding – also known as overtourism – had the chance to rethink their approach to vis -towards visitors. Cruise ships have now been officially banned from historic downtown Venice in Italy. Barcelona, Spain has banned short-term private room rentals. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has banned new hotels and souvenir shops in the city center. Other places like Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Machu Picchu, Peru, are taking similar steps in response to the potential massive return of tourists.
Choosing alternative destinations, traveling within the country, and taking trips during the so-called shoulder season – the period between high and low season – is a proven way to reduce money outflows while you explore or you relax.
Tools like Hopper and Google Flights can help find great deals in unexpected destinations, said Sherman, the avid points collector. “It’s amazing how much you can save by traveling outside of the normal tourist season,” she said, “and there’s usually still plenty to do at your destination.”
Whether you’re traveling domestically or planning to branch out further, be sure to stay up to date on travel restrictions to avoid unexpected obstacles. If you fear uncertainty when planning a trip, you may want to consider travel insurancewhich you can purchase as a standalone policy or go through a travel credit card. This can give you some peace of mind while protecting you financially.