How to Find Great Deals on Vacation and Travel

My wife and I have begun to explore the idea of taking a trip later this year. We’re in the preliminary stages of our research and budgeting. Though we aren’t ready to book anything yet, it’s fun to look at what’s available, and to dream of where we might go.

Over the weekend, I polled my followers on Twitter to ask their advice for finding great travel deals. Here are some of the tips and websites they recommended. I’m sure I’ll refer to this list often in the coming months.

Kayak is a travel site that allows users to find deals on flights, hotels, cruises, and more. More people suggested this site to me than any other. @k3n85 reports that he’s had good luck with Kayak’s deals section. And I have to say: a $649 6-night trip to London, Paris, and Rome (including airfare and lodging!) sounds like a bargain. I love Kayak’s bare-bones user-interface. It’s refreshing.

If you live in Europe, check out eDreams, an internet travel agency based in Spain. @yabby75 reports having good luck with it.

@bargainr wrote: “Travelzoo rules!” Travelzoo claims to be the largest publisher of travel deals on the internet, and they aim to only offer deals with “true value”. Travelzoo features a section of last-minute deals and specials, and every week it posts its list of top 20 deals.

@MillionMommyND says that for a budget vacation that is less expensive and more comfortable than a hotel, Vacation Rentals by Owner is a good option. For each available rental, you can view photos, read about features, and look at reader reviews. This site intrigues me — a lot. Kris and I just may end up spending time at this home in Steeple Ashton in western England.

Meanwhile, @sheisbliss offers similar advice, writing: “We’re looking at renting an apartment in Cannes instead of getting a hotel room. Apartments can be €350 per week. Hotels cost much more.”

You might also consider a home exchange with another vacationing family. You can broker these sorts of deals through sites like HomeLink and HomeExchange.

@FredPeters wrote: “If you like to travel a lot, I recommend Airfare Watchdog and Rick Steves‘ site.”

Airfare Watchdog allows you to receive daily or weekly e-mail updates about travel between destinations you choose. (My first e-mail included a $98 round-trip from Portland to Baltimore.) The site features its top 50 fares of the day, as well as a special fare of the day. You can even read the Airfaire Watchblog to keep up-to-date on the latest deals.

Rick Steves is a travel guru who is featured prominently on public broadcasting, both television and radio. His advice is down-to-earth and geared toward folks who want to experience Europe “through the back door”.

@boeckhol has some advice for young adults. She writes: “If you are in school, Student Universe is usually the best deal for airfare.” These deals apply not only to college students, but also to faculty. On a similar note, @joetheprophet just got back from a trip to Europe through EF College Break, and he recommends the company.

A recent New York Times article offered some great tips for saving on airfare, even after you book your tickets. The article mentioned a site called Yapta, which will automatically watch to make sure you’re getting the best deal:

Using your confirmation number, will automatically track the price of your ticket, taking the airline’s fees into consideration. If the price drop exceeds the fee, Yapta will send you, without charge, an e-mail message or Twitter alert notifying you of the refund. You can then call the airline to claim the credit or pay $15 to have Yapta do it for you on weekdays.

Yapta is basically PriceProtectr for air travel.

@glenstansberry pointed me to VacationsToGo, which offers discounts on cruises. I’m not a huge fan of cruises (I’d rather spend my time out and about, not cooped up in a water-borne hotel), but I’ll admit that this cruise from Miami down the east coast of South America to Antarctica (and then back up the west coast of South America) sounds like a fantastic trip. Would I rather have a dream vacation or a Mini Cooper? Tough call.

Richard F., a veteran of many cruises, shared the following tip via e-mail:

Our upcoming Alaska cruise was base priced at $399 a week, leaving from Vancouver. We discovered it was cheaper to do the return leg, from Whittier (outside Anchorage) back to Vancouver, than it would have been book a flight from Anchorage to Vancouver. So we’re taking two weeks, the second retracing our steps. These are the best prices we’ve seen for cruises in years.

Though I’m usually not a cruise kind of guy, I might consider one if the costs were low enough. Here are some additional travel tips shared by Get Rich Slowly readers:

  • @HungoverGourmet has a great tip for budgeting for vacation: “Anything we sell on eBay, Amazon or goes right into our vacation fund. Amazing how fast it adds up.”
  • @The_Weakonomist recommends getting direct quotes from resorts and then asking travel agents to beat the prices. “They will,” he says.
  • @dysleeper wrote with this advice: “Camping, camping, camping! For the price of about two nights in a hotel, you can buy most of the gear for camping, which only costs about $25 per night. Also, you can save a bunch of money while camping because you can buy groceries and make regular food instead of eating out every meal.”
  • @centsiblelife says that some credit cards offer special deals. For example, she says that American Express offer the third night free (though I’m going to have to figure out what she means by this — or maybe she’ll tell us in the comments!). She also recommends checking multiple sites for airport deals. It never hurts to shop around!
  • @FiscalFizzle recommends planning two or more alternative vacations at the same time: “Prices change, and your original idea may get too expensive to do.” This is good advice. If you have two or three options, you can book the best deal when you’ve finally saved enough to travel.

While the information I’ve collected here is useful to a novice like me, it’s probably too basic for anyone who travels often. If you’re interested in advanced travel information, visit my pal Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity. It’s his goal to visit every country on Earth by 2013. Chris has produced two fantastic e-books based on his experiences:

It’s fun to play with these travel sites and to dream of where I might go: England, Antarctica, Australia. But to be honest, the more I think about it, the more appealing it sounds to just book a cheap rental home on the Oregon Coast. The important part of the vacation is spending time alone with my wife, not luxury hotels and fancy restaurants.

Do you have tips for finding great travel deals? Are there websites you swear by? What are your favorite vacation ideas? How often do you travel, and where do you go? What tips can you offer to GRS readers?

Note: If you’d like to help build future Get Rich Slowly posts, follow me on Twitter. I also tweet about personal finance stories I discover (and a little about my daily life).
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