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, Yapta.com 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 Half.com 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 web sites 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).
More about...Planning, Travel

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
56 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

Don’t forget about old-fashioned travel agents! My wife and I priced out a vacation this month online and managed to find a great deal. Then, on a whim, we called a travel agent to see if she could compete with the package we found online. She beat it by over $200. Not bad!

I’m a huge fan of Kayak too, by the way.

Scott Shaver
Scott Shaver
7 years ago
Reply to  Writer's Coin

As a travel agency owner, I was very happy to see your comment about using a travel agent. People have been miss lead for so many years, that booking online is cheaper than using a travel agent. I am not going to lie, sometimes it is cheaper to book online. However, my words of advice would be to always check with your local travel agency first, get a price quote from them, then compare! If it’s cheaper online any good travel agent will at the very least match the price, and many times beat it. We will always beat the… Read more »

Dotty
Dotty
11 years ago

Hmm… don’t forget the costs associated with booking a hotel. My friends swear by Priceline.com – I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to this July. It’s an American website that you can use to “bid” on hotels. You indicate where you’d like to go, when you plan on being there, how much you’re willing to pay, and for what kind of hotel. Let’s say: New York, July 8 – 10th, $50, four-star hotel. The website will match you up with a hotel with those specifications and for that price. The catch is that once you’ve made your bid, you… Read more »

Baker @ ManVsDebt
Baker @ ManVsDebt
11 years ago

Wow, there are a lot of sites above that I haven’t tried yet, but surely will. My wife and I love to travel and are relocating to Australia in June. We got a killer deal on our airfare, but constantly monitoring the Qantas website. They ran a great special to roll-out a new airbus-type of plane. We had to buy the tickets over 6 months in advance, but we couldn’t pass them up at around 35-40% of regular fare!

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
11 years ago

I’d recommend that if one is a Costco / Sams Club / big discount warehouse member that they look into the travel services those places provide. We booked a cruise through Costco travel that was comparatively cheap, Costco bought us some very nice packages as a thank you for using them, and they comp your travel insurance in case you lose stuff (hey, its 50 bucks…)

RJ Weiss
RJ Weiss
11 years ago

Kayak has treated me well. Going down to the Caribbean from Chicago for under $300 round trip.

Also, Priceline has saved me a lot of money. It’s also the most exciting to use.

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor
11 years ago

I don’t pay for airfare. I buy everything (even my rent) with debit card or credit card to earn miles. I am leaving soon for the Philippines, round trip ticket from USA – $27.50 all taxes & fees included! I mainly travel to third world countries, where lodging is 90%-95% cheaper than in USA, Europe, etc., and meals also are usually around $1-$2, again around 90% discount to wealthy countries. Taxis, transport, everything is about 90% cheaper. It is substantially more frugal to travel Asia, Latin America, & Africa than to take vacation in wealthy parts of the world even… Read more »

savvy
savvy
11 years ago

If you’re someone who travels a lot (several vacations per year) and likes to stay in fairly nice accomodations, a timeshare can actually be a good value. You can buy a resale (vs new from the developer) for a few thousand dollars and you’ll break even in two years or so.

Pramod
Pramod
11 years ago

As JerichoHill said Costco has travel portal @ costcotravel.com
you can follow it @http://twitter.com/Costco_Travel also..

the weakonomist
the weakonomist
11 years ago

Thanks for showing my tweet JD. I’ll add a little here: My fiance and I are currently planning a honeymoon to either Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. Each time we scope out a resort and get a quote, our travel agent is able to get us there and keep us there for cheaper. She knows the management at the resorts and will also call them the day you arive and the day you leave to make sure everyone goes well. It’s a fantastic personable experience that I would gladly pay for, but I don’t pay the agent at all (directly… Read more »

Sean L
Sean L
11 years ago

VRBO is great. We’ve stayed in a condo directly on a bay in Mexico a year ago and we are going to be staying on a condo on the Big Island (Hawaii) in 2 weeks.

I would look into renting a condo if you are going to be staying in the same place for a while. The prices are good, plus having a kitchen really helps.

Carolyn
Carolyn
11 years ago

I worked on a cruise ship that traveled throughout South America and Antarctica…probably the best experience so far! If you take a cruise I highly recommend making sure you put extra money aside to take the shore excursions through the ship or ones you book yourself. Excursions are what make your trip and the ones in South America are pretty amazing. If you’re a fan of wildlife and nature with a little city thrown in this is the best cruise to take. Nothing I’ve ever seen compares to Antarctica (I plan on heading back in a few years for an… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
11 years ago

Hey JD, thanks for including my comment! I am really glad you posted about this topic since I am planning on joining my husband on a business trip in June to San Francisco. I found that AMEX offers your 3rd night free on select hotels in select cities. Through the SanFran Vistors site I found a handful that I can choose from. Since the travel industry is hurting right now I imagine we’ll see more deals like this over the next few months. Check with any credit cards or memberships you have before you book elsewhere. I have another tip… Read more »

Nancy
Nancy
11 years ago

I love http://www.sidestep.com for when I start looking at airfares. It lets you easily compare prices from all sorts of websites (i.e. the airlines, Priceline, Orbitz, etc.), so you have a sense of where to find the best prices.

Kathleen
Kathleen
11 years ago

I have two kids, and my favorite place to look for family travel bargains is the deals blog at wejustgotback.com (http://blog.wejustgotback.com). Wejustgotback.com often recommendeds Travel Ticker for great deals. I have been lucky with the “Hotels Under a Hundred” page, where every hotel costs less than $100 a night. (http://www.travel-ticker.com/Theme/Hotels_Under_a_Hundred) Awesome.

Betsy Wuebker
Betsy Wuebker
11 years ago

Our goals are income diversification and eventual location independence. With those in mind, we’ve recently made a couple of opportune travel-related moves: 1. We’ve affiliated with a network and launched a side business specifically to save money on our own travel and offer the savings to others via our booking site. Anyone can also affiliate and then receive commissions for booked (non-airfare – airlines no longer pay commissions)travel. This is a great option for individuals or businesses. 2. We purchased for ourselves and also offer for sale: an affordable membership in a wholesale travel club that offers over 200 pre-planned… Read more »

Kim
Kim
11 years ago

I am also going to recommend Sidestep. I did a comparison between that and Kayak and found Sidestep to offer better deals. It’s the first place I look for airline deals!

Jeff
Jeff
11 years ago

I also like using Kayak because you can set up an alerts e-mail. If you’re thinking about going somewhere but don’t have any timeframe in mind, just set it up to send you low price notifications between your airport and your destination.

I have seen the price of identical flights fluctuate by as much as $200 round trip from one day to the next, so it’s a useful tool!

Steph
Steph
11 years ago

Ooh, yes, the Oregon Coast. When I drove from Los Angeles to British Columbia a few years ago I decided to go the slow route up the coast. The Oregon Coast absolutely charmed me, though I didn’t get to stay there as I was staying with friends who lived a bit inland. The drive, though, was just beautiful. If you need any further reasons for vacationing close to home, consider the hassle factor. No flights, no security checks, no TSA, no unpacking your luggage in public, no customs agents, no spending 20% of your vacation sitting in cramped seats with… Read more »

Jessica the hedgehog
Jessica the hedgehog
11 years ago

Thanks for this article! My fiance and I are avid travelers. In 2005 (after saving diligently for 2 years), we quit our jobs and sold everything we owned to travel around-the-world for 18 months. Since returning home we’ve continued to travel internationally several times each year (and write about all our adventures on HedgehogsWithoutBorders.com). But there are a few sites mentioned in your post above that we haven’t seen before (there’s always more to learn!), and they’ll definitely come in handy for us. 🙂 (I stumbled across your website a few weeks ago and have been enjoying it tremendously as… Read more »

Anne
Anne
11 years ago

I have never used one personally but I do agree with WritersCoin in #1. I use a travel agent exclusively through work and she often beats what I can find online. Even if the price is the same she can usually get a better itinerary. It’s worth considering a travel agent, especially if you have a complicated plan in mind or are totally unfamiliar with the area you’re visiting. Also, don’t forget about any special affinity groups or that sort of thing you’re involved in. Some Chinese friends of my dad’s were studying here and wanted to do some touristy… Read more »

Aman@BullsBattleBears
11 years ago

I always look at those sites like Orbitz/Travelocity to find the flight/airline that works for me. Then I go to the actual airline website and try to get the same flight. 9 times out of 10 I find a price that is $5 or more cheaper.

Jess
Jess
11 years ago

<3 EF College Break! I promoted for them in college and took a trip to Thailand for New Year’s Eve this year… Epic!

They are an awesome, reliable company with great people and great opportunities to travel on a college budget. For you college kids reading this – find out if there’s a Campus Manager at your school and get in touch!

Jesse
Jesse
11 years ago

I also have to suggest farecast.com. I don’t know if it offers the cheapest prices around, but it does analyze historic date and tell you whether the price for you destination/booking date is likely to go up or down in the near future. How far in advance you purchase your ticket matters, but in ways that may not be obvious – it is a “U” shaped curve and I think the shape of the “U” varies by destination

Bon
Bon
11 years ago

Rental Cars: 1) Use Hotwire — a car is a car is a car, so hotwire is definitely the best way to go for the US. 2) If you really care about a brand, google “rental car codes” and you will easily find good promo codes for free Hotels: There is a way to “game” Hotwire so that you can figure out which hotel you will get before you book it, but I’m not sharing because I don’t want them to take it away 🙂 (but its not too hard to figure out!) Airfare: Kayak, don’t waste your time anywhere… Read more »

In the Money
In the Money
11 years ago

Travelzoo is great! They send out a list of top 20 deals every week and let you know when there are cheap flights as well.

Yapta works well too. My friend recently saved money when he saw that prices got cheaper for his flight and called the airline to get the difference credited to his account.

Zink
Zink
11 years ago

I’m with Aman (#21) on using the “deals” websites to find the flight I like then use the airline’s site itself to buy.

I just did a quick comparo of Kayak, Expedia, and the airline for a trip I already booked (about a month out). Kayak was about $30 more than Expedia, which was $20 more than going through the airline itself. Of course that’s just one example, and it probably varies with when and where you’re going, etc., but I guess I’ll stick with my current method.

kick_push
kick_push
11 years ago

kayak looks interesting.. might have to check that out

i usually go through travelocity

Krystal
Krystal
11 years ago

Although I have not tried the sites listed above, we are all familiar with the sites like priceline and travelocity. I have worked in the hotel industry and I know from experience that when booked with some of these sites, you cannot guarantee a smoke-free, or 2 queen bed rather than 1 king bed room. My advice? Call the hotel directly, ask them for their rates and specials. I have ALWAYS received the cheapest rate when calling directly (with larger hotels), regardless of what website I was looking for a “deal” on. However, I can’t vouch for airfare. I have… Read more »

Krystal
Krystal
11 years ago

To piggy back my last quote… I also tend not to obsess over price of hotel and airline as much. When traveling, I have made it an obsessive habit of eating very very cheap (except for one or two nice meals) and booking rooms that have kitchenettes or the like so I can grocery shop for breakfast and lunch items, and then buy dinner. I took a red-eye from Seattle to NYC for Thanksgiving, just to save money. NEVER EVER AGAIN! My sleep schedule was worse than coming back or going to Eastern Europe. I will spend the extra $100… Read more »

DollarDream$
DollarDream$
11 years ago

I will second Priceline !

Its a great website to save a ton on hotel prices. I have been using them for last 3 years and I have saved hundreds of dollars by bidding my own price.

Shelly
Shelly
11 years ago

Discover card is running a 5% cashback through today on travel purchases up to $800 if you register for it. Having just checked prices yesterday for a two week trip, the car rental discount I’m getting through Costco is beating anything on the web with the exception of one company that I’ve never heard of and am not willing to take a chance on. For airfare, Kayak.com came through for us yet again. I really love their graph showing the price of airfare over the course of a month, so you can book at the lowest rate if you’re flexible… Read more »

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

Just a comment on JD’s comment on cruises: “I’d rather spend my time out and about, not cooped up in a water-borne hotel” I’d suggest you might want to look into a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean – you basically spend all day on an island, go back to the boat at the end of the day for a nice dinner, then wake up the next morning at a new island. Having your water-borne hotel move to your new location while you sleep is an amazing way to see different locales without all the hassle of packing each day, hopping… Read more »

Leah
Leah
11 years ago

Like others here, I’ve also used a travel agent to secure good airfare. My other big thing is to directly check airline websites. One thing no one has mentioned yet is figuring our what to do once you get to a place. For me, fancy lodging isn’t necessary, so I go for a hostel. Not many people know it, but lots of hostels offer rooms with just one or two beds, so you don’t have to stay in a dorm room. Sometimes, you still have to share the bathroom, but you sometimes get that in small European hotels as well.… Read more »

Kira
Kira
11 years ago

VRBO is great. My husband and I recently stayed in a beautifully-decorated flat in historic Savannah for MUCH cheaper than a hotel in the same area. Plus it had a kitchen so we saved a lot of money on food.

partgypsy
partgypsy
11 years ago

I second Dave’s comment about cruises, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. My Dad took our whole family on a Carribean cruise when I was in high school. The ship has amazing food and facilities (swimming pool) but most days you have one day to explore an Island. We went snorkling in coral reefs on a charted sailboat, went on a tour in Caracas Venezuela, plus lots of touristing in port cities and beaches in between. There was so much stuff to do I slept like a log at night. Another I thought cruises were tacky (until I went… Read more »

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

Any recommedations on towns for the Oregon Coast? Never been and have young kids.
Thanks.
Dave in WA

partgypsy
partgypsy
11 years ago

addendum: my Dad told me the cruise we went on was the Carla C, and that the ships today are bigger and more impersonal (and food not as good!). Bummer. I’d totally go on a cruise again if it was like the one I went on 20 some years ago, but they probably don’t have the midnight medditerean buffets with delicious seafood and so on.

The Personal Finance Playbook
The Personal Finance Playbook
11 years ago

I typically use kayak as a place to start my search, but they don’t include Southwest, which flies out of my city. I think you have to check those two resources.

Priceline will occassionally have ridiculously cheap deals. I think you owe it to yourself to check there. Use the name your price feature.

Tina Marshall
Tina Marshall
11 years ago

Hello! Have you ever visited Peterman’s Eye Travel? There is a community of travelers who post photos from trips and would probably be a great source for tips on travel. Thought I’d share!

http://www.petermanseye.com/travel

Cheers!

al
al
11 years ago

my boyfriend and i are about to start a 2-year stint as a long-distance relationship for graduate school. does anyone have specific recommendations for credit cards with airline rewards? or how to shop for those? we will need them!

Camille@TheFinancialWoman.com
11 years ago

Nice article as summer approaches. I have had several great experiences with vrbo.com in Colorado and also the Texas coast. I would now use them for travel anywhere. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote a blog about it last week along with a photo of the beautiful Colorado mountains!
For European travel I have had great success with Karen Brown’s website, karenbrown.com. Through her service, I was able to find charming, reasonably priced accomodations in Italy for my family.
Bon voyage!

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

I have used kayak and would recommend it to others to use. They give a large range of prices for different companies.

Harry
Harry
11 years ago

I’ve used VRBO a number of times. Our office has a condo in Florida that’s listed there, and I also found a beach house on the Outer Banks for our honeymoon a couple of years ago. Great stuff! Since you’re dealing with individual owners and/or rental agencies, you have to be pretty clear on what you’re looking at – some provide linens, some charge for linens, etc.

Joshua
Joshua
11 years ago

I really like Kayak, as some have mentioned, just because of how easy it is to use and because I can get alerts. I like watching for a great deal to come along – I used Kayak to go to NYC this past Christmas for $169 one way. Then when my grandparent in NJ drove down for a family Christmas I rode with them. I saved a lot.

liz
liz
11 years ago

A few other site recommendations: – couchsurfing.com – I think that’s the website – a network of trusted people around the world that allow you to couch surf.. – ryanair.com – based out of the UK, if you book enough in advance you can gett connecting flights for 5 Euros – that’s about $20USD for a full flight. They kind of treat you like cattle though, and there is no checked baggage, so at your own risk! – tripadvisor – I can’t say enough good things about this site… look up the place where you think you are going to… Read more »

Anca
Anca
11 years ago

I’m going to Paris in a month and I almost booked the hotel(s) through a TravelZoo deal, but in the end decided on two smaller B&B-type hotels closer to the center, based on recommendations by Rick Steves, for even slightly less money. It’s easy to get caught up in “great deals” that might not turn out to be so great.

1st Home Exchange
1st Home Exchange
11 years ago

Thanks for mentioning home exchange as a great way to save money. Thought your visitors might be interested in learning about our home exchange Website: http://www.1sthomeexchange.com With a home exchange holiday, not only do you save on accommodation costs but you can also swap cars and save on car rental costs. And because you have access to a kitchen, you’re not forced to eat out – which means additional savings. When you factor in other cost savings such as free Internet Access, and parking the savings can be quite significant. A holiday home exchange costs no more than staying at… Read more »

Valerie Martin
Valerie Martin
11 years ago

Why not support Home Exchanging in your own country in these gloomy times. HomeLink International is a locally owned and operated International Home Exchange Company with offices in 28 countries Try what has become a way of life for many . By paying a small annual subscription you can arrange holidays for the rest of your life. Rather than staying in impersonal hotels and being treated like a tourist, our members enjoy staying in comfortable homes with character and living the life of a local. But that’s not all. Our members don’t pay to stay so they can afford to… Read more »

Jessica the hedgehog
Jessica the hedgehog
11 years ago

Liz’s mention of CouchSurfing.com reminded me of another interesting way to travel: WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). We haven’t done it (yet) ourselves, but have other traveler friends who have WWOOF’d with great success. The WWOOF website lists organic farms around the world that take volunteers. In exchange for working on the farm, a volunteer receives room and board (and of course the opportunity to live in another country for a few weeks for very little cost). Good stuff! 🙂

bethh
bethh
11 years ago

I usually use Kayak, but I was trying to book a trip to New Orleans and was having trouble finding exactly what I wanted. I wanted a good price, but I also wanted good travel times – ideally arriving by dinner time in New Orleans, and departing NO in the afternoon, but arriving home earlier than late at night. Kayak does have sliders to let you specify time frames, but I still wasn’t happy with my search results. Fortunately for me, I fished out my bookmark for Farecast.com – it did not do airfare predictions for me, BUT it has… Read more »

shares