Let’s face it, everyone wants to feel like they are getting a good deal. Whether you are a backpacker, flashpacker or somewhere inbetween it’s always nice to know that you got a good price and saved some money. Believe us, the cash you save will always find a way into your trip so best save every penny to make it last longer right?
Before you go and plan your trip look at the different options available to get you to your destination. Quite often there are cheaper ways to get there if you are willing to think outside the box and explore other forms of transport (ferry, bus, train etc.) or different routes. Sure, it might not be the fastest, most convenient or comfortable way of getting somewhere but the extra money you save can make a big difference when you plan on traveling for extended periods.
1. Where Can I Get the Best Deal?
There are a few main options available when trying to plan and book your travel plans. You can chose to go direct to the provider (either by calling them or on their website), through a travel website like Backpacker Travel, or you can book through a standard Travel Agency.
Booking with a Travel Agent
- You have the benefit of being able to speak with someone in person to discuss your plans
- Tailored recommendations from an expert in the field
- You may be eligible for a student discount
- A single point of contact if anything unforseen should happen on your trip
- Possible specials that aren’t available online
- Your agent can call the hotel/airline to make personal requests (eg. seats or meals)
- Many agencies will “price match” or beat competitor prices
- Some form of trust in being a physical location
- May not have access to web specials
- Incentivized by commission so may offer products that are in their best interest and not yours
- Often they are juggling many clients which can lead to booking errors and increased waiting times
- Impossible to know everything
- Accessibility – generally only open during business hours
- May need to wait for documents
Booking with a Travel Website
- They generally have negotiated excellent rates with the provider which means a good price for you $$
- Very fast to book simple point to point trips
- Convenient – always open (24hr/7days)
- Very easy to browse a wide range of products
- Documents are sent immediately
- Generally very difficult to get assistance if you are having difficulty with your booking
- Difficult to book complex itineraries
- Frustrating when on a slow internet connection
- Price changes can occur during the booking
- Limited trust on lesser known sites
- Can be difficult to personalize (eg. specific room requests)
Booking direct with the provider
- Total control of your personal requests (eg. room location)
- No middle man to take extra commission
- Possible specials that aren’t available anywhere else
- Expert in the product
- Often not the cheapest price (strange but true – some hotels sell rooms cheaper through sites other than their own)
- Accessibility – generally only open during business hours
As you can see, there is no clear winner when it comes to booking. We suggest a combination of all three booking methods depending on your specific situation and preferences.
2. When Should I Book?
Like the question above, knowing when to book is another important factor in getting a good deal.
Booking early is often thought of as a great idea. Not having to worry about your holiday and all the trimmings can be a large weight off your mind. Travel suppliers will incentivize travelers with “earlybird deals” so they have a better idea of occupancy and can charge people a higher price for waiting to book later.
The only problem with booking early occurs if the hotel can’t fill all its rooms, or the airline can’t fill all its seats. If this happens they may reduce the price.
It is not uncommon to hear of friends gloating about their “last-minute low price” deal. Just remember that by waiting, you run the risk of paying a much higher price than if you were to book early, not to mention the fact you might miss out altogether.
Set up alerts
If you have an idea of when and where you want to travel but think the prices are too high or are simply not in a position to commit yet, consider setting up alerts. Our favorite options for flight alerts are:
Airfare Watchdog – their team of experts is constantly scanning for the best deals and will alert you when a good flight becomes available.
Hopper – this mobile app lets you set up a range of alerts for different dates and destinations. Their technology even tells you whether the price will go up or whether you should hold out for a better deal.
If you are booking a hotel, Tingo is a website owned by the giant Trip Advisor. When you book on Tingo you have the peace of mind, should the price drop, they will refund you the difference. Not bad hey!
3. What are My Transport Options?
How to Book a Cheap Flight?
Websites like CheapOair and Skyscanner are a great resource for price comparisons or even to get a rough idea of flight prices. Many of these sites allow you to view the prices of your desired flight day-by-day for a designated week. Always be flexible with where you want to fly.
Some of these metasearch/price comparison sites even have an “everywhere” option which finds the cheapest flights to nearby destinations.
The best deals often occur on irregular days of the week. Airlines regularly offer special deals to certain locations on certain days of the week so instead of flying on a weekend, try to Tuesday or Wednesday departures for a cheaper option. Midweek offers are common.
A good way to find a flight deal is to research nearby airports. Most big cities have more than one airport and prices can vary wildly. A good example of this is San Francisco. It is worthwhile looking at flights into Oakland or San Jose if you are considering flying to San Francisco.
Cross-check prices between the major sites and the airlines own site. You might just save yourself a few dollars…. or even more. Of course, don’t leave it too long between checking for the best fare and booking, as prices fluctuate based on how many people have booked a ticket too!
Subscribe to airline newsletters and set fare alerts to stay informed about flight sales without having to constantly check the airline website.
What if I have a complicated or round the world (RTW) flight?
The majority of flight comparison sites are great for basic point-to-point itineraries but not so good when it comes to more complicated bookings. If you are planning multiple stop-overs, to open-jaw (arrive in one airport and leave from another) or a RTW trip, it is probably better to speak with an expert. That could be your local travel agent or perhaps one of the flight experts on the website Flightfox.
For around $50 you can submit your proposed itinerary and have multiple experts work to find you the best price. The best part, you get to select the winning bid!
Frequent Flyer Programs
No matter how frequently you travel, there is value in joining a number of select airline loyalty programs. Most programs are free to join and many will reward you for flying with their partner airlines also. By combining your membership with an affiliated credit card you are effectively earning rewards for daily expenses such as food and clothing – making your money go to work for you!
The key to frequent flyer miles is loyalty. The airlines want your business and are willing to reward you for your continued business. That concept works both ways and there may be times it is worthwhile taking a longer (or even more expensive) flight in order to reap the best rewards.
In recent years we have started to see the emergence of budget or so-called discount airlines. These airlines sell flights at a significantly lower price by only offering a basic fare and allowing passengers to pay additional fees for items such as baggage, meals, and entertainment.
Keep an eye out for the low-cost airlines such as: Ryanair, Airasia and Tiger Air which offer low fares to numerous destinations. If you are flexible with your dates you stand a better chance of securing a deal. If you are also flexible on your destination you increase your chances significantly.
We put together a guide to low-cost carriers that is worth reading so you can compare.
BEWARE!! Some of these budget airlines use more regional airports so you will need to factor in the cost of getting to and from the airport into your calculations.
Of course, flying isn’t the only option to get to your destination. It is worth looking into each and every method of transport with these helpful guides:
4. What Accommodation Do I Want?
Booking a cheap hostel
Different accommodation websites such as Hostelworld and Hostelbookers often offer deals on accommodation when booked well in advance. Hostelworld also offers an option to buy a gold card which provides a discount each time you book a hostel for a whole year. If you are a regular user on Hostelworld you should see a decent saving.
Staying with a Local
If you are you looking for the cheapest way to stay in a city while getting to meet locals, try Couchsurfing. By setting up a public profile you can search for a couch to sleep on in over 100,000 cities around the world and the best part, it’s free! Not only do you save on accommodation but you also get to meet interesting people from different walks of life. This hospitality works two ways, so people are encouraged to use the service as both a guest and a host.
When arranging your stay (or guests) you should always consider safety. First, look for Couchsurfers with good reviews and always chat with the host/guest before the stay.
Couchsurfing also arranges local meet-ups. These could be a pub crawl, a bicycle ride, a photo walk or a book reading. Meet-ups can create a great night out!
For a different type of home-style accommodation, Airbnb allows you to rent out a room or entire house. Unlike Couchsurfing you have to pay for your room but it is important to remember you are sleeping in a comfy bed rather than a couch. You also have the ability to make some money by renting your own space out to others and can earn credits of up to $100 USD for every friend you invite to the site (after they book). Each different housing option has a fantastic array of photos for you to look at.
Tripping is the world’s largest search engine for holiday rentals and short-term rentals. Since Tripping has 1+ million rentals around the world, it’s simple to compare vacation homes from dozens of rental sites such as HouseTrip, Interhome, Flipkey, HomeAway and more.
In addition to being the leading search engine for vacation rentals, Tripping has a colorful community of travelers in 175 countries. As a member, you can connect with other travelers and locals for coffee, conversation and free homestays everywhere you go.
Booking a cheap hotel or resort
For travelers with a more generous budget Booking.com and Agoda often run “flash sales” to fill rooms that would normally remain empty. Prices are sometimes slashed by upwards of 50% of the original price…. who doesn’t want to stay for half price!
Websites such as Hotels.com and Agoda also offer loyalty rewards programs. Similar to a frequent flyer program you earn points (up to 7% of the value of your booking) that can be redeemed on future bookings.
It is always handy to sign up to websites like these as the more you book, the more you save! Signing up doesn’t usually require much information either; usually just your name, email address, and a password.
Negotiating a Cheaper Stay (or an Upgrade)
As a traveler one of the worst situations to be in late at night is arriving at accommodation that you haven’t booked. Rooms are available but, at a steep price. It is always helpful to talk to the manager of the hotel and politely ask for a better deal. Don’t forget to smile even if you are exhausted! Being that tyrant at the check in desk will definitely not do you any favors. If they are unwilling to budge on price, perhaps ask for an upgraded room. You never know if you don’t ask!
If you have booked your room ahead of time it is always a good idea to ring ahead and ask if there is any chance of getting a good room or an upgraded room type. It sometimes happens that hotels/hostels overbook their standard rooms and are willing to let you stay in a better room at no extra charge.
5. Tours & Sightseeing
While group tours are often shunned by hardcore backpackers they do provide a great way to see a lot in a limited amount of time. Group tours are generally more expensive than if you were to do the same itinerary independently (the tour company needs to make money and pay for their guides), but it is worth factoring in the time it would take for you to plan and book the trip vs the convenience of having it all done for you.
Discounts to Look For
- Book months in advance and you might be entitled to an earlybird discount
- Are you traveling with a partner or friends? Most tour companies offer a discount for booking as a group which could save you 5% or more.
- Intrepid Travel has a loyalty program
- Doing more than one tour with the same company? Ask if they offer a multiple tour discount
- As with airlines and hotels, tour companies will often discount their tours that aren’t full as it gets closer to the date of departure (see the example below from Gadventures)
Not quite sure of the tour options available? TourRadar is an excellent search engine for group tours. They have hundreds of different tour companies and thousands of tours for you to peruse.
They also run a promotion which gives you a credit of up to $50 for every friend that you invite to their site.
Sightseeing Tours & Attractions
If you are an active traveler and looking to visit a number of attractions at your destination here are a couple of ways to save on the experience:
If culture is your thing, most museums and art galleries have designated free days throughout the year. Some even offer these free days on a weekly basis so it is worth doing a little research of your destination to plan around this. As an aside, some attractions are closed on certain days too which can be heartbreaking if that’s the only day you are there. Plan.plan.plan.
City Discount Cards
If you like cramming in as much as you can in a limited amount of time then you should consider purchasing a city discount card. Sites like European City Cards sell passes that discounts for a number of attractions, tours and restaurants in your chosen city. Bear in mind that these cards are only good value if you use it A LOT.
If you have the right identification you might be entitled to a special discount. Many attractions have a special price for students, teachers, seniors, veterans and youth, among others. These are generally stated in their pricing guide make sure you check if you are elligible before purchasing your ticket.
Visiting an attraction in your home city? Some museums and sites have free or discounted entry for residents. Again make sure you are carrying the correct I.D.
6. Travel Insurance
Unfortunately mishaps happen that are out of our control. It could be prior to your trip, it could be during your trip but the more you travel, the chances are, something unforeseen will occur and you should be prepared when it happens.
Getting travel insurance is usually an afterthought for most backpackers. “I can’t afford it”, “It won’t happen to me”, “I’m fit and healthy” or “I don’t have expensive belongings” are common excuses people give for why they choose not to take insurance and it is not until an incident that they realize the importance.
Many credit cards now provide a basic level of cover if you use the card to pay for a majority of your travel (check with your provider to see the requirements). There are big discounts to be had when taking out travel insurance if you know where to look.
Finally, talk to other backpackers…… Travelers are always good at finding a cheap place to stay or the best deal for transport. If a traveler feels like they got a good deal they WILL talk about it. Whether they tell friends or post about it on the internet, it’s always very handy to learn from the people who have done it before you.
Happy bargain hunting!