Ways to travel smarter and cheaper

Travel season is here, offering endless possibilities for your next trip. One fringe benefit of not having to work around school schedules is getting to hit the road on less crowded highways — and in airports, on planes and at attractions.
Of course, having plenty of time on your hands is only part of what it takes to get away. Assuming you’re fit for the kind of travel you desire, the other big challenge is paying for it. For people who’ve downshifted at work or are putting kids through college, money can be tight. But there are a number of simple ways to make sure you’re stretching those travel dollars as far as possible.

1. Know where the bargains are.  

You probably know some ways to watch for  deals on airfare and hotels. Make sure you’re also on every possible list for printable coupons and discount codes by signing up for alerts from all your preferred airlines, hotels and rental car agencies and following them on Facebook and Twitter. Always update them when your home or email address changes. If you bid for deals on  Priceline, give yourself a competitive edge by consulting BiddingforTravel or  BetterBidding to find the lowest acceptable bids.
Another place to find great deals is through online “warehouses,” like Groupon GetawaysTravelZoo andLiving Social Escapes. Just be sure to read the fine print, as these bargains often involve specific timing, usually don’t allow for changes and must be purchased during a small time window.

2. Be devilish.  

Apply that familiar expression “the devil is in the details” to your travel planning. Even as you’re hunting for big savings, don’t overlook the incidentals. They can add up to a lot of money at the end of a trip, especially an extended one. Choose hotels that include gratis such costly extras as breakfast, parking and Wi-Fi. Don’t assume that the fitness or business center is free of charge and ask what’s included in the resort fee, if you’re paying one. Sometimes you can get these perks simply by joining a loyalty program when you check in.

3. Exploit your flexibility.  

Chris McGinnis, editor at Best Western’s  Youmustbetrippin.com, has been tracking travel trends for more than two decades. He says the ability to be adaptable is a boomer’s great strength when it comes to beating high prices. If your travel plans include perennially pricey destinations, try to go during slow periods, he says. “Take cruises in the fall or head to bucket list destinations like Disney, Prague or Tahiti during the ‘dead weeks’ just before and just after the Christmas and New Years’ rush.”
The ultimate in flexibility is being able to wait for last-minute deals. Apps, like  Hotel Tonight (big savings after 12 p.m. on the day of stay), Jetsetter  (flash sales for discounts up to 60% on vacation packages or hotels) and  Last Minute Hotels   (a Travelocity-linked app that offers discount bookings up to 48 hours in advance), are great ways to jump on budget-friendly prices. Websites like Hipmunk (mostly airline tickets, but also hotels) and RouteHappy (a flight database that assigns value to seats, amenities and flyer ratings) track the lowest rates and the highest level of “travel happiness.”

4. Think outside the box. 

Nine times out of 10, the downtown or center-city hotel rate is far more expensive than accommodations in outer districts or even suburbia. If you’re planning to be out and about most of the day, skimp a bit on the room to free up more money for fun. McGinnis advises finding a suburban hotel near a subway or bus stop. Even with transit back and forth, you could wind up saving hundreds of dollars.
If you’re traveling on a weekend, find a business hotel that’s hungry to fill beds — you’re likely to get an even more attractive rate. Make TripAdvisor your go-to source for user reviews that can provide a reality check.

5. Follow the pros.

Popular travel blogger Johnny Jet is away from home more than 200 nights a year. He says one of the best ways for “civilians” to save money on travel is by monitoring experts such as himself. “Sign up for our mailing lists and newsletters and follow us on Twitter and Facebook,” he says. That way you’ll be among the first to know when a special deal or rate is offered. Consumer expert Clark Howard is another super travel sleuth, as is Christopher Elliott.

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