If you're a serious traveler and love a bargain, travel hacking is basically your favorite hobby. Using the many inside mechanisms of the travel industry, it's possible to nab great travel deals, free stuff, privileges, and perks. If you're a little less experienced, you might also be wondering how can you hack your way into a cheaper, cooler, more affordable vacation, without a massive amount of time investment. Travel hacks for saving money are easier than you might think, using methods like opening and maintaining credit cards to knowing the right hotel booking methods.
When it comes to the real hardcore travel hackers, of course, these tips are, strictly speaking, amateur hour. People like the now-famous Ben Schlappig, who runs the phenomenally successful blog One Mile At A Time, can get huge discounts on their travel by doing intricate sums on air miles, loyalty schemes, first-class flights, and discount services; if you want further tips on becoming a professional hacker of the travel industry, you need help from one of the serious guides available, like Nomadic Matt or The Points Guy. If you're short on time, though, these are a good way to help you get started on nabbing the best possible travel for the least amount of money and maximum convenience.
A note: if something seems too good to be true, be on your guard, and never give out financial details to somebody who seems to be offering a travel experience or discount that's "off the books" or "under the table." You need to travel safely as well as within budget.
Book Flights Around 54 Days In Advance
This is an interesting one: it's based on a survey by CheapFlights.com, who looked at 1.3 billion air fares for 3 million trips over the course of 2015 and came up with the magic number of 54. According to their data, 54 days beforehand is the optimal time to book a flight, but the variation is pretty small and it shouldn't be taken as gospel.
The researchers themselves pointed out that this is by no means an exact number. "For a lot of [the flights] (about 13,000 in total) 54 days out was indeed the best time to buy, but for almost as many the best time to buy was 53 days out, or 52 days, or 45 days, or 60 days," they said. "In fact, for almost 30,000 trips, the best time to book was actually the day the flight first went on sale."
Learn How To Book Flights As If You're Located In Another County
A more precise hack, though, is the one that went viral when it was published on The Huffington Post: book your flights as if you're located in another country. If you're flying from America, booking the flight as if you're located in, say, Italy at the time of purchase alters its price. The reality is that the point of sale of an airline ticket can substantially affect its price; a domestic French flight will likely cost less if booked from "Paris" (even if you're in a dorm room in NYC) than it would if booked from America.
It can be very tricky to figure this out if you're dealing with other currencies and languages, so be prepared for the headache. Use a VPN to shift between servers based in different countries to make your location change, or change to a different "point of sale" on your chosen airline's website by fiddling with the settings.
One of the most interesting things about modern air travel is the incredible complexity of air travel routes, and there's one particular company that's aiming to use that level of complication for the benefit of the consumer. Skiplagged uses a key hack for flights: it's often more expensive to get a direct flight to a destination than to get one that stops off there en route, on its way somewhere else.
For instance, a direct flight from New York to a regional airport will be more expensive than one that stops off there on the way to another major city, and Skiplagged books you on the indirect, "hidden" ones. There are, as Lifehacker points out, downsides: you can't check bags, as they'll go to the final destination, and you'll panic and annoy the staff when you don't turn up for the next leg. If you can live with that, though, it's a good way to get cheap fares.
Sign Up For Credit Cards With Big Air Mile Bonuses
If there's one thing that travel hackers talk about constantly, it's frequent flyer air miles. They're the key to getting free or drastically discounted travel and other perks, as a perk for accruing miles through doing other things. Most people get air miles through travel, but hackers make it clear that you can pick them up in lots of other ways: getting a credit card with a big air mile sign-up bonus, for instance, and one that gives you points for spending even if it's not actually travel-related. (The big one for this, apparently, is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.)
Clear Your Cookies Whenever You're Booking Online
Everybody who does online shopping should remember this, but many of us seem to forget that price comparison websites for flights and hotels are in fact shopping. If you don't clear your cookies, your frequent visits to a particular set of prices may actually drive them up, as the site registers higher demand and tries to take advantage of the increased interest from your location. Always do online comparison-scanning with private browsing on, or you'll end up hamstringing yourself by accident.
Get Yourself Into Hotel Loyalty Programs
Once you've booked a flight, the hotel is your next big thing to hack, and the best recommended way of doing that is to get loyal. Signing up to loyalty schemes for many of the top hotels may get you access to very good deals and can allow you more airline miles, too. (Doesn't everything?) A lot of hotel loyalty schemes have cross-promotional deals with credit cards and airlines, but you can get easily lost in the maze. The Travel Sisters have a definitive list of the big chain loyalty projects and how you can use them to accrue free stays, transfer points between cards, and generally act like a travel baller.
Name Your Price For The Best Room Rates
Want to pay an extra-special rate for that fabulous room? A little research pays off, as with everything else in travel. Some chains, like Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, have pledges to beat the lowest offered rate on hotel comparison sites if you book with them direct, so it's far better to contact them than go through a second party. Call or check their sites to see whether they're offering any deals or promises.
And there's a particularly excellent option for people willing to do a bit of work: the phenomenon of bidding for your hotel room by naming your own price. Naming prices needs to be backed by general ideas of acceptable prices in that area of your chosen destination, but it can pay off big time.
Get A Lounge Pass For Lounge Access
One of the biggest divides in air travel is the one between the lounge users and the people who have to lie around in public airport areas looking forlorn. Fortunately, there are many ways to get yourself into the chosen group.
Lifehacker has the decidedly strange idea of buying a refundable first-class ticket to get into a lounge and then cancelling it once you're inside, but there are less extreme routes. Services like Priority Pass and Lounge Pass offer access to lounges in airports around the world, generally for a flat fee for about 24 or 36 hours. You can also get lounge access on, you guessed it, air mile heavy credit cards, and there's also the option of politely asking strangers if you could come in as their guest; but that last one probably isn't a good idea if you don't have a lot of self-confidence and panache.
Make Sacrifices To Get An Upgrade
So how do you wrangle an upgrade? There's no guaranteed way besides being a hugely frequent traveler (believe me, airport staff remember the people who have to go through their lines biweekly or monthly, and how they behave). But there are certain ways of doing it: making it clear on booking that you're interested in upgrading, looking the part (no distressed jeans), giving your impressive title if you have one, and making the lives of the check-in staff easier. If there's an overbooking issue, volunteer to take a later flight if it's not a problem for you; they'll likely do their best to give you some kind of bump-up to thank you for helping.
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