The REAL cost of Travel

March 31, 2013 Travel on the Cheap

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The joy of watching loved ones light up while opening their holiday presents was once a priceless moment. Unfortunately, standardized baggage fees imposed by airlines have made traveling with too many packages and luggage a damper on holiday spirits and a blow to travel savings.

The Bureau of Transportation found that major U.S. airlines pulled in an incredible $792 million in baggage fees in the fourth quarter of 2011 alone. Almost all domestic air carriers, with the exception of Southwest and JetBlue, charge passengers a per-bag fee for any checked item.

“Airlines are charging more because they can,” says Mark Drusch, chief supplier relations officer for CheapOair. “Travelers have proven with their purchasing behavior that they are willing to pay for checked bags at the current rates, however, this elasticity may be reaching its maximum based on a flattening of revenues generated by the airlines for checked baggage in the last few quarters.”

Some Americans may have caught on to how to save money on baggage rates, but with the month of September being a critical time to capitalize on the best airfare rates in time for the holiday season, travelers need to arm themselves with ways to avoid unnecessary travel fees that add up. With a few easy planning strategies, travelers can not only arrive to the family holiday reunion with goodies in tow, but can also save hundreds of dollars along the way when traveling on a budget.

1. Apply for Co-Branded Airline Credit Cards

If you’re considering applying for a new credit card and anticipate a need to fly regularly in the near future, a co-branded airline credit card can bring free checked bag benefits in addition to added purchasing power.

Drusch recommends looking into the United Chase Card or the Delta Amex credit card for ways to save money on extra fees. Perks for travelers with co-branded credit cards include free checked luggage and a free meal from the respective airline’s lounge.

2. Join Free Loyalty Programs

The dread of getting too carried away with a brand new line of credit is understandable. Fortunately, airlines are still competing for your business and offer no-charge loyalty programs.

Programs like Virgin America Elevate and Delta SkyMiles offer savings as passengers accumulate points or air mileage toward their next trip. In addition to earning points by booking a flight, customers can also earn points by shopping the airline’s partner store online. Upon reaching a higher program level, members receive free upgrades, and yes—even free checked baggage.

Renowned comedian Dan Nainan frequently flies when touring and claims that staying loyal to one airline has saved him from paying baggage fees: “I am smart enough to stick with one airline instead of flying 10 different airlines to find the cheapest fare. I am now Diamond Medallion on Delta, and never, ever, have to pay a bag fee!”

3. Invest in a Vest

Enlisting the use of a utility vest can work wonders when you’re looking for ways to save money during holiday travel. Sure, you already stashed your cell phone, boarding pass, and ID card in your jacket, but what if you could add a full-size laptop to that list or even a jacket within a jacket?

That is exactly what Michael McColl, travel writer and author of The Worldwide Guide to Cheap Airfares, has accomplished with his vest prototype. The cargo vest lets him carry up to 25 lbs. cost-free.

“A full laptop and a jacket fit in the back pocket. The vest, plus a carry-on and a book bag, is the totality of what I take on most trips,” shares McColl. Since the vest is worn on the body, it isn’t considered luggage, but in reality it acts as just that.

4. Don’t Bring Liquids

OK, for those who are unnaturally attached to a particular face wash or conditioner (I’m just as guilty), traveling sans liquid items may be impossible. But even cutting down on the amount of liquid goods you bring on your trip can be one of the best ways to save money on baggage fees.

Against my better judgment, I checked a bag for this very reason. My boyfriend and I each wanted to pack a standard backpack for our short weekend getaway to San Francisco. However, we stubbornly wanted to bring our own toiletries from home, so we buckled and ended up paying $50 on round-trip baggage fees—just for these liquid products.

It wasn’t until we arrived at our hotel that we realized we could have easily purchased $1 travel toiletries at the Walgreen’s down the street.

5. Ship Gifts Ahead of Time

Instead of trying to cram gifts into a checked luggage bag and risk either damage in transit or loss, ship gifts directly to your destination, if possible. During the holiday season, many retailers offer free shipping within the United States. Why waste that deal by shipping it to your own home, only to haul it with you on an airplane for another location?

Not only will the travel experience be considerably less cumbersome, but you’ll save at least $50, if not more, just by avoiding checking in gift packages.

All it takes to skirt excessive fees is a little ingenuity, whether that means sidestepping overweight baggage fees by wearing your heaviest items on your person or using credit cards as a ways to earn airline incentives. In any case, finding ways to save money is a must for the holiday season.

Save Money When You Fly The Friendly Skies

December 12, 2012 Travel on the Cheap

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It is Possible to Save Money on Airline Tickets

There are some time-proven axioms that you can follow to put the odds on your side in helping you save money on airline tickets. These include:

#1 Change the Time You Travel
If you want to save money on airfare, don’t be rigid on the time of day you want to travel. Going between New York and Los Angeles, for example, may have one airline offering as many as seven or eight flights on a particular day. If you want to leave in the morning, investigate the three or four departures offered during that time period. Moving your departure time by just one hour, on your departure or return, may save you significant money on the airline ticket price.

#2 Change the Day You Travel
Even if you require traveling on a particular airline or time of day, look at moving your desired departure or return day by one or two days. It is often the case that a particular flight may be cheaper on a Tuesday than a Wednesday, or a Saturday instead of a Sunday. The side benefit of this might be a free one-day “vacation” as the savings in airfare can more than offset the additional cost of a hotel room and meals.

#3 Change the Route You Travel
Yes, we all like to travel directly from where we are to our destination as quickly as possible and without changing planes. But how much is this worth to you? Airlines often make connecting flights from your origin to destination less expensive than their non-stop flights. It may add a couple of hours to travel time but it may be worth the hundreds of dollars you could save on airfare. Airline websites, unfortunately, are designed to show you the most direct and shortest time between the cities you request. If they have an option to “search by fare” use that option with maximum number of results possible and drill down deep in the results to make sure you see all the fares available. Changing the route you travel could be the best way for you to save money on airfare.

#4 Change the Airline You Use to Travel
Competition is a wonderful thing when it comes to saving money on airfare! Many routes are highly competitive and it can force an airline with traditional dominance in a market to drop its airfares, sometimes dramatically, in response to a new competitor or fare sale from other competing airlines. Often times these “sales” will happen on a moment’s notice and may only last for a few days. If you have a favorite airline you wish to use, subscribe to their email alerts for your favorite cities so you can be kept up to date on any fare changes. But, don’t limit yourself to just one airline. Do it for all the airlines in your market.

#5 First Class Cheaper Than Coach?
No discussion of ways to save money on airfare would be complete without talking about the new currency for airfares: the frequent flyer mile. More and more of us are accumulating these frequent flyer miles that pay for airline tickets. Our first inclination when trying to redeem these miles is to seek out a coach seat using the lowest amount of miles, typically around 25,000 miles. However, it is usually the case that the airline does not have any seats at the lowest mileage redemption level when you would like to travel but may have them if you use twice the miles. Before giving in to this requirement, ask about business or first class awards. You may be surprised how many times discounted business or first class awards may be available to and from your destination for the same or less or slightly more miles than for double mileage coach awards. The extra comfort and perks are the icing on the cake!

A Room Is Just A Room….Or is it?

December 1, 2012 Travel on the Cheap

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To save money on hotels, you can start with the internet. Be careful relying solely on travel web sites, however. The ones that find the cheapest plane tickets work pretty well, but you’ll never find the cheapest hotel rooms online. Of course, you probably don’t want the cheapest room, but you do want to know what your options are, right?

It seems that the web sites which locate cheap hotels for you only work with those that have a decent marketing budget. Or perhaps they assume for you what kind of room you want, and so exclude the ones that they don’t think are appropriate. This is speculation on my part, but what is not speculative is the fact that I have often found cheaper rooms than the ones listed on these web sites. How? By doing the following.

1. Start with sites like, but don’t stop there. This just gives you an idea of what is available – and sometimes you will find a great deal.

2. Find a online phone book for the town you are traveling to. Look up hotels and motels in that, and call them directly.

3. When traveling by car, take the hotel coupon-books available at gas stations, rest areas and visitor’s centers. These will often save you $10 or $20 at hotels you might have stayed at anyhow.

4. Ask for AAA and other discounts that you may qualify for. I saved $15 recently just by showing my business card to get the corporate rate. There are sometimes senior discounts as well.

5. Negotiate. This won’t always work in the United States, but we occasionally have an owner drop the price when we start to walk away. Also, we have paid cash for several days in advance to get a discount. This negotiating tactic has worked for my wife and I from Ecuador to Montana and California.

6. Plan ahead and call ahead. When making a multi-day trip by car, you have some flexibility in where you stop for the night. Check hotels in various towns online before you leave. Sometimes the rooms in the next town will be $30 less just because there are more hotels. Why not drive the extra forty minutes today (or tomorrow) to get the cheap hotel rooms?