Venturing overseas stretches your life experience and your view of the world, but it doesn't have to break your budget. Here are some clever ways to save money on international travel.
When it comes to ticket-buying strategies, Jason Clampet, co–founder of the travel news site Skift, suggests looking at travel discount sites for the latest deals. Is your schedule flexible? It might pay off, according to Clampet. "Use the flexible date search to see if going a day earlier or returning one day later may save you money. Once you've found your flight, go directly to the airline's site to see if they have it cheaper, or offer bonus loyalty points for booking directly through them."
But watch out for fees, warns Clampet. "Since fares you see on booking sites don't include all the fees, have a sense how many bags you'll be bringing and what perks you want. If you're checking a bag, that ticket that's $15 more may be cheaper than another one if the latter charges fees for checked bags." Before you try to cram everything into a carry-on, check your credit card rewards. Some will waive fees for the first checked bag.
Using credit card points effectively takes some planning and strategic spending, but the benefits can be well worth the effort. (Think free flights, a complimentary night in a hotel, or upgrades.) In fact, some travelers, like John Aiken of New Orleans, La., will only travel once they've accrued enough points, so they spend strategically. "My wife and I each have our own credit card plus one joint card that we use for all household expenses. We put everything but the mortgage on there, and that helps up build up points we can use later," he says. "If we're going to be spending the money anyway on gas, the cable bill, and groceries, we might as well build points, too." Want to learn more about rewards credit cards, including how to find the one that's right for you? Read "How to Pick Travel Reward Programs: 4 Questions to Consider."
Extras vary by hotel or airline loyalty program, but may include such perks as a free night in a hotel, waived baggage fees, access to airport lounges, and meal credits – all things that could sweeten your traveling experience. For example, Barbara Jones, president and founder of PointSavvy.com, recently stayed in a five–star hotel using points and received meal credits worth more than the nightly room rate. "In effect, I made money," she says.
Though smaller, loyalty programs, like those offered by coffee shops, restaurants, and clothing stores, can be just as valuable when you travel. While they may not score you a better seat on the plane or a room upgrade, they could earn you a free cup of coffee or discounted dinner when you arrive at your destination.
"If you're just a regular person, you have a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of getting a free upgrade from an airline," says Hillary Richard, a travel writer based in New Jersey. Instead, focus your energy on trying to secure a deal with your hotel. "If you're only staying somewhere one or two nights, that makes it much easier to get upgraded to a suite if one is available."
Or try signing up for a hotel's mailing list ahead of your trip. "Hotels really value repeat business – it's what the hospitality industry is built on, after all," Richard points out. "When you stay at a hotel, they'll usually sign you up for their emails to encourage a return visit. If you get on their list ahead of time, you'll be the first one notified of their un-advertised sales."
If you're using a site that won't show you which hotel you booked until after making the reservation, make your selection carefully. Unless you're up for an adventure, Richard recommends sticking with establishments that are three stars and above and near the city center.
Before Richard hops on a plane, she makes sure she has the correct currency she'll need when she lands. "Getting currency from your bank ahead of time can help you avoid money exchange kiosks, which don't give you the best rate, and avoid ATM fees," she says. "You can order currency ahead of time from your own bank – often for free – for the universally recognized exchange rate of that day and then return any bills you have left over when you get home."
When traveling abroad, it can be difficult to figure out how far your money will go in each country. You can avoid this problem with online currency converter tools and apps, which puts up-to-date exchange-rate information in the palm of your hand.
Planning to use your credit card instead of cash on your next global adventure? Read "4 Tips to Consider When Using Travel Credit Cards Overseas."
Some attractions on your must-see list may cost money, but there are plenty of others that don't. Find out if your destination offers free admission to museums on certain days or provides discounts to local attractions. And don't forget about the simple pleasures, like walking around, sitting on a beautiful beach, or even people-watching. "Those are all perfectly lovely and free ways to spend an afternoon and make a lasting memory," Richard says.