Earlier this year, I attended a travel conference called the Women’s Travel Fest. It’s a two-day conference discussing everything from travel hacking to travel writing with speakers like Pauline Frommer from Frommer’s Travel Guides.
Initially, I wondered if it was going to be worth the $200 it cost me to attend, but boy, it was worth the money. I saved more than the registration fee on travel expenses using some of the tips I learned at the conference. Below are some highlights that may help you save if you’re making travel plans:
The best websites to search for airfare
Momondo: This site does extensive searches for the best airfares across the web, and it includes budget airlines that don’t typically show up on other booking sites. It also doesn’t track your *cookies, which means it won’t jack up the price knowing that you’ve searched that same route just days before.
*At the time of the conference, Momondo did not track cookies. However, the company was recently sold to Kayak.com so that could change.
Skyscanner: This site scans multiple online travel agencies and airlines, including budget airlines. It consistently comes up with cheaper fares than the larger booking sites such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity.
Earning travel points
Use credit cards that earn points:
The credit cards that top the list each year for best cards are the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred cards. Points are transferable, meaning you can use them on airlines, hotels, etc.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the most expensive with a $450 annual fee, but you also get $300 back in credit towards travel-related purchases, as well as other benefits. Other top cards include Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Ink Preferred, Southwest Rapid Rewards and United Mileage Explorer.
Use airline shopping portals:
Most airlines and hotels with loyalty programs have their own online shopping portals which can include hundreds of stores, some that you may shop at on a regular basis. Purchasing items through these shopping portals will earn you more points than purchasing directly through the store’s website.
Let’s use Delta’s SkyMiles shopping portal as an example. If you are going to purchase something online at Macy’s, instead of going directly to Macy’s website, log into Delta’s SkyMiles shopping portal. Click on the Macy’s link. Purchase your item, and now you’ve earned two points per $1 for that purchase.
The minimum points earned by any of the stores is one point per $1, and the max I’ve seen is 20 points per $1. This is also a way to keep your points from expiring if your account has been dormant for a while.
Sites like Cashback Monitor will show you which shopping portal will earn you the most points for the particular place you are shopping.
Getting the most out of your points and airfare
Check partner airlines:
When booking travel using your points, you may want to check partner airlines. Sometimes these partner airlines will give you the same flight for fewer points. For example, you can fly from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii on Delta for 80,000 points. However, if you transfer your points to their partner airline, Korean Air, and book the same flight through that airline, it will only cost you 45,000 points.
Look for travel perks:
United Airlines offers an Excursionist Perk when booking reward travel. This is basically a free one-way flight that you can add on to your multi-city trip. For example, if you are flying from New Orleans to London, London to Paris and Paris to New Orleans, this will cost you 60,000 points – 30,000 each for the trip to and from New Orleans. But it won’t cost you any points for the London to Paris portion.
Don’t forget about budget airlines:
Don’t forget to check budget airlines such as Southwest, Norwegian Air, WOW Air, XL Airways, Condor Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines and Eurowings. Most booking sites don’t search budget airlines. However, watch out for luggage fees on some of these budget airlines. For example, airlines like Spirit and Frontier offer cheaper fares, but they charge a lot more for luggage, including carry-on bags.
Bookmark these sites before making travel plans
According to Pauline Frommer from Frommer’s Travel Guides, these are the best sites to keep in your back pocket when making your travel plans. It’s always a good idea to double check that these third-party sites are offering you the best price.
For example, when looking at car rental sites, if AutoSlash features National Rental Car with the lowest rate, you should always visit National Rental Car’s website to confirm you are actually getting the best deal.
Best sites for hotel bookings:
Best sites for vacation rentals:
Best site for car rentals:
AutoSlash: This site almost acts like your personal travel assistant by searching other car rental sites. Users provide an e-mail address, along with rental car booking information. Then, AutoSlash searches rental car sites and sends a list within a half hour of your request. They include multiple options with the best prices and coupon codes applied such as AAA. They will even track the rental and rebook it for you if the rate decreases.
I recently tested this site when booking a car in Denver. All the other third-party sites and even the big-name rental car sites came back with a rate of $416. AutoSlash came back with a rate of $187. That’s pretty significant savings.
The best times to book flights
According to Pauline Frommer from Frommer’s Travel Guides, these are the best times to book your flights to take advantage of great savings:
- Book on a weekend instead of a weekday (up to 19% savings).
- Book at least 57 days before travel for domestic tickets (up to 10% savings).
- Book at least 176 days before travel to Europe (up to 11% savings).
- Book at least 77 days before travel to the Caribbean (up to 5% savings).
- Book at least 160 days before travel to Asia/Pacific (up to 13% savings).
- Book at least 144 days before travel to the Middle East & Africa (up to 24% savings).
- Book at least 90 days before travel to Central and South America (up to 10% savings).
Great tips for savings on cruises
In addition to traveling by air, you can also score some savings when booking a cruise. A speaker at the travel fest offered up these tips:
Book through a travel agent, as they can usually offer upgrades. Save on shore excursions by not booking directly through the cruise line. Use sites like CruisingExcursions.com, ShoreTrips and Viator.
For more information about the Women’s Travel Fest or to find out how to register for the next conference, visit the website.
Rachel Sigur is a contributing blogger for Nola Weekend and a frequent traveler. She also now recommends attending the Women’s Travel Fest for the best travel secrets.