Cutting costs on travel can be a boon for your vacay budget, but there's a dark side to some of those "discounts."
1. Flying budget airlines
Travel discounts apps and sites may populate your air travel search with lower-cost, no-frills lines like Spirit or Norwegian, but what you're saving on the front end could cost you even more on the back end. Unlike slightly higher-priced traditional airlines, "budget" carriers charge for everything, from carry-on bags (and the fee is WAY more than traditional airlines) to food and water (yes, you have to buy your own water on Spirit), so if you don't plan accordingly, you can end up spending a fortune to get there in a seat that's been consciously designed to be less comfortable.
And that's assuming you get there…
I booked a flight to Paris from Dublin on Ryanair many years ago and the airline canceled the flight, ruined our New Year's Eve, stranded us in the airport (we slept on the floor), only to send us to London a day later without so much as a sorry or a flight voucher.
2. Being flexible with your flight time and duration to save money
You can save a lot of money by choosing to fly at an inconvenient time or booking a flight with a long layover. But at what cost to your vacation?
"Oftentimes, it pays to spend more on a flight if it means you'll get to your destination faster or at a better time," says Calvin Iverson, travel expert at TravelPirates. "If you're spending 10 hours doing nothing at an airport during a layover or arriving in your destination at three in the morning, are you really having a good vacation?"
Or you can do what I do – book the longest layover possible in a place you've never been. I took a 16-hour layover in Iceland from London about 15 years ago – because when was I ever going to go to Iceland – and I loved it so much, I've returned twice. It was the best part of my vacation by far.
3. Clearing your "cookies" to game the system
One misconception is that when you're searching online for flights that you need to clear your search browser history before evaluating flights as the airlines have algorithms that will automatically increase flight prices if you continue searching for flights to the same destination. This may be counterintuitive as some airlines will reduce a flight price in the hope of securing your booking. Very often airlines will offer reduce rates to frequent flyers so browsing for flights in incognito mode could actually cost you money.
4. Prebooking a vacation package deal before you leave
It's important to understand when booking a vacay package that you're not booking direct with the providers themselves and you will pay an inflated price to the booking agent as they need to make a margin too.
"The other inherent problem with 'vacation package deals' is that you will often end up with inconvenient travel times, poor rooms, and less than ideal rental cars," adds Patricia Russell, a certified financial planner (CFP) and founder of the personal finance blog FinanceMarvel. "You will end up overpaying for each service and then receive a subpar service from each provider. You're much better to book directly with each provider as they will generally match the rate from the 'vacation package' broker anyway."
5. Booking a hotel outside of the city
It's true that hotels farther from the city center or the airport are often less expensive than hotels closer to the action. "But before you book one of those hotels for the low price," says Iverson, "look into how you plan to get from the hotel to the city center. Sometimes public transportation isn't easy or inexpensive, and you end up paying more than you would have paid for a stay at a more conveniently located hotel."
6. Saving money by booking a bus or train instead of a flight
Sometimes you can get from point A to point B much cheaper by bus or train instead of a flight. But time is worth money too – are you turning one of your hard-earned vacation days into a travel day?
7. Being flexible with your flight dates to save money
Most people know that one of the easiest ways to save money on your vacation is to change your departure or return date. But before you adjust your dates to save $100 off your flights, don't forget to check your hotel's rates for your updated dates – hotel rates can change dramatically from day to day, and you could actually end up saving money by choosing the more expensive flight if your hotel ends up being cheaper for those days.
8. Signing up for travel credit cards
Travel credit cards offer free points, miles and other rewards to get you to sign up. While these signup bonuses can be very generous, it's easy to forget why they are so generous. These bonuses are so enticing because, on average, the company will make more money off of interest it charges. This makes it extremely lucrative for them to give out so many bonuses. If you aren't responsible with a credit card, no matter what the signup bonuses are, you can easily end up paying much more than your signup bonuses and easily end up in debt and even damaging your credit score if you aren't careful.
9. Waiting for prices to drop
Waiting for the price of a flight, cruise, rental, hotel or anything related to travel can cost you more if the prices increase.
"For example, if you wait and the price goes up, you can't go back and book at a cheaper price," says personal finance expert Dustyn Ferguson, founder of the money-saving blog Dime Will Tell. "However, if you book as soon as possible and the price drops later, you can usually contact the company for a price match to their new offer."