101 money-saving travel tips


The economic downturn needn’t mean an end to travelling the world, but it is a great time to start travelling smarter. Jane Parbury sought out 101 tips, from the practical to the innovative, to help you save money on your next trip.

THE BIG PICTURE

1. Be flexible. If your dates are moveable, there are bargains to be had – even more so if your destination is also unfixed. Try sites such as lastminute.com.au, wotif.com or statravel.com.au (especially for flights).

2. Join loyalty schemes. Programs such as Hilton HHonors, Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards have done away with blackout dates – days of the year such as public holidays that are usually exempt from markdowns – and offer discounted rates and free nights.

3. Sign up to frequent flyer programs. Apart from accumulating points to set against flights or upgrades, you’ll also be one of the first to learn about deals your airline is promoting. Join more than one scheme and although you may accrue points more slowly, you’ll have a wider choice of deals on offer.

4. Use your points. Airlines are keener than ever to fill those seats, so expect more to be available to “purchase” with points and with fewer blackout dates.

5. The internet is your friend. Scour websites such as expedia.com.au and tripadvisor.com for deals, and use price comparison sites to find the best offers. Leading Hotels of the World (lhw.com), for example, is offering 30 per cent off the rack rates of 60 of Europe’s most luxurious hotels, such as the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, in the northern hemisphere summer (until September 30).

6. Travel off-season. Look out for deals in the “shoulder season”, just before and after the high seasons. Operators will be putting deals in the market to stimulate travel in those traditionally softer months. Voyages (voyages.com.au) has a “pay for two nights, stay for three” deal at Wrotham Park Lodge in outback Queensland, until October.

7. Take the road less-travelled. Choose less popular or little visited destinations. Romania is less expensive than other eastern European countries, Puglia is more affordable than Tuscany – and you can travel in Japan on a budget if you avoid the expensive large cities.

8. Go local. With money-saving offers round Australia, it’s a great time to explore holiday options closer to home. The five-star Hyatt Hotel Canberra (hyatt.com) is currently offering a “longer you stay, less you pay” deal: bed and breakfast for two from $305 for one night, $580 for two nights and $795 for three.

9. Pick a package. Bundle flights and accommodation; luxury hotels especially like to “hide” discounts in a package. We found a week’s holiday for two on Expedia at Wailea Beach Marriott on Maui, ex-Sydney, for $7536, a saving of nearly $1000.

10. Book through destination offices. Tickets on the Trans Siberian railway can be up to $3000 cheaper by booking through Real Russia, a London-based agency with offices in Moscow, than through agents in Australia. Though you might be reluctant to wire money abroad, scanning traveller review websites like tripadvisor.com and seat61.com (for trains) can give a good idea of which companies to trust.

11. Take to the water. Cruising, with its all-inclusive pricing, is already good value, and there are top deals around. Silversea’s Silver Sailing (silversea.com) program has 50 per cent off in all suite categories on 39 voyages heading to destinations as diverse as the Seychelles, South America and the Med.

GOING PLACES

12. Do your homework. The more you learn beforehand, the more you’ll get out of your visit, and it will help you avoid costly mistakes. Research your trip with reputable guidebooks and magazines like Travel + Leisure.

13. Check out the local tourist office. They often have deals on accommodation and entry charges to tourist attractions.

14. Time your trip. In certain places at certain times, like Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach or during the Cannes film festival, accommodation will be both pricey and hard to find. On the other hand, gourmet travellers might fancy New York in July, when 250 of the city’s top restaurants are offering discount lunching: three-course meals for around $35. There are various free culture-oriented events going on too, including July 4 fireworks. See nycgo.com for details.

15. Take transits. A taxi from Munich airport into the city costs around $130, the S-bahn fare is just $16.

16. Buy a discount book. Entertainment books in the US offer discounts at restaurants and hotels and on flights and entertainment. Usually $40, the 2009 versions are available now for $20.

17. Research local transport. Using an Oyster card on London’s Underground costs $3.40 for a single inner city journey rather than $8.55. Perth and Fremantle’s central CAT buses are free.

18. Forget tourist passes. They are not always good value. Paris’s Carte Orange weekly travel pass costs around $44, while the tourist equivalent, Paris Visite, is about half as much again. Work out how much travel you’ll do and whether it’s worth buying one.

19. Skip the tour buses. Forgo the branded “city tour” transport for regular tourist-sight heavy routes. For example, London’s Route 12 bus covers Oxford Circus, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, Number 10 and Westminster. It may not have an open roof but it is a less than a quarter of the cost.

20. Cycle. Rent a bike in pedal-friendly cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin and Barcelona.

21. Walk. Especially in cities and towns, it’s one of the best (free) ways to see a city – and you’ll see a lot more than from a taxi, bus or travelling underground.

ON THE MOVE

22. Book early/late. Booking long haul well ahead can be good value, but if you’ve missed out, consider hanging on for a late deal. When launching V Australia’s Melbourne to LA service, Richard Branson said that the airline will never go out with an empty seat – instead “we’ll slash the fare”.

23. Consider ALL the budget flight costs. Ryanair (ryanair.com), the Europe-wide carrier, is renowned for its headline-grabbing 1p flights, but taxes, a payment handling fee, airport check-in fee and a checked baggage fee bump up the price. Plus, if you have a babe in arms AND want to bring your golf clubs, it’ll cost you an extra $200 return. Read the fine print.

24.Try buying offline. Buying flights online is generally cheaper than through agents, but it is not always the case. For example, travellers to Thailand will get better deals through shop-travel agents thanks to link-ups with carriers.

25. Research group bookings. Special offers may not extend to large groups, so it could pay to book in batches. Check first that your flight/accommodation has sufficient capacity.

26. Fly premium economy. Qantas’s debuted last year and Air France will introduce their long-haul service later this year. About half the price of business, you’ll get many of the same amenities and more legroom than economy, just not the lie-flat bed.

27. Book economy, fly business. With Jetstar (jetstar.com), book your flight in economy, head to the airport early and pay for an upgrade. Typically it will cost $300-$400, considerably less than if you had booked StarClass upfront. No guarantees you’ll get it, of course.

28. Invest in a travel pass. You can buy a pass for almost restriction-free travel on the Japan Rail network for two weeks for $500. Eurail has rail passes for travel throughout Europe, such as a one-month global pass covering 21 countries. There are discounts for 2-5 people and at time of writing it was $100 cheaper to order online direct from eurail.com and pay in euros – check the exchange rates before you buy.

29. Travel overnight. A sleeper on a long train journey can save on a hotel room and valuable sightseeing time. Book well ahead for the best rates –advance fares on the Caledonian Sleeper (London to various destinations in Scotland) start at $108 one way for a shared compartment, while there are limited numbers of bargain berths from as little as $40. See scotrail.co.uk.

30. Weigh your baggage before multi-destination trips. Permitted baggage weights on short haul flights are usually lower than on long haul and on budget airlines can be as low as 15kg.

31. Try Air Asia for short haul flights within Asia. The planes are brand new, staff is fantastic and it’s cheap. airasia.com

SLEEPING AROUND

32. Score a hotel deal. Sydney’s Radisson Plaza (radisson.com) has its own economic stimulus package: $900 buys two nights in a Studio Spa suite, breakfast, dinner and $100 credit to be spent in the hotel, until 28th September.

33. Try some chutzpah. Find the best hotel rates online, then call the hotel direct to see if they can better it.

34. Look at tourist offices online Compare rates with the hotel’s own site – they are often more keenly priced.

35. Go for all-inclusive. You’ll avoid nasty surprises when you get your bill, plus it can be good value. Cruises and flight tours, such as those offered by The Captain’s Choice Tour (captainschoice.com.au) are priced on an all-inclusive basis. For value and a feelgood factor, consider a conservation break with Conservation Volunteers – their four- or seven-day spring tours to the Grampians National Park are priced from $500, including meals, transport and all activities (conservationvolunteers.com.au).

36. Negotiate. If the hotel won’t better a rate, you may be able to arrange for complimentary extras, such as a meal in the hotel restaurant. Speak to the reservations manager.

37. Save with an upgrade. Check the cost of upgrading to an executive club floor because, for a modest additional fee, you may receive free local calls, free internet and complimentary food and drinks.

38. Call first. Check for special offers directly with the hotel before booking, as not all might be featured on their website.

39. Look for launches. Newly opened hotels often have a soft opening period where prices can be as much as 50 per cent off. Check the news sections of the big chains’ websites and keep reading T+L.

40. Book in for the weekend. During the week, when business customers are around, hotel rates tend to be higher.

41. Be loyal. Loyal guests are more likely to get upgrades and last room availabilities. Plus if your budget is a bit tighter than usual, they are often happy to work with you.

42. Research loyalty programmes. Fairmont Hotels’ complimentary Fairmont Presidents Club includes freebies and reductions for members. (fairmont.com/fpc)

43. Drop a star. If you just want somewhere to lay your head, consider budget business chains that are often better than you think.

44. Try townhouse or boutique hotels. Rates can look higher, but they often offer extra amenities such as breakfast, free internet or airport transfers.

45. Go for B&Bs. They’re much cheaper than the equivalent standard of hotel and you get to meet the locals.

46. Look for short-let apartments if you’re staying anywhere over a week; they’re terrific value.

47. Consider a campus. CLV Smart Stays (clvsmartstays.com.au) offers accommodation in student residences in Christchurch, NZ, and Australian cities from $45 per night during university holidays.

48. Revisit your youth. Cheap as chips, youth hostels often have private or family rooms for just a little more than bunk-room rates.

49. Breakfast out. Where you have a room-only deal, hotel breakfasts are notoriously pricey. Check out a local cafe.

50. Pay as you go. Avoid charging everything to your room to help you monitor your spending.

51. Drop in for a swim. Even if you’re staying elsewhere you can often pay a rate to use the pool or spa of a smarter hotel.

52. Avoid the mini bar They’re notoriously pricey. Stock up on snacks and drinks at a local convenience store instead.

53. Check room-service charges. You could end up paying a service charge and a tray charge, making that cheese sandwich extremely expensive.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

54. Check car-hire rates online But be aware the best deals aren’t always accessible from here. It can pay to wait until you are overseas before booking, although you risk not having the availability you want.

55. Big isn’t always best. In towns, local car rental firms may have the best rates.

56. Join up. Members of organisations such as the NRMA, for example, are often entitled to discounts on car hire.

57. Forget renting in cities. Congestion charges and sky-high rates for parking mean driving in places like London is super-expensive.

58. Check your travel insurance for car-hire cover. It’ll avoid having to buy the dealers’ own, which will almost certainly be more expensive.

59. Fill up before you go. Fuel prices and eateries on motorways tend to be pricier than those in towns.

60. Consider secondary roads. Tolls on motorways can add up over long journeys; in France, there are often routes nationales going the same direction – a tad slower, but prettier and free.

EATING OUT

61. Try fine lunching. Many top restaurants have more competitive rates at lunch than at dinner, especially in Japan and major cities, such as New York, Paris and London.

62. Check out the bar. Melbourne’s Bistro Guillaume (bistroguillaume.com.au) has a four-tapas Bar Menu for $22 – the same price as a single entrée in the restaurant.

63. Same people, different prices. Gordon Ramsay has added a trio of wallet-friendly gastro pubs to his UK empire; in New York, hip eatery Da Silvano (lunch for two: $200-$2000) has a new relation, Scuderia, with mains for $20; Sydney’s Icebergs has mains for $40; at sister restaurant North Bondi, they’re around $30.

64. Have coffee at the counter. In France, Spain and Italy, it’s much cheaper than table service, and the done thing. 

65. Go al fresco. Lunch in a park or square with a picnic with supplies bought from a great local deli or gourmet food hall.

66. Don’t pay twice. Tipping in restaurants is expected in the US; in France, where it is a legal requirement, service is included, while adding a “discretionary” service charge has become much more common in the UK. Check your bill.

67. Look for prix fixe menus. You’ll often find the same dishes offered a la carte, but the set menu will generally offer better value.

68. Find a BYO. In many countries bringing your own bottle to a restaurant is unusual, as the mark up on wine is where many eateries make their profit. However, the practice is catching on, especially in North America and the UK. Check local websites for listings or phone and ask.

69. Hit the streets. Asia’s street food offers authentic local tastes at much less than in a restaurant. Take reasonable precautions, though – avoid uncooked food, look for busy places where the food is cooked to order and if you have any doubts about its hygiene or quality, head elsewhere.

70. Hit the (back) streets. Even in tourist traps like Venice, there are trattorias to be found where the food is good, plentiful and cheap. Watch (or ask) where the locals go.

71. Go with the flow. On the whole, local dishes are likely to offer better value than western parodies.

72. Try the local tipple. In wine regions, a jug of the local beverage will cost less than a transported bottle; similarly, local beer is typically cheaper than imported.

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

73. Read a local listings magazine.Most big cities have them (and in English throughout Asia), especially useful for events. Many of these mags – as well as the events listed – are free.

74. Use your hotel’s concierge service. A good concierge can get you great tickets, reservations and transfers, and will work to your budget.

75. Half-price ticket booths. These are found in places like Times Square, New York, and London’s Leicester Square, selling same-day show tickets at heavily discounted rates.

76. Sightsee for free. The Louvre has free entry on the first Sunday of each month and on Bastille Day (July 14). The Taj Mahal is free on Fridays, as is New York’s MOMA, and museums in Berlin are free after 6pm on Thursdays. Check websites.

77. Sightsee for almost free. A Venetian traghetto (gondola ferries) will carry you – standing up – across the Grand Canal at a fraction of the cost of a touristy gondola.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

78. Follow the money. Keep an eye on currency conversion site xe.com to monitor the buying power of your dollar. Rates between here and the UK have swung by 12 per cent since spring, giving you more sterling for your buck. 

79. Be credit card clever. Take advantage of start-up offers on new credit cards, such as bonus frequent flyer points.

80. Find a fair exchange. Look for banks that exchange currency at international rates rather than their own rate. Bendigo Bank charges 2 per cent on overseas credit card transactions, but uses the international rate for currency exchanges.

81. Buy annual travel insurance. Scout for the best rates from leading brokers, rather than plumping for the agent/airline’s option. Annual travel insurance often works out cheaper especially for frequent travellers.

82. Plan ahead. For the best exchange rates, don’t wait until you are in the airport. Australia Post has no commission on currency and travellers’ cheques, but you may have to book in advance.

83. Stay unconverted. When paying with a card, or withdrawing cash, avoid converting into Australian dollars at the point of sale. This is Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). The exchange rate is often not that good and there can be a service charge of up to 4 per cent.

84. Check with your bank for partners abroad. Westpac customers who draw currency from Bank of America ATMs, for example, avoid the $5 per transaction fee.

85. Avoid booking fees. Pay for flights online rather than by phone, and by debit rather than credit card.

86. If you’re a frequent traveller, consider American Express. The Platinum card has an annual fee of $450, but their rewards scheme is generous, with travel insurance and benefits such as onboard cruising credits and two-for-one flights. 

87. Watch out for exchange rate fluctuations in hotels. In Asia, prices may be quoted in US dollars, but they have to charge you in local currency; ensure they are giving you the international rate of the day and not their own, possibly inflated rate.

TALK ABOUT IT

88. Buy a local phone card. Hotels charge their own (hefty!) rates for phone calls.

89. Check hotel internet usage fees. If they’re expensive, head for a local internet cafe.

90. Need a mobile? Unlock an old handset, then buy a sim card at your destination to avoid exorbitant global-roaming charges. 

91. Sign up to Skype. This downloadable software allows you to make calls over the internet free to other Skype-users.

RETAIL THERAPY

92. Shop tax free. Australian travellers can reclaim the retail tax on purchases made in participating stores in the European Union and other locations: the VAT reclaimable ranges from 10 per cent in Korea to 25 per cent in Sweden. Check globalrefund.com for full details and participating shops.

93. Check out the local markets They can be good for authentic crafts and gifts. Be aware that if an excursion includes a souvenir shop stop, the prices will probably be higher than elsewhere.

94. Barter. In some countries, good-humoured negotiation is even expected. Just don’t be too harsh.

95. Beware shopping overload. Enquire about shipping your purchases home rather than incurring excess-baggage fees.

96. Choose your purchases wisely. Australia has stringent quarantine controls. Not only will regulated goods be confiscated and possibly destroyed, but fail to declare them and you’ll incur a fine. Check the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website; daff.gov.au

THE SKIS THE LIMIT

97. Go budget. Skiing can be a pricey past time, but all-inclusive cheap and cheerful lodges are still to be found, even in luxe resorts such as Courchevel 1850. Shop around. Remember that eating on the mountain is famously pricey, so take your lunch with you.

98. Pick your resort. In Europe, Italy is generally cheaper overall than France and Switzerland, and even in smart resorts, staying further down the mountain and catching the bus up can save you heaps. For Australians, New Zealand offers attractive packages and much more reliable snow.

98. School holidays are pricier and busier. Winter school holidays in New Zealand this year run from July 6-20 and September 28 to12 Oct. In Australia holidays bordering the snowfields are: New South Wales July 11-July 26; Canberra July 4- July 19 and Victoria June 27-July 12.

100. Hire ahead. Gear rental in town is usually cheaper than in-resort.

101. Score a pass. Look out for beginners’ rental, pass and lesson packages in Australian and New Zealand ski resorts.

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