It's that time of year again! The nation is racing to finish up work, fill a suitcase with sweaters, and race to the car/train station/airport to get home in time for dinner. We've detailed how to book flights like a pro, but when you've spent your career managing other people's travel as well as traveling back and forth to events like our event concierge team has, you learn a thing or two. Check out 15 travel hacks for every step in the process - from packing for your trip to getting freebies while you're away!
1. Book your flight on Tuesday at 3pm ET
Most airlines create fare sales on Monday afternoons and then distribute them to travel sites like Expedia, Priceline, and even their own website. By Tuesday morning, competing airlines have seen these sales and adjust their own fares accordingly. Then, by 3pm ET, final sale pricing hits reservation systems - showing you the maximum number of discounted seats. But, act fast, these sales only last a few days before the process starts all over again.
2. Buy as if you're traveling solo
Say you're purchasing tickets for everyone in your family of four. Airline reservation systems and travel sites will charge you the same price for all four tickets on the reservation - regardless if three seats are available at a lower cost than the fourth. Everyone will be charged the higher price. Instead, browse for one flyer at a time to see the cheapest tickets available.
3. Prepay for your rental car
Obviously, right? You can save around 30% on your total cost by paying when you book your rental care. Except you need to check the fine print for scary stipulations like, “Any change to the reservation may impact the rental charges. The rental rates may be higher if you make any change to your rental, including a change to extend the rental, the drop-off location or return the vehicle prior to the scheduled return date. Additional fees or surcharges may be applied at time of rental.”
Before you fork over your credit card information, actually read the terms and conditions to discover what types of penalties you're agreeing to.
4. Fly and drive to save money
If your travel destination is a little more remote than a major city with a shining, international airport, try flying into the closest metropolis, then renting a car and driving to your final destination. This can save you on airfare into smaller markets and time factoring in connections.
5. Know when to decline travel insurance
Travel insurance can either be a smart investment or a total waste of money, depending on the type of trip you're planning. Many travelers go without it to save money or because they aren't concerned with canceling their trip. To decide whether or not you'll need it, ask yourself:
- Is my trip unusually long or expensive, like a honeymoon or backpacking?
- If I was forced to cancel this trip, would I be able to afford the financial loss?
- Does my medical insurance cover me abroad, for high-risk illnesses or diseases?
- Am I traveling to a dangerous area?
6. Go for opaque
An opaque inventory is the market of selling unsold travel inventory at a discounted price - called "opaque" because the specific suppliers, like hotels, rental cars, and airlines, remain hidden until after the purchase has been completed.
With this process, you either "bid" on a room or car or accept a price "blind" without knowing the hotel or rental company until after you make a nonrefundable purchase. The two biggest opaque agencies are Priceline (bid) and Hotwire (blind price), but several other travel sites now offer opaque options. You can ensure you're getting exactly what you want by limiting choices by star ratings and neighborhoods you'd prefer to stay in for hotels, with prices as much as 50% off, but flight costs aren't much different, and can cost you in flexibility.
7. Negotiate vacation property price
Travelers can save about 40% by staying in a vacation rental property instead of a hotel. Property owners probably don't advertise that their prices are negotiable, but often they are, whether in price or length-of-stay requirements. Owner's may lay out "rules" like you have to book for at least seven nights or you have to arrive on a Saturday, but these are actually preferences, and it doesn't hurt to politely negotiate.
8. Don’t buy a prepaid credit card
Prepaid cards are often advertised as a safe and convenient alternative to carrying cash, especially when traveling abroad. Once travelers purchase the card, they load it with funds ahead of the trip. So far, everything sounds great... However, buyer beware. Most of these cards are stacked with extra charges, such as inactivity fees, reloading charges, monthly fees, and activation fees, which will end up costing you more overall.
9. Change your phone’s lock screen
Concerned about losing your phone while on the road? Change your phone's lock screen to an image that displays your emergency contact information, including your email address and an alternate phone number. Simply type all the information you'd like to include in your phone's Notes section, take a screenshot and set as your lock screen. If your phone is lost or stolen and a Good Samaritan finds it, they will easily be able to get in touch with you to return it, even if your phone is locked.
10. Separate dirty clothes with a pillow case
While traveling, separate dirty clothes from clean clothes with a pillow case, which makes a perfectly packable dirty-laundry bag. Pillow cases work well to keep luggage organized, too. Keep socks and underwear together in a pillow case in your suitcase, which you can reuse as a laundry bag once you arrive in your destination.
11. Take a layover tour
A long layover doesn't have to be sitting idly at the airport for hours on end. Create an experience by storing your luggage and heading out for the day on a stopover tour. If you only have a few hours, take a walking or bus tour, make lunch reservations at a favorite local spot, explore a museum, and be sure to account for travel time back to the airport! Many airports have shuttle service into city centers for this exact reason, so check pick up and drop off times before getting in an expensive cab.
12. Ask for a free phone charger
Just landed, only to realize you forgot to pack your phone charger? Don't run out to replace it immediately. The number-one most-common item left behind in hotels is the phone charger. So before you buy another, check with the hotel's front desk for a spare.
13. Pack purposefully
Put heavy items, like shoes, by the suitcase’s wheels. This keeps your luggage maneuverable and will not put any wrinkles in your carefully folded shirts. Sandwich a bag (you can use your dirty clothes pillowcase on the way there) of shirts between your pants and jackets, then turn the jackets inside-out and places your rolled-up undergarments in the sleeves. Pack toiletries in a plastic bag inside your laptop case or carry on, since those need to come out during security, anyway.
14. Get out early
Wake up before other travelers to have the famous landmarks, museums, and attractions of the city you're visiting (almost) all to yourself. It’s also a beautiful time of day for photos with soft, diffused light. Magical morning hours make it easier to interact with locals, safer to explore different neighborhoods (criminals aren't setting a 7am alarm...), and save you time later in the day to relax and recharge.
15. Back up everything
Keep both digital and physical copies of your passport, visas, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, serial numbers, and important phone numbers ready to go in case of an emergency. Backup your files and photos on an external hard drive as well as online with software like Backblaze.