Photo by Luc Mercelis (Flickr/cc).
by Robyn White
After years of sleuthing on websites, apps and reading the fine print, I’ve succeeded in traveling around the world on a shoestring budget. Contrary to popular belief, seeing the world can be done… if you just know how to search. Here are some of my biggest money saving tips to get you and your +1 on your next adventure.
1. Pay to join Spirit Airlines’ $9 Fare Club.
How it works:
You pay $60 a year and this allows you to book cheaper tickets on select Spirit flights.
The discounted rates are good for everyone on your itinerary. Traveling with a partner? Only one of you needs the membership to get the discount for both of you. Traveling with a group of friends? Same deal.
The rates can save you BIG LEAGUE! (or little league, depending on the flight.) A sample flight from Las Vegas to New Orleans in February was $15 cheaper per person, per leg with the membership. For a couple, that could result in $60 of savings (covering the cost of the membership) with just one flight alone. Plus, some discounts can be up to half the cost of the flight. However, some flights don’t offer a discounted rate, so do a little research on the flights you’re interested in to see if the discount merits the club rate.
Lastly, you’ll save on bags with the membership, which is a big bonus since Spirit is an a-la-carte budget airline, meaning you’ll pay for every “amenity” like inflight beverages and standard-size carry on luggage. While foregoing a coke and bag of peanuts may seem like, well, peanuts, the savings can be a huge help for the baggage discounts alone. For example, carry-on rates at the airport will run you $100 for each bag if you don’t pre-pay, but $9 Fare Club members can save up to 50% on luggage rates if they pre-pay, which could come in handy if you haven’t quite mastered the art of packing lightly.
2. Book at the airport to save on flights with Spirit Airlines.
In fine, fine print (think size 4 font) on the Spirit airlines website is a message that reads “Lower fares generally available at the airport.” Testing this method, I was able to save $36 per flight when booking Spirit tickets at the service counter of the airport. To see how much you’ll save by booking at the airport, add the flight to your cart online and expand on the flight price where it will show you a “Passenger Usage Fee,” the cost you’ll save by booking at the airport. It seems to go against conventional wisdom that it’s actually cheaper to book in-person rather than online, but it works! Just be sure to bring a credit or debit card as they do not accept cash at the service counters.
DISCLAIMER: Spirit does not have the best customer service reputation. I typically fly twice a month, often choosing Spirit. I almost always have a delay between 30 minutes to an hour, but this July my flight was canceled as I was en route to the airport, two hours before it was scheduled to depart. Although I was reimbursed for the amount I paid, considering I had gotten a great deal on my flight didn’t help me in this case as I now had a cool $40 to put towards my last-minute flight that cost me upwards of $600 on another airline.
3. When booking with Spirit, don’t pay extra to sit next to each other.
If you book together and check in early enough, there’s a good chance you will be seated together. This will save you around $15 per flight.
It pays to be flexible. Be open to flying out of nearby airports and to flying out/in a day earlier or later. I always do multiple searches from local airports and on a day or two before/after my first preference, and occasionally it’s made a huge difference in the price. In November, I saved over $400 on an Aer Lingus flight to Italy by booking a flight the day after I had wanted to leave. Of course, this will only work if your schedule is flexible, but it’s worth it in some cases.
4. Pack lightly to get to Europe for less.
Flights into some capital cities can be cheaper than others (London versus Paris, for instance). If you can book a flight into one city and then create the rest of your itinerary with budget European airlines, you’ll be able to get around much cheaper. But, like Spirit airlines, these airlines tend to charge for everything, so you’ll want to be sure you’re packing lightly as even small average sized carry-ons can sometimes be expensive to take on board.
5. Check out budget airlines that are specific to the continent you’re traveling to.
Within the U.S., check out Allegiant and Spirit airlines; in Australia and Asia, look at JetStar and Virgin; for Europe look into EasyJet and Ryanair; and for Africa, check out Kulula and fastjet.
While these airlines can offer massive savings, be sure to check the airports that each discount airline flies into. For example, JetStar airlines can get you to Melbourne, but it flies to the Avalon airport, which is about an hour outside of the city center. This means that you’ll shell out a bit more to get into the city via public transport than if you were to fly into the more central Tullamarine airport, so it pays to do a cost comparison of all the factors before booking flights to/from smaller airports.
6. Subscribe to Travelzoo and Airfare Watchdog for trips you want to take.
These websites often have great last-minute deals, so again if your schedule allows, you can get great deals on flights and 5-star hotels in cities throughout the world.
7. Download apps like Hopper and Skyscanner
Hopper will alert you as soon as the trip parameters you’re searching for are met and flights are cheap. By using this app, I was able to book a flight back from Rome that allowed me to have a 24-hour layover in Dublin. It just so happened to also be the cheapest flight that day, and had I not had the alerts enabled, I may not have gotten it.
8. Stay in Airbnbs or couch surf
Gone are the days of exclusively booking with hotels! If you’re unfamiliar with it, Airbnb allows you to live like a local and stay in someone’s house or apartment, often for much less than a hotel. You can choose to rent an entire place yourself, one room, or even just a bed in a room. Each member has ratings, so the likelihood of booking with a complete psycho is minimized as best it can be. Having used this site for over 4 years now, I can vouch for how easy and safe all of my stays have been. Plus, hosts are incentivized by the ratings system, so they’re often happy to help with recommendations or to make sure you have the really good coffee and tea to drink.
Couchsurfing is a little different in that users can stay with other members of the site for free. While this site may be more appealing to those on a shoestring budget, accommodations can be bare bones (hence the name) and may not be the best choice if you’re looking for privacy. Still, if you’re interested in making friends in a new place, this may be a good place to start as hosts often host exactly for that reason and will take an active approach in showing you their city.
9. Use rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft.
When you refer a friend, Uber will give you a $20 credit that’s applied to your next ride, and Lyft will give you a $50 credit that’s broken down into $5 credits spread over 10 trips. Either way, it’s a win-win for you and a friend.
10. Look directly on airline websites once you think you’ve found a good deal.
Sites like Kayak may seem like they’re saving you a ton, only for you to realize as you’re booking that the flight no longer exists for that price or that actually requires you to book through another third-party site that may have poor customer service reviews (like Citiair or FareChamp). When presented with a great offer via a third party site, it’s helpful to sometimes Google the third party name and reviews. If you see complaint after complaint pull up, it’s probably best to avoid booking with them.
11. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is… or isn’t.
There’s a reason that Europe is cheaper in November, when the weather is often rainier and colder. However, depending on factors like vacation time and what your primary goal is, this may be perfect for you. While it may mean a few rainy days, it will also definitely mean less crowds, which could make the trip a lot more enjoyable.
Also, if you book at the start/end of the low season, you can still enjoy discounted rates and relatively good weather. Hotels often mirror peak/mid/low seasons with discounted rates when less tourists travel, so the savings can add up if you’re willing to risk the weather.