5 Easy Ways to Save Travel Costs

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Will the economy put a dent into your travel plans this year?

Despite continued economic instability, it is widely expected that travelers are planning trips — they are just looking and waiting for deals (see our recent post, 5 Big Value Destinations for 2010). Last year was awash with travel deals, but this year deals may be harder to come by. Many travel providers, such as airlines and resorts, have adjusted capacity or held off discounts, hoping the economy rebounds. This means travelers will have to be more creative to save money.

Travel writer, Michelle Higgins of The New York Times provided 10 ways to cut your travel costs. Her suggestions are great for the creative-minded travel deal seeker. We thought a typical traveler can do five of these cost-saving strategies with minimal effort.

1.  Sign up for Twitter and Start Following Some Travel Companies.

A growing number of travel companies are using Twitter to market their brands, often by tweeting exclusive deals to followers. JetBlue calls out last-minute discounts at JetBlueCheeps on Tuesday mornings. A recent example: “$89 BOS to LAS this Sat. LAS to BOS this Mon. or Tues. 25 seats avail or til 6 pm ET.” Fairmont Hotels offers its Twitter followers special discounts before anyone else. Farecompare’s “flyfrom” Twitter feed offers location-specific fare sales when you plug in your home airport’s three-letter code, as in flyfromNYC.

2.  Find the Cheapest Dates to Fly

At ITASoftware.com, which provides the technological backbone for many travel booking sites, you can scan an entire month’s fares for the least expensive rate. (Log in as a “guest” and click on “month-long search.” ) In January, the cheapest dates to fly nonstop to London from New York ($536) for a week’s vacation were the 28th and 30th, based on a recent search. The next best was Saturday, Jan. 23, at $640.  Kayak.com has a flexible-dates option (registration needed) and a calendar that shows the best fares found by other Kayak users in the last 48 hours. Bing Travel, the Microsoft search engine, offers a similar option, found under “plan trips.”

3. Track Prices After Buying

Now it’s easy to track prices after purchase. Websites like Yapta will automatically track the price of your ticket using your confirmation number, taking the airline’s fees into consideration, and send you, without charge, an e-mail message or Twitter alert notifying you of the lower price. You can then call the airline to claim the credit. Other major travel booking sites are offering refunds for price differences. Travelocity.com promises to refund the difference in price for prepaid hotel reservations if you find the same room for a cheaper rate online before check-in.

4. Go with Deep Discount Travel Booking Websites

Travel booking sites like Priceline.com, Hotwire.com and Lastminutetravel.com can offer unbelievable prices — one catch — you pay before learning the names of the hotels, airlines or car rental companies. To help take away some of the guesswork, find the best rate, and navigate the system, secondary websites such as Biddingfortravel.com and Betterbidding.com provide strategic advice and offer tips.

Getaroom.com offers a new twist, but may work for some risk-averse travelers. Getaroom tells customers the name of the hotel and price before booking. Unlike some of the other discounters, it offers an even lower rate through its call center — typically 10 to 25 percent off — to travelers willing to pay for the room before finding out just how much of a discount they’re getting.

5. Go with Alternative Lodging

Alternative lodging, such as apartment rentals and listings to stay with locals, is often a cheaper option to hotels and is increasingly popular with budget-minded travelers. Tourists in most European cities can easily pay $200 a night for basic hotel rooms. Yet, an apartment or villa can be rented for as little as $1,100 a week in Paris or Rome. Homeaway.com, Zonder.com and Rentalo.com are a few of the many rental Web sites available. Some specialize in specific regions like Rentvillas.com for Europe or Wimco.com for the Caribbean.

For the adventurous-minded budget traveler, AirBnB.com connects travelers with locals who are offering a place or a room to sleep for a 6%-12% booking fee. The Times’s Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross, described it as “a cross between CouchSurfing.com and the vacation rentals section of Craigslist.” In a recent search for New York, there were more than 2,000 listings including a futon in a one-bedroom near Gramercy Park ($65) and a bedroom with private bath and separate entrance in Hell’s Kitchen ($150).

photo credit: dennis wong

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