With so many tips out there about trip booking, the task of finding good travel deals could seem overwhelming.
Sure, subscribing to airline and hotel newsletters is great advice when you have a lot of flexibility. But what if your work schedules don’t allow you to take off on a whim whenever there are airline promotions? And what about your poor, flooded inbox? And which newsletter subscriptions? Surely you don’t mean all of them. How much time would you even have to spend each day just to go through all those emails?
If you know when and where you’re going, why not just cut to the chase and save yourself some time?
I follow these three steps whenever I book a trip and always get good value for my money. Most other trip booking tricks can only help when I have some flexibility in the itinerary anyway.
(If I do happen to have flexible dates and feel like spending more time to save a few more bucks, I have other tricks up my sleeve. Check out this post to find out more: How to Take Advantage of Flexibility in Flight Booking.)
Alright, here we go.
Before you do anything…
…clear your browser cookies.
Why: Travel booking websites store your browsing history. If you perform multiple searches for the same route on the same flight booking site, for example, the website knows that you probably are serious about the purchase and willing to pay a premium for that particular flight.
How: The way to clear your cookies varies depending on your browser. If you do a quick Google search for “clear safari/firefox/chrome cookies”, you should easily get a straightforward answer.
Step 1. Search my favorite travel booking websites
Why: After a lot of research and actual trip-booking experience, I have a few go-to websites that I use. They provide great value and save me a lot of time and energy.
How: Depends on what you want to book.
Hotels: Hotelscombined is awesome because it searches thousands of hotel booking sites at once.
Hostels: Hostelworld specializes in hostel booking and usually comes up with the lowest hostel rates. You can also find hotels, apartments, bed & breakfasts and campsites here.
Tip: If you’re booking a flight, always search fares for one passenger first, no matter how many people you travel with. The airline may only have one seat left at the cheapest price point. If there are two passengers, the system will bump both passengers up to the more expensive price level. In other words, the airfare for one passenger may be cheaper.
If this is the case, you may be able to fool the website by searching for one passenger first and then changing the number of passengers after choosing the flight. If that doesn’t work, you can make a separate booking for each passenger.
Step 2. Check out coupon codes
Why: Some websites don’t always show the lowest prices right away. But they may have coupon codes that, combined with their regular prices, give you the best deals online.
How: Here is a page that shows all current coupon codes and promotions that I’m aware of. I update this page multiple times a week, so check back when you’re about to book a trip.
Step 3. Go directly to the company website
Why: Sometimes you can get great deals by dealing directly with the travel company whose services you want to use.
How: The other travel booking sites should have given you details about which particular airline, hotel or hostel has the best deals. Go to the website of this airline, hotel or hostel to check if their online prices are lower than other websites. If you have the time, call them to see if they can beat the prices you’ve found elsewhere.
If you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fee…
…then check how much the total would be, both in the company’s default currency and your own currency, before you make a payment.
Why: Whenever a company converts currencies for you, it’s never a straightforward transaction. If you calculate an airfare in a foreign currency and compare it to the same airfare in your own currency, you may find two dramatically different prices. This is because the company may charge you a fee for the currency conversion and/or take a cut from the bad exchange rate they give you. (Read more about how this works in this Dynamic Currency Conversion article.)
How: At checkout, review the final price in both currencies. For example, if you’re booking a flight with a U.S. credit card on a British website, check both the USD price and the pound sterling price. Then, compare these prices using a website like XE.com.
The two prices will never be exactly the same. If the difference is small enough, you may choose to just pay in your home currency.
But if the price is much better in the foreign currency, then book in the foreign currency and make the payment using a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. This is the time to take advantage of the great exchange rates that credit cards usually offer. (Read this article for fee-free credit card options.)
Tip: If you’re booking through a multinational company with multiple websites, check the prices at the company’s other websites (eg. BritishAirways.com and BritishAirways.co.uk; AirNewZealand.com and AirNew Zealand.co.nz).
Don’t wait too long
There are all kinds of speculation out there about the right time to book a flight. Some say you should book on a Tuesday, some say five weeks before the trip and yet others say between six to eight weeks before the trip.
The truth is that each flight will be different; there are so many different factors that it’s impossible to come up with a magical formula to perfectly time every single booking.
Airfares do fluctuate and, yes, sometimes they drop. But it’s more likely that they go up as the flight fills up. I’ve had to pay more for my airfares several times because I waited to see if the prices would drop.
So once you find a price you’re willing to pay, I’d recommend that you purchase it right away. There’s a limit to how much you can lower an airfare by doing more research.