Those who are strategic about saving spend 23% less on flights than those who aren’t, according to a survey of budget travelers by the booking site VacationRenter.
Top strategies include booking with a budget carrier (52%), sticking to one carry-on bag (48%), using credit card points or rewards (39%) and tracking ticket prices (28%), it said.
One in three respondents said they use apps to save money on flights. One such app, Skyscanner, lets users set price alerts, search flexible flight dates and nearby airports, and mix and match airlines to find the best rates, according to its website.
Fewer are willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience by booking “red-eye” flights (25%) or choosing an airport that is farther away (16%).
Price alerts on apps like Skyscanner check fares so travelers don’t have to, notifying them when fares go up or down.
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Having flexible travel dates is one of the top ways to score a flight deal, according to the travel app Hopper, which said departing on a Wednesday instead of a Friday saves around $35 on average.
The same tactic works for hotel stays, says Hopper. Checking into a hotel for a two-night stay on a Thursday, rather than a Friday or Saturday, can shave an average of $60 off the bill, it said.
Another tactic is to watch for new routes or new airline services that enter local airports. When an airline adds a new route, competition among carriers can cause airfares to fall, according to Hopper. Airlines often launch promotions to get the word out too, it said.
That’s what happened when Frontier Airlines started services from Chicago Midway International Airport this summer, said Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist.
“Airfare from Chicago to Tampa dropped from an average of $278 per ticket to just over $100 per ticket for departures after April 26, when Frontier’s service began,” she said. “Fares for later dates recovered back to [about] $187 ticket, still nearly $100 less than prior to Frontier’s launch.”
To learn about new fares and services, travelers can “sign up for newsletters from your local airport, or airlines,” said Berg. Also, “keep an eye out for press releases and signage at your local airport advertising new services.”
Travelers typically have strong feelings about cruising. But steeply discounted cruise fares may be enough to convince staunch naysayers.
Since the start of the pandemic, some travel costs have increased by more than 50%, according to a Visa Business and Economic Insights’ travel report published in June.
But cruise fares have largely remained unchanged, according to the report.
Four-night cruises on Carnival Cruise Line in August traveling from Los Angeles to Mexico can be booked for $26 a night, according to the booking site Priceline.com. Rates include onboard meals but exclude taxes and government fees. Once these fees are added in, the cost for two people is $456 — or about $57 per person per night.
In Europe, a four-night cruise to Croatia and Israel starts at $70 per night, while travelers in Asia can cruise from Singapore to Penang, Malaysia for $80 per night, according to Priceline.
In addition to discounted fares, cruise lines are tossing out other deals to entice passengers back to the seas. Royal Caribbean is letting kids sail for free on select cruises, while Celebrity Cruises is providing onboard credits and savings of up to $500 on airfare, according to both companies’ websites.
Seeking out hotel openings is another way to save money.
The Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon, slated to open in Bangkok on July 29, is giving a 25% discount on its best available rates for those who book by Aug. 31 through its “Start with a Bang” promo.
To celebrate its launch, the Royal Uno All Inclusive Resort & Spa is discounting rates by 25% and giving guests $500 in resort credits, according to a company representative. The resort opened in Cancun, Mexico last month, according to a company representative.
New hotels often accept reservations before official opening dates that come with discounted rates and other savings available to early bookers.
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This strategy is not without risks, however, as new hotels can incur opening delays. Cancun’s Royal Uno hotel told CNBC that two of its restaurants, plus the spa and the gym, haven’t opened yet but that “management mentioned they will be open late summer.”
This happened to New Zealander Debbie Wong, who booked a vacation at a luxury hotel in Cambodia that was scheduled to open in early 2019.
“We had booked months before but as we got closer to the dates, they said they were not ready to open,” she said.
Because the trip coincided with the Lunar New Year, other hotels in the area were fully booked, said Wong.
“They then agreed to let us stay for free, with free spa treatments,” she said. “It was 200 staff for just us, another couple and some people from [the hotel’s] headquarters.”
Wong said she believes part of the reason the hotel agreed to this arrangement was that she had stayed at the brand’s sister properties in the past.
“It was the most amazing trip we’ve ever had,” she added.
Some hotels are directly addressing travelers’ transportation pain points by offsetting rising gasoline rates.
New York’s Crowne Plaza HY36, San Antonio’s Hotel Valencia Riverwalk and the Little America hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, have stays that include a $50 gas card, while guests who stay at Tennessee’s Graduate Nashville can get up to $100 off their bills by showing their gas receipts at check-in.
The tip that surfaced the most in CNBC’s search for money-saving strategies was delaying plans to the end of summer or the beginning of fall — the so-called “shoulder season.”
Travelers who book summer plans in the last two weeks of August can save an average of $120 per flight, according to Hopper.
Those with international plans who push their plans into fall stand to save even more, according to the email subscription service Scott’s Cheap Flights. The company directly compared flights to Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico to show how much travelers stand to save by delaying trips to the fall.
“It’s easy to look at sky-high summer fares and assume that the days of cheap flights are over,” said Willis Orlando, the company’s senior product operations specialist.
His response: “Not so fast.”
“Today’s sky-high prices are more likely than not a temporary reaction to an extreme surge in demand,” he said. And that’s why “there’s never been a better time to be flexible with your plans and travel in shoulder season.”