When I travel I always like to leave myself with options. If you don’t have a set plan, and you leave some flexibility in your schedule then odds are that you will be able to get the best deals. Leaving travel dates and even destinations flexible helps me to get more for my money. So many booking options do not allow customers to adjust their travel without penalties. The non-refundable reservation or fare provides hotels, airlines, and other travel services guaranteed money up front, with the option to resell unused rooms and seats at the last minute. It works out great for these companies, and it works well for travelers when everything goes to plan.
Airlines have made last minute and flexible booking options very difficult. Any fare that does not penalize the traveler for changes usually costs a lot of money. When I was working for an airline I would encounter passengers who wanted to change their ticket, only to find out that it would be cheaper to just buy a new ticket.
Refundable hotel bookings are still sometimes available for a reasonable price. The room rate for a refundable option will typically be a little higher than the non-refundable option. The up charge does not compare to those of the airlines most of the time. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for refundable options when booking hotels, especially if your plans may change, or you want to search for a better deal.
If you can’t be very flexible when traveling then there are still lots of things you can do when booking to help yourself get the best deals available. Below are some of the strategies that I use to get great hotel and airline deals when I travel, try some of them out and see if you can save some money on your next trip.
Airline Booking Strategies
- Look for a refundable fare
They are usually more expensive, but you may be able to find one that’s not much more expensive than the non-refundable type. If you can get a refundable ticket for a small percentage more than a non-refundable ticket then it may be a good idea to spend a few extra bucks, especially if your plans may change.
- Book Last Minute
If a flight is not full a day or two before departure the airline may discount the cost of unsold seats significantly. If you are booking last minute then you run the risk of paying a premium price for a ticket, but you may get lucky and find a bargain.
If you were able to find a decent price on a refundable fare early in your search, then you can continue perusing prices all the way up to departure time. You may find the deal of the year, but make sure you have a ticket locked up before gambling on a last minute fare.
- Travel on off peak days
Look for flights that are leaving on Tuesday’s, Wednesdays’s, and Saturday’s. These days typically have less travelers, causing the airlines to lower their prices to try and sell seats.
- Alternate Airports
You will also want to consider flying into alternate airports. Some cities are cheaper to fly into than others. If you can find a low fare to an airport that is in the vicinity of your destination, but not your first choice, it may be worth it to travel a little longer when you arrive.
- The 24 hour rule
Most airlines in the US offer a full refund for their tickets if you request it within 24 hours of purchase. This option gives you a little bit of flexibility. You can buy a ticket today, and then check fares on the next day, before the 24-hour period has expired. Airline fares change all the time, you may see a decrease in the prices from day to day.
If you are going to get a refund and buy a new ticket, make sure to get the new ticket confirmed before you get your original ticket refunded. I have seen fares change by the minute. Once you get your refund processed, your new ticket price may have already gone up.
- Same Day Changes
Many airlines offer a same day change on their tickets. A same day change will give you some flexibility to move your departure time up to 24 hours before or after your scheduled time for a fee. The charge will almost always be less than the cost of the regular change fee. The cheapest ticket available may be leaving a day before or after your ideal departure time. If this is the case then the same day change may be for you. In order to take advantage of a same day change, you will need to have a confirmed ticket on a flight.
When you want to fly before your scheduled departure time then you will need to show up at the airport when you would like to travel and ask about a same day change. If there are available seats for the flight you want then you can jump on that plane. If there are no seats available then you may be able to travel as a standby, depending on airline policies.
When you want to travel a day later than your scheduled travel time then you will need to contact the airline before your originally scheduled flight. If you do not show up for your booked flight then the airline will cancel your reservation all together, even if you just want to go later. When your reservation gets canceled the whole ticket will have zero value and you will be out the money that you paid for it. Make sure you are in contact with the airline either by phone or at the airport when trying to move to a later date.
*****When using the same day change option you will need to do some research on flights before going to the airport. Don’t assume that the airline will have a flight at the exact time that you want to travel. Airline schedules vary from day to day, you will need to find out what flight options will be available to you. (if any) If there are no confirmed seats available for the time you want to travel then you may end up on a standby list, there will be no guarantee to travel in these situations.*****
After you book your flight you may want to contact the airline to find out if they are oversold. When your flight is oversold the airline may be willing to move you to a better flight for your schedule. You will get a more desirable flight and they will avoid paying compensation to remove a passenger at the airport. You can ask about nonstop flights or different departure times that may have been more expensive when you booked your fare if your scheduled flight is oversold. Typically flights will not be oversold too far in advance, so you may have to wait until a day or two before departure time to find out if the airline will allow you to change your flight without penalty.
- Travel Advisories
Travel advisories go into effect when the airline is having difficulties with their operation at some of their airports. These advisories are usually caused by weather, and when they are in place, the advisories allow passengers to change flights departing and arriving into the affected airports. A day or two before your flight you can head to your airline’s website and look to see if there are any travel advisories in effect for your destination or departure point. If there are advisories in effect then you will want to contact your airline to see if you can adjust your travel plans.
*****Even if you don’t desire a change in departure time or routing then you should still contact the airline when they have travel advisories in effect. Your flights may be impacted and you may need to make some changes.*****
As you can see, there are several ways to make flight adjustments after booking a ticket, but most of them are time sensitive, and the options may not offer much flexibility, or better flight options. But if you really want to adjust your travel, or try for a better deal, and can do it on short notice then some of the above options may work out well for you.
Remember, if you don’t ask, then you will definitely not get what you want. It never hurts to make inquiries about improving your travel experience and timing.
When booking accommodations there are many things that can be done to make sure that you will get the best rates available on a room. Check out these tips for booking your next stay.
Hotel Booking Strategies
- Search Everything
Take the time to search for hotels in the area that you want to stay in. It is hard to find the best hotel deal on the first search, and if you don’t do multiple searches then you won’t know if it’s the best deal anyways. When I am booking a hotel I like to search at least five different websites and cross check the prices on the hotels I may want to stay in. Prices will vary from site to site; it’s worth taking the extra time to make sure you get the best deal. Once I have decided on a hotel that I like I will always contact the hotel directly and see what rates they are offering. They might meet or beat what you see on Expedia or hotels.com (my preferred booking sites) When you book with the hotel they will most likely require only one night’s deposit compared to the full price of the stay up front when you book through a mass booking site.
- Book a Refundable Rate
Unlike the airlines, hotels still offer reasonable rates for refundable bookings. Once you have secured an acceptable rate at the refundable price, you can feel comfortable knowing you have the room booked, and now you can start looking for a great deal. Prices will go up and down between booking time and the date of your stay. You will now have the freedom to rebook if the price drops.
*****Most hotel bookings will not be refundable inside of 24 hours from check in time, and some hotels have special policies for refunds. Check the hotel booking policies to find out how long you can wait before cancelling your room*****
- Continue to search
Once you have done a couple of searches for hotels, you will want to keep doing them. Check prices at least once a week to see if the rates are dropping. (unless you are booking last minute) I like to look at prices every day. You will notice the rates changing all the time. If you already have a refundable rate booked then there is nothing to lose except for a few minutes on the search.
- Adjust Your Dates
If your dates are flexible then you may be able to get better rates during the week. Most hotels are busier, and more expensive on the weekends. Consider traveling during the week to save some money. The best days to travel are Sunday through Thursday. Your destination will likely be less crowded during those times too, making for a better travel experience.
- Book Last Minute
I find that last minute bookings with hotels are pretty easy most of the time. Hotels want to try and fill their unoccupied rooms, and they will often offer them at a very low price at the last minute. You will still want to be searching for rooms well before your trip. If you notice prices steadily going up then it is likely that rooms will fill up. You’ll want to book something before all of the rooms are gone.
If you are traveling during a big event, (conventions, sporting events, holidays etc.) or heavy tourist season in that area you may want to avoid booking last minute. The rooms in most hotels are likely to be full during that time. If you have to travel during a heavy traffic time then you will want to book well ahead to make sure and get a place to stay.
- Consider a Room Share Program
Air B&B and VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) are great ways to book in destinations around the world. When you book with one of these services you will be renting from the owner of the house/condo/townhome etc. You may be able to find some great deals through these services. It is especially useful when traveling in a large group. You can rent an entire house for everyone to stay in and not worry about booking several hotel rooms. Most of the places available through room share programs offer amenities that a lot of hotels don’t offer like kitchens and laundry facilities at no charge. Booking and staying is very easy, and you will get a unique experience and personal service from your host.
- Star Rating Isn’t Everything
If you are unwilling to book a hotel with less than a 4 star rating then it may be difficult finding a good deal when you travel. If you are diligent in your hotel search then great deals for 4 and 5 star hotels can be found, but they won’t always be available. You may have to take your standards down a bit to get a good deal on a room. Always consider what you need the room for. Is it just a place to shower and sleep, or will you want to take advantage of all of the hotel’s amenities, and spent lots of time in your room?
I have stayed at many hotels with a two or three star rating that were perfect for my trip, and been in some ultra classy hotels that I didn’t care for. I find that recent customer reviews are a better indicator of a hotel’s quality than the star rating. If you are looking to book a hotel then I strongly recommend reading the reviews of the hotel on TripAdvisor. It’s the best way to get up to date information about your upcoming stay.
- Book The Basic Room
I like to book the basic room when I am traveling; it’s usually the room with the lowest rate. When you arrive at the hotel you can always ask to be upgraded if you want a premium room. If all of the basic rooms are already taken when you check in, then the hotel will have no choice but to give you a more expensive room at the rate you were promised. I have gotten a lot of free upgrades in hotels. You may get a suite at the basic room price. Always a nice surprise!
- Make Sure You Can Get Around
If you find a great deal on a hotel, make sure that it is easy for you to get to. Some hotels are cheaper because they are far away from all of the things that people want to see. I like to stay at hotels that have easy access to public transportation, or have lots of attractions within walking distance.
Google Maps is a great tool to use when searching for hotels. You can pinpoint the hotel location and find out what’s around it, including attractions, restaurants, and public transport stations.
If you will be renting a car, make sure that the hotel parking isn’t way overpriced. I have seen nightly parking fees exceeding $60 nightly. That price may end up doubling the cost of your trip.
Following these steps will usually get you the best chance at securing the best available rates for your trip. It doesn’t take much time to do a little extra searching, or to contact the company you will be traveling with. It’s always worth inquiring about better deals.
Any questions on booking hotels or airfare, or have some booking tips of your own? Feel free to contact me or leave comments below. I would love to hear from you!