So you want to travel with a budget. Who does not? Yet it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the cheap travel tips, hacks and strategies that promise incredible deals on airline tickets and hotels.
In fact, there is only one important tactic to travel cheaply: flexible with your travel dates, destination, and plans. It may sound simple – or even simplistic – but you will be amazed at how few travelers are willing to take this advice to heart.
To be honest, this flexibility-first attitude requires a paradigm shift for many in terms of how they start planning vacations. It is necessary to move from this type of planning:
“I want to go to Amsterdam from 5 to 13 September.”
“I want to go somewhere nice in September.”
For some, this degree of flexibility is simply impossible. But for those who can relax their prejudices about travel planning, it can lead to huge savings – and maybe even more fun – whether you pay cash or use points.
Why stiffness is so expensive
The travel cost depends on the interaction between many factors, including:
– Number of options.
If you make specific plans from the beginning, you are essentially limiting the last variable – you are giving yourself fewer options. This means that the cost of your trip will depend entirely on the first three variables, which are completely beyond your control.
This economic interaction will sometimes fall in your favor, and you will get a good price on the exact destination and dates you wanted. But more than just you end up paying more than average by just starting with a very limited range of options.
How to plan trips with flexibility
You can still set some boundaries around your search. Sample parameters can include:
– I want to travel in the fall.
– I want to sit on the beach.
– I do not want to spend more than $ X.
From here, you can start weighing different destinations and dates to see which preferences you can maximize. For example, you can start with flights to Hawaii, but note that airline tickets are through the roof. So switch to Caribbean Islands, limit your interest to a few cheap flights, and then research hotel rates.
Finally, you can find the dates and destinations that offer the best combination of price and features, and then book your trip.
Think about how many times you (or someone you know) have done the other way around – starting with dates and a destination and then accepting the costs involved.
The right tools for the job
As this flexible travel approach became popular, travel booking sites and services began to offer useful tools specifically designed for the task.
Alerts for Airline Deals
How many travelers are starting to think about flexibility, like newsletters from Scott’s Cheap Flight and Dollar Flight Club, These newsletters send an explosion to subscribers when they discover a cheap airline ticket deal.
But there is usually a catch: these flight deals are only available on certain dates or at very specific destinations. You can not sit and wait a lot from Atlanta to Sydney, because it may not arrive on time.
But you can wait for an exciting fare from Atlanta to somewhere, and hop on it if it’s available.
Explore Google Flights
Many travel search engines, such as Kayak or Orbitz, have very flexible search tools. Google Flights offers a feature called “Explore” that allows you to search in a completely open way.
You enter your city of departure, the travel length and your price range, and Google delivers a handful of listings to a bunch of destinations at random times within your date.
Points and kilometers
Travel bloggers love how they acquired a first-class ticket with miles, but their true secret does not describe them: extreme flexibility.
Paying points and miles for reward travel only requires a great deal of flexibility to get the most value out of it. To begin with, the availability of these awards may be uncomfortable. Before you can determine if an award booking is a good price or not, you need to find an available award booking option. For another, airlines often double the price or more during dates with high demand.
In short: If you want to use miles on a particular flight on a particular day, you may be paying too much, or you may not be able to get a ticket at all.
To make things easier, many airlines offer award calendars that let you see what dates and prices are available per month, which can come in especially handy if you can erase hard-to-find premium cabin tickets.
This article originally appeared on the personal financial website NerdWallet. Sam Kemmis is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: skadisnerdwallet.com. Twitter: samsambutdif.
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