Back when I worked in an office with a bunch of gals that were much younger than me, they'd make (sometimes disparaging) comments about how many vacations I took throughout the year. They'd start with, "wow, you're always gone." [Not true.] And then finally they'd inadvertently reveal the real reason they were so bothered by our travels based on comments like, "god, you must spend a lot of money on travel" or "must be nice to be rich." You see, they thought they couldn't afford to go on as many vacations as we did, but the truth of the matter is that with the exact same amount of vacation time as I had, and a similar lack of children, they could have ... if only they were smart about it.
With the exception of three major trips (Ireland in 2009, Tofino last summer, and Maui in February for our 10th anniversary) most of our vacations are of the budget variety. Mostly, we don't stay in five-star hotels. Instead I use sites like Priceline and Hotwire to book 4-star major chains at significant discounts. For example, we stayed in a very nice hotel in Portland in March for $99/night. When we went to Seattle we stayed at the Westin for $89/night. And in NYC several years ago we stayed at a very nice 3.5 star boutique hotel near Grand Central for $135/night. We've gotten burned a couple of times going this route (ex: the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver) but more times than not the added savings are a real win.
For actual travel, we use reward points whenever we can.
This is our reward card of choice. Since 2006 we've used it for round trip flights to Rome, a one-week hotel stay in Paris, and so many flights to Hawaii that I've lost count. In fact, very rarely in the last six years have we had to buy both of our tickets to Hawaii. For our trip next week we were able to use our credit card reward points for two flights that were $800 each. And I just used Alaska miles to upgrade to first class. Now, to be completely truthful here, I had to buy some extra miles for the return trip upgrade, but essentially both of us are flying first class, round trip, on a direct flight between Oakland and Kauai, for $280.
The other night I booked our flight from SFO to Vancouver for our Tofino trip. Because we waited longer than I like to the price had gone up significantly over the first time I checked. It pains me to pay full price for a flight so I checked with our credit card rewards program to see how many points we had. It wasn't much after depleting the account for our Kauai trip, but it was enough to save $500 off the total cost of the flights. We promptly put that $500 - and then some - toward a flight from Vancouver to Tofino, which allows us to bypass the two-hour ferry ride, and three-hour drive to the west coast.
A lot of people forget about the cost of rental cars when planning their vacations. I know I did when thinking about our next trip to Tofino. I was shocked when I reserved it the other night how much it's going to cost. But Tofino is one of those places where everything is ridiculously priced so if you want to go, you pay the price. But if we had decided to drive from Vancouver or Victoria, we could have gotten the car for $600 less using Hotwire, which, incidentally, is the only way I will book vehicles for Hawaii and elsewhere. For our trip to Bozeman I priced compact cars on Expedia and directly on the vendor's websites. Hotwire, without telling you who the vendor was beforehand, beat the lowest price by $15/day. For our trip to Kona last year, a Mustang was $40/cheaper than on competing websites. It was a no brainer. One time we wound up with a top-of-the-line brand new Mustang from Hertz for hundreds of dollars less than we could have otherwise gotten it for. On our trip to Ohio, our small SUV (a Ford Escape, incidentally) was the same price as a midsize sedan on Expedia.
I'm not going to lie to you, these deals don't just magically appear. It takes a lot of time and research to get these deals. Some people hate the idea of doing the research. They'd rather log on to Expedia and buy a package vacation. Heck, there's nothing wrong with that. We've done it. In fact, that's exactly what we did with Maui earlier this year. Airfare, hotel, and car in one nice bundle. It was quick and it was easy. What we found out when we got to the Fairmont was that our "package" put us in the lowest grade room even though the price we paid was equivalent to an upgraded room if we had booked directly through Fairmont. Because we combined all three items, it looked like everything was a good deal, but further research revealed that had we purchased things separately, and using my trusted means of acquiring deals, we could have saved money on our airfare and car and gotten the room we thought we were paying for. After arguing with the front desk for a full day, we finally did ... but it was really not the way we wanted to kick off our romantic 10th anniversary trip. That was a really good reminder to me. Always do my research beforehand. If I had spent a few hours at home a couple of months before our trip finding the best deals, I wouldn't have had to spend the first day of my vacation upset and in negotiation mode. And besides, it's not like I don't enjoy doing the research. In fact, I love it. That said, I understand some people don't.
|People that hate doing vacation research usually look like this at the computer.|
|People that enjoy doing vacation research usually look like this.|
Another thing I should mention is that flexibility is absolutely important if you're looking to get the best possible deal on your vacation. If you absolutely have to be at a certain hotel in a certain part of town, Priceline and Hotwire are never going to be the option for you. If you need top-of-the-line resort style condos, timeshares aren't your cup of tea either. For our upcoming trip to Kauai, there were no timeshares in Kauai that I was willing for us to stay during the week that I wanted. The following week there were three options. True, it meant that we wouldn't be on vacation during my birthday, but it meant that we could be in one of my favorite places in the world the very next week. When all is said and done, does three days really make a difference? In this particular case, no. For some it might. I know that I was adamant about being in Maui *on* our 10th wedding anniversary, so in that case, flexibility was not an option. That was a very special occasion, and I would never advise you to compromise during some of life's most important moments. But for the everyday ones? Yeah, flexibility never hurt anyone (except me, physically ... I can't even do the most basic yoga poses).
If you're interested in knowing more about how we travel - prep work, how I research, putting together itineraries, what a travel briefing book is (PR pros know the answer to that one), I'd be happy to continue this post as a travel series. Let me know.