10 ways you’re wasting money on travel

Brittany Jones-Cooper
Reporter

Travelers have a ton of options these days. Credit card companies offer huge travel perks, airlines open new routes every day, and the battle between hotels and Airbnb has opened up a whole new world of lodging opportunities.

But financing a trip is still a huge expense for many Americans. According to Value Penguin, a consumer advice site, the average US family spends about $2,100 a year on transportation costs for their vacation.

To help you maximize your spending, here is a list of 10 common mistakes travelers make.

Hotels

Not joining a hotel loyalty program

It pays to join a hotel’s loyalty program for three reasons. First, they typically are free, so you really have nothing to lose. Secondly, hotels often offer a lower rate for members. For instance, a room with a king-size bed at the Hilton Parc 55 in San Francisco is $262 a night. But if you’re an HHonors member, the price drops $12 to $250 a night.

And finally, sometimes being a loyalty member comes with free perks, like free wi-fi!

Only booking online

Booking online is convenient, but you won’t always get the best deal. If you’re looking at a certain hotel, but find a better rate at a competitor, call the front desk and ask if they can match the price. If they say no, they could still throw in a free upgrade or continental breakfast to soften the blow. Bottom line: it never hurts to ask.

Not reading the fee fine print

Don’t be a victim of sticker shock. Some third-party sites – like Orbitz and Priceline – have been known to show you one price and then slap you with a higher rate right before you press “book.” Hotels Revealed reports that some hotels can charge up to $160 a night for resort fees, so be sure to read the fine print before confirming your reservation. Additional hidden charges include an in-room safe surcharge, exercise facility fees, parking fees, and fees for holding luggage after checkout. You typically can’t avoid these fees, but it’s better not to be surprised when you get a bill that’s a few hundred dollars more than you expected.

Airlines

Booking flights on the wrong day

According to Hopper, the best time to book a plane ticket is at midnight on Tuesday. Yes, it might a be a little past some people’s bedtime, but it can save you about 6% on your flight. To really get a good deal, try to schedule your departure on a Wednesday, which is the cheapest day to fly.

Booking a flight too early or too soon

Getting the best deal on airfare is all about timing. In April, a Cheapair.com study revealed that the lowest fare for any given trip changed an average of 71 times from when it posts. To find a great deal, the travel planning website suggests booking airfare 54 days in advance for flights within the US.

Paying to check a bag

If you typically check a bag when you travel, consider signing up for an airline credit card. In addition to perks like sign-up bonuses, Delta, American, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines all have cards that allow cardholders to check their first bag for free. The ticket must be booked on the card for the fee waiver to apply, but it’s an easy way to save $25.

Throwing away perfectly good miles

Just because you have enough points or miles for a free plane ticket doesn’t mean you should spend it. The lowest level of award availability for most airlines is 25,000 miles and you want to make sure you’re maximizing points. A good rule is to pay cash for a cheaper ticket costing less than $500. Then you can use your miles for a more expensive international journey.

Buying essentials at the airport

Stores and vendors are allowed to charge up to 10% above retail value of items at many airports around the US. This means that a 99-cent cent bottle of water could cost you more than $2 at the airport. The same rule applies to clothes and electronics. So do yourself a favor and save your shopping for the mall near your home.

Rental cars

Renting at the airport

Because of extra airport fees, it’s typically more expensive to rent a car from the airport. If there is an off-site location just outside of the airport zone, it’s probably more cost effective to take public transportation or a cab and pick up your car there. If the stars align, renting offsite could save you up to $50 overall.

Prepaying for gas

Never take the pre-paid gas option. Sure, it’s convenient, but some agencies will charge up to $9 a gallon to fill up the tank for you. Save some money and fill up the tank yourself before returning the car.  

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