Everyone has their own idiosyncratic way of preparing for a vacation. I tend to do an abundance of research, planning mental itineraries so ideal and detailed while full well knowing most of those plans won’t ever come to fruition. I think the anticipation of a trip is half the fun. Whatever your approach, there is one rule you should consider if you’re looking to travel on a budget: always be rebooking.
I should preface by saying that, of course, rebooking needs to cost productive. I know for some traveling and planning can be stressful. I fully appreciate the idea of setting an itinerary, booking plans when certain, then counting down the days until departure. Passive planning like that, however, can potentially leave money on the table, money that can be used to accentuate the trip in question or save for future journeys. And when I talk about rebooking, I’m not looking to simply pinch pennies. I’ve found that through simple checkups, I’ve managed to save hundreds on plans already made. I’ll use my planning for an upcoming trip to Los Angeles as an example.
Most legs of a trip can be rebooked if you find a more competitive price. Unfortunately, few airlines offer generous flight change policies. Southwest is the best, as they have a “no change fee” offer. If you change your flight to one that is less expensive, a credit will be given to the person whose name is on the original ticket. If the flight is purchased with SW points, the surplus is deposited back into the account. Most other airlines have fairly high change fees and it’s not likely a fare will change dramatically enough to be worthy of a second look. For my upcoming Southwest flight, I saw rates dropped by $20. I saved $40 total on the two tickets purchased. Money in the bank. Well, money back into my SW, account, but you get it.
Hotels have policies that are more conducive to fare watching. Of course, this all depends on the rules of the individual property. Most require a deposit to be made, typically in the amount of a single night’s stay, of which will be refunded if the reservation is canceled at least 72 hours before check-in. You may find lower, non-refundable rates offered when originally making your reservation. For the lower rate right now, you’re giving up your ability to rebook at a better rate later. It’s a gamble. When looking to save with the hotel, you don’t necessarily have to cancel the reservation outright- a call to the hotel’s reservation department can usually get you squared away. Of course, depending on the policy and your willingness, or lack thereof, to speak to people, canceling and rebooking online is an option. I suspected our Thursday night rate for our LA hotel was inflated when I reserved our room, so I made sure to head back to our hotel’s site every once in a while to see if there was any movement. Sure enough, it dropped by $40 one day. A simple call put a couple Jacksons in my pocket.
Another situation to monitor is whether or not your loyalty point status has changed since booking. While not a consideration for my trip, it has happened to me in the past. I once booked a hotel at a standard rate in USD, but found that I had amassed enough points in the brand’s rewards program before the trip to rebook the hotel using my awards. That revelation alone saved me hundreds.
Car rentals are probably the easiest facet of a trip to rebook. I have virtually no loyalty to any chain and since most locations don’t require a deposit, I find myself changing reservations quite frequently. Car rental companies, like hotels, usually feature a lower, non-refundable rate when you initially book, but I caution travelers against locking this rate in. I rarely see a difference of more than a few bucks. The spread has to be pretty large for me to consider giving up the chance to cancel the reservation, given that there can be big swings in prices from week to week. Also, because there are no fees for canceling, you’re free to bounce between different companies.
For my trip, I originally booked with Thrifty. Then, I saved $40 by switching to Budget, until I decided to spend about $10 more to book with Silvercar. I’ve saved $30 on my car rental at this point. It may seem odd to rebook at a higher rate, but the value is there for me. I had a nice experience with Silvercar when I used the service on a Las Vegas trip. Plus, the silver Audi I’ll have is substantially better than the economy car I had booked with Budget. Traffic is terrible in LA, so I’ll spend a couple bucks more to be comfortable. Being cost productive isn’t always about finding the cheapest option, rather, it’s more about getting the most value.
I’ve saved $110 on this trip alone. That’s enough to upgrade a meal or two with the misses. If you’re headed to Vegas, that’s another session at a $5 table. You don’t have to obsess over your itinerary to be effective. I’d suggested checking rates once a week on different days. It’ll take all of 10 minutes to do. Always be sure to know the cancelation and change policies beforehand. Just remember that you don’t have to be a master at the points game or know the ins and outs of every rewards program to maximize your travel budget. Simply monitoring relevant rates and rebooking when possible can save a decent amount of money.
How about you? Any successful rebooking stories?