Disclaimer: I am not a professional travel agent. I am a teacher, who LOVES to travel and who, over the past 8-10 years or so, has learned how to travel on a budget, without making sacrifices in quality. While I do moonlight as a travel agent, I do not claim to be a professional and please note that I am also child-less; traveling is alot easier and more frequent with us now than it will be when we have kiddos :)
I've had several requests for help with travel planning lately. Everyone is working on booking their vacays, and of course, no one wants to drop big bucks while doing so! I have posted about hotels and such before, but in an effort to help everyone out, I thought I'd make a big ol' list of my go-to places that allow me to travel for cheap! It's long, but this is how I do it and what sites and such I use.
1. As stated previously, I LOVE Hotwire. I mean love, love, love, Hotwire. I use it regularly for both hotels AND car rentals. In fact, I've only booked a car on one other occasion (because it was NYE in Disney and it happened to be cheaper than Hotwire last minute), directly from a rental company. I've NEVER been disappointed with my car, and I've never paid more than $25 a day for a car. Most times I get a rate of $10-15 a day and its always with a reputable car rental company, i.e. Hertz, National, Budget etc. Now, I've never booked a van or SUV with them simply because I haven't needed one, but their rates for those, just as they are with cars, are way less than you will pay by booking through the company alone.
When booking hotels its also my go-to site, to see a detailed post about that read here.
2. Priceline is another discount hotel site. I have used it a few times, and while I don't love it as much as I do Hotwire, it has helped me score a deal or two on hotels. What I don't like about it is that you don't get to see the prices before you book; you simply throw out a number you want to pay for a particular hotel class, give your credit card number and then you wait to see if a hotel accepts your bid. With Hotwire, the prices and locations are spilled out for you before you enter you enter any form of payment, which I like better. Furthermore, I have noticed that the star rating (hotel class) seems to be a tad "off" on Priceline. While Hotwire may consider a Hampton Inn a 2.5 star hotel, Priceline may consider it a 3 star. I always tell people to only bid on high star categories when booking with Priceline or else you may end up staying in a not so nice hotel. With Hotwire, I've always ended up in nice places. i.e. The W Hoboken in NYC for $100 a night over Christmas. Our room was a $350 room if booked through hotel!! You will still get great places with Priceline, you just have to be more cautious about picking your hotel star rating if you want to insure you're in a nice place. Example. We used Priceline last year for Cincy and ended up at the Millenium in downtown. While the hotel isn't nasty, it shouldn't have been considered a 3 star. For the same price we paid for the Millennium on Priceline ($55), and for the same star rating, we stayed at a Mariott in SC when booking with Hotiwre. Make sense?!
3. For all-inclusive travel, I have used the following two companies personally and have found that I got a great deal with both. All-inclusive Outlet, and CheapCaribbean.com. I used AI when going to Jamaica several years ago for a friends' wedding and we used CC to book our trip to Playa Del Carmen last year. We spent $800 each for our 7 nights in Mexico which included flight, the upgraded rooms at our hotel and the resort was all inclusive(meals, drinks, everything was included). Yes, all of that for only $800 a person! Amazing!!!
A site I have not personally used, but know several people who have used and found great deals is applevacations.com. They run some amazing last minute deals that my former co-worker swears by! He's retired and travels frequently to the Caribbean with his wife.
4. For cruise travel read HERE I wrote this back when I started the blog, and I feel like it explains it pretty well :)
5. For beach travel, I always tell people to look at VRBO and VacationRentals before thinking about a hotel. I've used both before and had great results with finding condos and beach houses. You can stay for way less than a hotel room, plus by being in a condo or beach house, you have a lot more space than you would in a hotel. You are also in direct contact with the owners so you can sometimes negotiate deals, especially when booking last minute.
6. For airfare, I do several things. I look at sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, etc and then I also go and look at the actual airline site. Sometimes the better deals are with the booking companies and other times you score better deals by booking directly through the airline. For our trip to NYC and our honeymoon, we found the best deals were by booking with Orbitz, so just search around. I literally will spend a 2-3 hours online when booking a flight, just to make sure I have found the best option. However, It's definitely worth your time to check every option!
Be advised that Southwest does NOT show up on search options with the booking companies, so you always have to look at their site directly to book! They fly a lot of places, but not all, but you can score some awesome deals with them, plus luggage is free!
For travel to FL I always check my favorite "Ghetto Air" Allegiant, because they are almost always the cheapest. Sadly, they only fly to FL from KY after April. They were flying to Vegas, but that's stopping soon. I joke and call them Ghetto Air for the mere fact that they are SO stinkin' cheap, and for the fact that they sell tickets to Blue Man Group on board, but in all seriousness, every plane is big and I've had no problem with using them, other than dealing with a long delay in Orlando last year. The best part is: all flights to FL are DIRECT!!! I have terrible luck when layovers are involved, so direct flights are my absolute favorite :)
Another option for FL and Puerto Rico from KY is Air Tran. I love them; in fact, we are flying them to PR for the first part of our honeymoon, for less than $250 each. They have great rates, great customer service, and all of their planes are big. I'm not a fan of little planes. Not one bit.
7. Join travel sites! I am a member (all free to join) of several sites that provide great deals! Travelzoo is an awesome one, that sends you weekly emails about tons of companies offering vacation deals. Sniqueaway is also another great site that offers deeply discounted rates off of high class hotels. It, like Travelzoo, emails you the deals for the week! You have to have a "member invite" to join Sniqueaway ( I guess they're trying to sound all posh. Whatever), so here's a link to join: Sniqueaway Membership
8. Lastly, I always say to ASK for what you want/need. My undergrad degree is in Public Relations, and I took some even planning courses in college. One of my favorite professors used to tell us to always ask for things such as upgrades, amenities, late check-outs etc. She always said, "The worse they can say is 'No,' so just do ask." Ever since then, I always ask. I always request late check-out and have never once been denied. I also always ask for rooms with the best views, and/or rooms away from elevators, etc. and again, am almost always granted my requests. For a freinds' bachelorette party in Indy last year, we were in a regular room (booked via Hotwire) and upon check-in, I simply asked the man working if there were any upgraded/larger rooms available. He said, "Actually we do!" And we were upgraded to a suite, no questions asked. In the age of TripAdvisor and such, hotels want to do their best to keep everyone happy because they know there's a good chance their hotel will be reviewed by someone staying there. They want good reviews, so they do whatever they can to keep their guests happy :)
I hope this helped/will help y'all save some money!
Happy Traveling :)