With my background in the travel industry and a lifelong passion for travel, I've learned a thing or two about cheap travel. In this Overseas Travel guide, you'll learn how to use cell phone, mobile and wifi overseas; the best ways to exchange and handle money; and I'll give you my tips for finding great deals on accommodations.
You can have great travel experiences without having to break the bank. My Travel Planning and Booking Guide is a very in-depth guide to getting the best deals on travel. Here are some of the money-saving airfare tips you should know, in a nutshell, before you start.
Clark-Smart Airfare Basics
Be flexible to find the best deals
If you want to save the most money on travel, you may have to do something many people either can't or won't do — don't pick a specific travel destination or date. The more flexibility you have about when and where you want to travel, the more likely you will find a great deal. Kayak.com is one great site for comparing fares. If you have any flexibility in your plans, you can use their Flexible Search option to indicate how many days "before" or "after" your ideal date you'd be willing to travel. You'll see a list of fares for each day, and you'll notice that it can vary widely from day to day. I also recommend you check Google.com/flights, Skyscanner and Hipmunk.
Let the deal drive the destination
The key is to buy the deal and then figure out why you want to go there. That's been my travel philosophy since the airlines deregulated in 1978. Let the deal drive the trip instead of picking one place, and time, and trying to find an airfare deal to get there. I like using a great tool called Kayak.com/explore. This web app lets you plug in your departure city, a date range and a budget cap, and you'll see everywhere in the world you can fly in that price range. Give it a try, it's really neat.
Fly the discount airlines
The data is overwhelming every year the Airline Quality Rating comes out: You get a much better experience on the discounters than the full-fare airlines, regardless of price. Our nation's discounters include Alaska, Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Southwest, and Virgin Air, among others.
Avoid baggage fees by not checking a bag
Only two discount airlines — JetBlue and Southwest — allow you to check a bag without paying a fee. Your first bag is free on JetBlue. Southwest, meanwhile, allows up to two checked bags absolutely free.
Of course, not everyone lives in a market served by JetBlue or Southwest. So there's still one other way to avoid baggage fees no matter which carrier you're flying: Don't check a bag! I travel only with what an airline permits free as a single carry-on — usually a 22x14x8 piece of luggage. Another plus is I never worry about the airline losing my baggage.
Know when to buy trip insurance
Travel insurance policies are designed to protect consumers by giving them refunds in the event of illness to the traveler or immediate family member, or to provide a refund in the case of company, tour operator or airline default.
These policies should always be purchased when you are taking a cruise, a tour or traveling on a trip that requires pre-payment of thousands of dollars. Just be sure you purchase a policy independent of the cruise, tour or vacation planner. Never purchase the trip protection plan from the trip organizer. Those types of policies are designed to protect only the company and not the consumer!
You can expect a policy to cost around 6 percent of the total cost of the trip. Of course, it's possible to run that number way up. Visit InsureMyTrip.com to comparison shop for policies.
Track fares online and get a refund if the price drops
Have you heard of airfare envy? That's when you buy a ticket and find the same itinerary for less money afterward. The good news is that there are a handful of airlines that will give you a voucher for the difference if you ask. These include Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and others.
But unless you religiously follow airfares after you've made your purchase, you may not even know that you overpaid. That's where Yapta.com comes in handy. After completing the free registration, Yapta will e-mail you when your flight goes down in price and help you get a refund for the difference.
One caveat here. Some airlines will charge big fees if you want to do this kind of thing. United and US Air both charge a whopping $150. So make sure it's worth your while before you get involved.
Get the Best Deal on Accommodations
I am obsessive about saving on hotels. When I travel for work, I book online through various discounters. But that's not the only way to land a great deal. Renting a room, flat or home directly from owners lets you stay like a local and save money at the same time.
Using Mobile Phones and Wifi When Overseas
It's easier than ever before to make cheap, even free, calls from your cell phone while traveling. You just need the right kind of phone and service plan. You can also take advantage of wi-fi hotspots all over the worldto make calls and surf the web for free.