Scrimping and saving.
Planning and budgeting.
Much advice for traveling on the cheap is based on long-term planning and saving – essentially denying yourself certain pleasures now for the big pay-off of a fabulous trip later.
But what if you could have the best of both worlds: a great, inexpensive trip on the spur of the moment? Maybe just a cheap weekend getaway to tide you over and take the edge off your hunger for a bigger, longer trip?
Planning travel around price drops and taking advantage of rewards you have accumulated from other travel or purchases can yield such benefits. And because you're traveling solo, you will likely have more flexibility as you will not have the schedules and desires of travel companions to factor into your choice of dates and destinations, leaving you freer to take advantage of a great time-limited deal.
Planning Travel Around Price Drops and Points Redemption Reductions
What are the two biggest travel expenses? Transportation and accommodation. Let's look at how you can make price drops and time-limited deals on points redemptions work for you.
If you don't have a specific destination in mind, you can plan your travel around a great discount on a flight, car rental, or train ticket.
- Every airline has sales–many of them, in fact–throughout the year. Join the mailing lists of any airlines you like so you will know when and on what routes they are dropping prices.
- Take a look at any packaged deals they offer (which may include flight and hotel or even a car or some meals), but be sure to read the fine print: most advertised prices will be based on a per-person double basis. Not all of them are priced that way, though–and even if they are, check whether they also offer a single rate. If it's a really big discount, it may still be a good deal, even after paying the single supplement.
- Join the loyalty program for any airline that you use. Even if you never accumulate enough points for a free flight, you may get access to special deals that would not be available to you otherwise.
- If you collect points through a credit card, airline, or another type of points card, watch for deals and drops in the number of points required to redeem for flights.
- Join the mailing list for deals sites such as Travelzoo. While their packaged trips are almost exclusively priced per-person for two, flights are not.
- Example: Friends of mine purchased a packaged trip to China at a deep discount through Travelzoo. When I looked at the site, the price advertised was per person, double occupancy. But it didn't take much digging to find a list of prices for solo travelers. Although there was a substantial single supplement, because the price drop was so steep, the total price for 10 days in a single room, including a cruise, 5-star hotels, flights, land transportation, a guide, and admission to sites and attractions was only $2500. I'd be hard-pressed to spend 10 days as a tourist in my own city for that amount.
Take the Train
- Similarly, get on the mailing list for any rail company that serves your area so you will be informed about sales. In Canada, for instance, every Tuesday, VIA Rail sends out a list of routes on which they are offering time-limited price drops. If you are quick off the mark, you can score a great deal to a variety of destinations and in different categories. I have used it both to get a discount in economy and to get a business class ticket for the price of a regular economy ticket. This gave me the benefit of traveling in luxurious comfort as well as a hot meal and free drinks, which saved me from having to pay for dinner at my destination.
- Example: Today being Tuesday, I received the VIA Rail email. If I wanted to, I could travel to Montreal this weekend for $88.14 return, all in. For comparison purposes, it costs me $65.00 plus tip just to take a taxi from my home to the airport.
- I think by now, you know what I'm going to say: get on the mailing list for the car rental companies in your area. Join the loyalty clubs. But also, pay close attention to those newsletters from your airlines and travel points clubs, as not only do they alert you to price drops and points redemption reductions, but they also alert you to changes in their policies. Trust me, they change frequently. I am an Air Miles and Aeroplan collector and often use my points to offset the cost of car rentals. I'm a new driver and haven't yet switched to a credit card that provides insurance for car rentals. Because the points cannot be used to pay for the insurance, I still have to put out a fair bit of money to get a car. And because redeeming through the points sites means limits on stock and pick-up locations as well as a requirement to book ahead, it interferes with spontaneous travel. But wait! What is this I see in this week's Aeroplan newsletter? I can now redeem points for car rental company gift cards, which can be used any time, at any location, for both rental fees and add-ons, including insurance!
- Example: Because I paid attention to the updates, I checked my points balance and found that I have enough to redeem for a $100 gift card for my favorite car rental company. Now I will be able to use it when a last-minute hotel price drop comes along, and head out for a cheap weekend getaway.
- I know, I'm starting to sound like a broken record. Get on the mailing lists of hotels you like. Join the loyalty clubs-most chains have them. Watch for price drops in the off-season, or last-minute deals when they haven't filled all the rooms. Pay attention to emails from loyalty clubs that may offer drops in the number of points required to redeem for a hotel stay.
- Watch the daily/weekly deals sites for price drops on hotels. Unlike packaged trips, there is no additional fee: the price of the room is the price of the room, whether there is one person in it or four.
- Join booking sites like hotels.com which offer rewards–in this case, one free hotel night for every 10 nights you have booked through them. The rewards just sit there and accumulate on purchases you would have made anyway, so if you never get to 10, it doesn't matter, as long as you have been happy with the rates that you have paid along the way. If you travel for work, you can build up your rewards quite quickly. The beauty of hotels.com is that the reward is for an amount equivalent to the average price paid across your 10 bookings, rather than a set amount, so you can wait for a price drop and get a bigger bang for your buck.
- Also watch the sites of their competitors. They will often advertise rooms in the same hotels, but not always at the same rate. I normally book through hotels.com. On my last trip to London, I discovered that I could either book through them and accumulate points for 3 nights or take advantage of a time-limited price drop on booking.com and save $60.00. In this case, I opted to save the money.
- Example: I have a credit of $126.50 sitting in my hotels.com rewards account. I will watch their emails for a price drop on a hotel in a destination I want to visit so I can take advantage of that discount. Then I will use my car rental gift card to get a free car and have a very inexpensive break.
The (sort of) Downside
Yes, the emails will pile up in your inbox. It's the price of being well-informed. Yes, you will have a lot of user names and passwords to remember (that's where LastPass has made my life so much easier). But it doesn't take long to read through the newsletters to see if there is something that appeals to you. If there isn't, delete it right away. For destination-specific lists, subscribe to them only when you are contemplating the trip, and unsubscribe when you get home. I do this with local news sites, entertainment weeklies, and publications such as Time Out, which always lists lots of time-limited local discounts.
People often complain to me that they never hear about specials, or hear about them only after the booking deadline has passed. I'll say it one more time: get on the mailing lists. Following are the lists that I subscribe to, or sites that I check regularly, in addition to airlines, hotels, and sites for loyalty points that I collect. Because I am located in Canada, the list is not very long. Please add your favorites in the comments section below, and I will incorporate them into this list.
And, of course, I always check our own Deals page on Solo Traveler, as it is the only site which is entirely dedicated to travel deals for solo travelers where the single supplement is either low or waived altogether. Many of the deals are time-limited, so this page is updated at least once a month. We also send it out in a monthly email. If you would prefer to receive it in your inbox, you can sign up here.