Between business trips and vacations, I find myself averaging at least one trip a month. And as a journalist who specializes in personal finance and travel, I look at each trip as an opportunity to learn something new about how to travel better, and for less money.
Here are some of my favorite tactics for making travel easy and affordable:
1. Find the lowest airfare by searching smarter.
Are you tired of travel advice that simply tells you to "be flexible" or consider flying into alternative airports? Does your family want to save money flying on the day they need to travel, and not arrive at an airport 100 miles from your destination?
My favorite trick for saving money on airfare is to search for tickets one seat at a time, rather than for all the members of your group. This is because airlines will only display the lowest price available for everyone, even if lower fares are available for some. If an airline has three seats available for $200 each, and the fourth one would sell for $400, a search for four seats will return a price of $400 for each seat - $1,600. Instead, travelers can purchase up to three seats for $200 each and a fourth seat on the same flight for $400, saving a total of $600. This same trick also works for frequent flier awards that are offered for different numbers of miles.
2. Apply for Global Entry today.
Global Entry is a program run by the US Customs and Border Patrol that allows you to skip the lines when arriving in the United States from an international flight. But even if you don't travel much outside of the country you should apply now. First, Global Entry members receive access to the TSA's Pre-Check program. Think of this like pre-9/11 security where you keep your shoes and belt on, and your liquids and laptops in your bag. And forget the controversial new body scanners, Pre-Check users walk through a traditional metal detector.
Global Entry does cost $100, but it is valid for five years. In some cases, applicants must wait several months before being granted the required interview, so apply now. It’s worth the savings in avoiding every frustrating wait at the airport.
3. Print out everything.
Before you go on a trip, print out your airline, rental car, and hotel reservations. Never rely on a smartphone that can have no signal, be lost, damaged, stolen, or just run out of batteries. You would be surprised how often travel providers 'lose' reservations and it really helps when you can hand someone a paper copy.
Another common problem is that rental car agencies and hotels have your reservation, but somehow the rate they want to charge you is higher than the one you originally booked. Again, showing someone a hard copy is the best way to resolve these discrepancies. On longer trips, I staple these papers together in the order I use them. Then, I rip them off and throw them away one by one when they are no longer necessary.
4. Carry the right credit card.
It is amazing how a few grams of plastic can change your entire travel experience. The right airline credit card can offer you a free checked bag, priority boarding, and access to business lounges. When traveling internationally, always carry a card with an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees. The rest of the time, I try to build points in one of the three flexible point transfer programs, Chase Ultimate Rewards,American Express Membership Rewards, or the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Each of these programs allow travelers to transfer their points to the frequent flier program of their choice whenever they need an award. Another great deal is the Southwest Companion Pass, which is easy to get when you receive two Southwest Airlines credit cards.
Sometimes it seems like airlines, hotels, and even the TSA are doing everything possible to make your trip harder and more expensive. But when travelers utilize a few tips and tricks of their own, they can save money and ensure a smooth journey.
Jason Steele is a full time freelance blogger who is an expert on credit cards and reward travel. He writes about credit cards and travel for The Card Journalist and several other leading personal finance sites.