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Summer is still a few months away, but many Americans who are currently booking flights and hotels may be appalled at the costs. Experts shared with MarketWatch their favorite tips to make the cost of travel a little less expensive.
Airfares in March were up 4% from the previous month, according to the federal government, Prices for short-term stays such as hotels and motels were also up 3.1% in March. In contrast, overall inflation only rose 0.1% over the same period.
Ahead of the “summer of discontent for air travel,” as airline expert described teh upcoming travel season, how does one bring down the cost of travel?
Travel professionals advise leaning deep into credit-card points, doing a ton of research on flight fares with Google Flights, GOOGL,
and signing up your kids for their own air miles.
Hack 1: Use credit cards to pay off recurring payments
The pandemic brought travel to a standstill, but travel gurus never stopped hustling, and racking up hundreds of thousands of points from credit-card offers. That’s set them up for a season of (mostly) free travel.
Ryan Horn, a consultant for the government in DC, runs Profits and Points, Horn said that being strategic about spending and signing up for credit cards earned him 500,000 points over the pandemic years, which has enabled him to travel in style.
“I’m flying first class most of the time, which I would never pay out of pocket for myself. I’m staying in in nice hotels, all because I’ve really learned how to manipulate the points and miles and the credit cards and the signup bonuses,” Horn said.
After identifying credit cards that gave him tens of thousands of points, such as the American Express AXP,
Platinum Card, he paid forward $20,000 in rent, as well as pre-paid utilities, just to earn the rewards. ,Services exist for rental payments and some landlords have a portal that allows for credit-card payments, although they often come with fees,
Hack 2: Sign up for credit cards strategically before a big spend
Horn also said he timed opportunities where he was going to spend a large amount, such as his 2024 wedding, by signing up for a new credit card that offered tens of thousands of points.
“I’m gonna sign up for a new credit card every time we pay our venue, or have a big payment to a vendor,” Horn said, “and hopefully I’m gonna pay completely for the honeymoon.”
Maryland-based Derrick Dye, who recently quit his full-time job as an attorney for an insurance firm, founded Travel on Points with his wife. His strategy with credit cards has earned him over 10 million points over the last two years, which has allowed him to travel internationally in business class, and stretch out.
,Maryland-based Derrick Dye has racked up millions of points, but also spends $8,000 a year on credit-card fees.,
The last three years were great for accumulating points, he said, and “the majority of these are COVID incentives for spending on credit cards,” Dye stressed. “It was truly an unprecedented time for credit-card signup bonuses, but also spending offers.”
Bear in mind, die also spends almost $8,000 in annual credit-card fees to rack up these rewards.
Dye also suggested putting your car insurance on a credit card, as well as property and income taxes.
To be clear, paying by a credit card sometimes comes with a fee. For instance, paying the Internal Revenue Service your tax bill by debit card costs between $2.20 to $2.50, depending on the government’s website. If you pay by credit card, the IRS charges a fee of a percentage of between 1.85% to 1.98%. If one owes a big tax bill, that flat fee for a debit card may be cheaper than having to pay a percentage and incurring a higher cost.
Ultimately, this isn’t a plan that’s suited for everyone, Horn stressed.
“You have to be financially savvy and very aware of your finances,” Horn explained. “As you can imagine, some people get themselves into trouble by chasing signup bonuses that they can’t afford and they end up spending more money than they should.”
Hack 3: Use Google Flights to look for the cheapest options
Jess Darrington, an Idaho-based travel blogger who runs ‘Where Is Briggs,’ said that being flexible on the days you’re planning to travel can also help, along with checking Google Flights for airfare.
“Altering your travel plans sometimes just by one day can save you hundreds of dollars on a ticket,” Darrington said.
Darrington’s travel brand is named after her first son. She has put travel on hold as she is expecting her second child to arrive in a couple of weeks.
Horn also uses Google Flights to track airfares. “The ‘track prices’ functionality has been a godsend this year,” he said, “just watching prices and jumping on them when they drop.”
Like Darrington, Horn said he’s been deliberately flexible when booking travel this year, in trying to find good deals. But he also acknowledges that not everyone has the luxury of being able to travel whenever they want.
Hack 4: Be careful with how much luggage you’re lugging along
Traveling light can be a boon when booking travel.
Taking a simple carry-on is cheaper than having to check in bags. Most airlines charge a fee to check in a bag, unless you’re flying internationally or have special perks that come with your credit card, or other circumstances. The cost of this fee can be from $30 to $150, depending on The Points Guy.
“Sometimes you can score really cheap tickets but the price of carry-ons and checked bags for each member of the family can almost equal the total costs of the flights themselves,” Darrington said.
For families with small children, remember on most airlines, babies and toddlers get a free diaper bag that can be brought on board, along with the ability to check in your stroller and car seat.
For folks who want to go the extra mile and go extra light, Darrington recommends vacuum-seal bags, and also persuading family members to share a suitcase when possible.
Hack 5: Register your kids for their own rewards accounts
Finally, for travelers with kids, Darrington recommended signing the little ones up for their own reward accounts for each airline.
“Typically, accounts are free to create and you can start racking up points for them from their very first flight,” Darrington said.
“Sign up to receive emails from your favorite airlines that you typically fly with to be in the loop if they run any promotions in regards to earning double/triple points,” she added.