Frugal Traveler: Eight Ways to Save on Travel in 2017
4. OR, PICK AN AIRLINE, any airline — and stick with it. There is another side to that coin: Sometimes allegiance to a particular airline can pay off. The turning over of the calendar year resets the accumulation of qualifying miles and dollars that airlines track to assign status, so if you’re planning to stick with a particular carrier to reap the potential benefits of loyalty, January is the time to start. A new year gives even modest travelers a chance to shoot for low-level status on a major airline.
If you travel even somewhat regularly between a few predictable destinations, you can achieve the lowest tier of status on one of the major carriers by the end of the calendar year. Flying round-trip every six weeks between New York and Los Angeles, for example, could be enough to reach the lowest status (silver) on Delta Air Lines. What does that get you? Quite a bit: Free access to Delta Comfort Plus, which could ordinarily cost you $120 on each leg, along with priority boarding and a free checked bag. (Don’t expect any upgrades to first class, though.)
5. GET FLEXIBLE. “If your travel plans aren’t 100 percent finalized, learn the rules of your preferred airlines in relation to holding a ticket before purchasing it,” said Mark Orlowski, a travel contributor at Marketplace Morning Report. Sometimes it can actually help to do a bit of research and use a different partner airline that is part of the same alliance. For example, if you have Chase points and are looking at redeeming a United Airlines award flight, consider transferring those points to Singapore Airlines instead of United. Why? You can use Singapore miles to book awards on other Star Alliance airlines (including United) while benefiting from Singapore’s more generous fee policies. Changing an award ticket booked with United miles could cost you a whopping $125. If redeemed through Singapore, changing that same award ticket would cost you only $20.
6. TRACK YOUR PRICES after a purchase. Citi Price Rewind is a service that will refund you up to $500 an item, and $2,500 per year, if you buy an eligible product (think jackets and sleeping bags) with your Citi card and the price drops within the next 60 days. The best part? It will do the tracking for you automatically when you register your purchase (made with a Citi card, naturally) on its database of retailers. You can search, too, and if you find an advertised price that is lower, you can initiate a refund request. It’s a painless way to avoid the stress of wondering if you’re getting a good price. (Other cards offer price protection as well, but Citi makes it easy.) You can also do some monitoring on your own: The site Camelcamelcamel tracks items on Amazon and offers data on price history, which can help you decide when to buy.
7. FOCUS ON POINTS, not miles. Legacy loyalists who have hoarded their miles over the last several years have learned this lesson the hard way: Miles are getting less and less valuable. Frequent-flier programs at all three major carriers have gone through changes that have left many travelers less than pleased, to put it generously. If there is a bright side to this, it’s that credit card points are more plentiful and valuable than they have ever been. “The trend I see is more focus on nonairline/hotel branded cards and more focus on transferable points cards that allow for more flexibility when booking travel and don’t have blackout dates or capacity controls,” said Brian Kelly, the founder of the website The Points Guy.
There are some incredibly generous credit card sign-up bonuses available now, including 100,000-point offers from certain Chase and American Express products. While you certainly shouldn’t take opening a new line of credit lightly, those bonuses alone will be enticing to many: 100,000 points can be worth as much as $2,000 when redeemed directly for travel.
8. CHECK OUT PROJECT FI. Sick of switching SIM cards or paying outrageous overages to your phone carrier while overseas? Google’s Project Fi charges flat rates of $20 per month for unlimited talk and text, as well as $10 per gigabyte of data. Even better, Project Fi offers unlimited messaging and no roaming data charges in over 135 countries. You can use your phone as you normally would — provided you’re using a compatible phone. (You knew there would be a catch, right?) Officially, Project Fi works only on Google’s Pixel, Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X. At least it will transfer over your existing number if you decide to make the switch.
An earlier version of this article misstated the conversion rate of the pound to the dollar, both two years ago and in October. Two years ago, it was exchanging at over $1.60 — it was not valued at 1.6 to the dollar; in October, it plunged to around $1.16 — it did not plunge to 1.17 to the dollar.
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