**This is a sponsored post written by me in partnership with KAYAK. All opinions are my own.
Over the years, travel hacking has become a popular thing. Travel hacking traditionally referred to people who collect frequent flier points and miles to get free flights and hotels, but these days the term is used in a more general sense.
To me, travel hacks are tips, tricks, and tools that can help all travellers. It can be a tip on how to pack more efficiently or using KAYAK’s Trips tool to help you organize your travels. If you’re not familiar with KAYAK, it is the world’s leading travel search engine that searches other sites to show travellers the information they need to find the right flights, hotels, rental cars and vacation packages.
In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I’m sharing my top travel hacks. Since I’m a budget travel expert, all my travel hacks are focused on saving you money.
Subscribe to every newsletter possible
Most people don’t like to get a ton of email, but travel hackers know that the best deals get delivered there. Subscribe to airlines that service the routes you fly most. You’ll also want to make sure you’re on the mailing list of every tour operator that interests you. It’s also worth liking all of their Facebook pages as that’s where many brands announce their promotions or contests.
Be completely flexible
If you’re 100% flexible, the best way to get a flight deal is by using KAYAK’s Explore tool. Enter your home airport, dates (by month or season), your budget, and the length of your flight. As you make those changes, the map will update live showing you the lowest round-trip economy fares with your flight criteria. KAYAK’s Explore tool is one of the ways travel hackers find the best deals.
Churn credit cards
The quickest way to earn free travel is to churn credit cards. Churning is when you apply for new credit cards, spend the minimum amount to get the signup bonus, and then cancel the card before your yearly fee kicks in. This may sound like a pain to some people, but think about the earning potential. Signing up with an Aeroplan affiliated credit card could get you 25,000 points. That’s enough points for a return trip to anywhere in Canada and the continental U.S. Now if you signed up for three cards for a total of 75,000 points, well now we’re talking about a free flight to Europe or Asia.
Agree to be bumped
It’s common for airlines to overbook their flights, so if you’re willing to be bumped, you’ll be compensated for it. How much are we talking about? Well, it depends, some airlines will offer a few hundred dollars in travel credit, and in some cases, they may even offer to reroute you. If you have time to spare, this rerouting may benefit you as you may get an extra day at another destination. Just recently, a passenger on a Delta flight got $4,000 to give up her seat. Now that’s a travel hack!
Use your miles wisely
Too often travellers underutilize their miles. They’ll gladly book a flight and pay the taxes because they’re getting a free flight. The thing is, every frequent flyer program has complicated rules, but if you understand them, you can book some pretty impressive itineraries. I’m talking about a mini round-the-world trip in business class for 150,000 points.
So how do you navigate all these rules? The easiest way is to use a site such as Award Hacker. Enter your route, cabin type, stops, and frequent flyer programs, and the site will tell you the best redemptions so you can make an ideal itinerary while maximizing your points. If that sounds like too much work, there are sites out there where you can pay a small fee and have someone find the routes for you.
Travel during the off-season
Travelling during the off-season will usually save you the most money. Flights and hotel prices tend to be cheaper in the spring and fall since there’s less demand. How much you save really depends on the destination, but in my own experience, I’ve seen return flight from Toronto to London in the summer for around $900 – $1,000 whereas in the fall, it’s closer to $700 – $800. It’s always worth checking a few different months to see what different prices you find.
Book your trip during early bird season
Many airlines and tour operators offer incentives if you book during “early bird season.” Generally speaking, this early bird season happens during the fall and winter (as in now), with the deals applying to the following summer. I’ve seen 10% off tours, included meal plans, and even kids cruising for free when accompanied by a paying adult. I should note that early bird season isn’t anything official, but there may be incentives if you book early.
Set up a price alert
Instead of spending hours searching for the lowest airfare, set up a price alert with KAYAK and get the latest prices sent to your inbox. Setting up a price alert is easy. Log in to your account and enter your search criteria. After clicking search, you’ll see a tab near the top of the screen that will allow you track prices. Turn that on, and you’re done.
Look for grocery stores
You definitely want to enjoy a few nice meals while on vacation, but eating out every meal will cost you a small fortune. To cut back on costs, find a local grocery store where you can buy snacks and prepared meals. Grocery stores are also the best place to buy drinks since bottled water there is significantly cheaper than convenience stores. Plus, in many countries, you can buy alcohol in grocery stores where prices are way less than going to a bar.
Order your gifts online and ship them to your destination
With the holidays quickly approaching, many people will be travelling home to be with family. Instead of lugging presents in your luggage, order them online. Presumably, you’ll be staying with friends or family, so you can ship your orders directly to them. Most orders come in another box, so your presents will still be a surprise. Heck, many retailers even anticipate this strategy and offer gift wrapping service, so you don’t even need to worry about keeping things a surprise.
Now that you’ve read my top travel hacks to save you money, head over to KAYAK.com and start your trip planning now. If you’ve got your own travel hacks to share, leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter: @barrychoi with the hashtag #KAYAKTravelHacker.