You don’t need to be bankrolled to travel like a jet-setter: By picking up a handful of tricks employed by in-the-know adventurers, you can feel like a major jetsetter on a bus-fare budget.
By Amanda Pressner, editor of lostgirlsworld.com
Let’s face it: Even the most hardcore travelers among us sometimes feel a little envious of the jet-setters sipping champagne up in first class or the guys who get five-star service every time they leave their hotel room. If only the rest of us could get treated so well every time we book a trip.
Well, actually—we can.
Thanks to the rise in a trend called travel hacking—aka, “gaming” the system to get major deals on flights, hotels, entertainment local transportation and more—everyone from budget backpackers to last-minute weekend warriors can get serious upgrades on their getaways.
You don’t have to break any rules or risk getting banned from your favorite airline in order to be a successful travel hacker (everything we’re recommending is 100 percent legal!). Just tap into some of the secrets favored by the best and most successful travel bargainers in the business.
Strategy #1: Never Settle for the “Lowest” Advertised Price
Just because the hotel’s website advertises a decent rate doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate for even sweeter deal. Few hackers would ever dream of booking without first calling or emailing someone directly at the hotel to ask if there’s a better offer they can get.
Get Hacking: Track down the local number for the property manager on duty, or someone in the sales and marketing department (not the 1-800 number—teams at customer service centers rarely have the authority to authorize major discounts). Let them know which dates you’d like to come in (particularly if it’s a special occasion) and share that—while the advertised price exceeds your budget—you’re truly excited for opportunity to stay at the property. Ask the manager: Is there anything he or she can do to help you stay on budget? If you’re respectful and seem genuinely interested, the person on the other end of the phone will often do their best to help you track down a lower rate—particularly if you agree to sign up for that hotel’s loyalty program. Hint: This tip tends to work best at smaller, boutique properties, where more flexible corporate policies make it easier for negotiation.
Strategy #2: Go Local for Pennies on the Dollar
You’ve probably signed up for one of those deal sites in your own city—and scored tons of 50 and 70 percent off bargains on food, drink and entertainment. It’s working at home—so why not take that show on the road?
Get Hacking: A few weeks before you leave, switch up your “home” zip code or city on Groupon [groupon.com], LivingSocial [livingsocial.com], Lifebooker [lifebooker.com], etc (or any one of the many couponing sites out there). You’ll not only save a few bucks, but you’ll discover cool local stuff to do—where you won’t be rubbing elbows with a crowd of other people in line for the same predicable tourist traps.
Strategy #3: Get Treated to Elite Status
If you drink, in-flight cocktails are a guaranteed perk of riding first-class. Why forgo a rum and coke (or two!) just because you’re sitting back in coach? People who can’t use the free drink vouchers issued by major airline often sell those drink coupons for very low prices online. We recently found a pack of 10 drink coupons issued by a major carrier being sold for just $10.50.
Get Hacking: Log onto your favorite auction site and search for terms such as “Airlines Drink Coupons” or “Drink Voucher” — then narrow the search by adding the name of your favorite airline. You can also scout around for vouchers good for one-day passes to elite status airline clubs, headsets, car rental upgrades and more.
Strategy #4: Get Red Carpet Treatment for Less than $20
Who says that you have to stay in the city’s finest hotel to take advantage of the full-service concierge? As long as you provide a tip for the hard working men and women behind the desk, it’s perfectly fine to check your bag for the day as you walk around town ($2 to $5 per piece), request assistance in making tough reservations or scoring hard-to-get tickets ($5 or $20 depending upon the service provided), or asking for a local city map and directions to a local destination (no charge).
Get Hacking: Wait your turn, and be polite as you approach the desk— don’t necessarily announce that you’re not a guest at the hotel as you make your request. And again, be sure that you have a little cash on hand—a little goes a long way.
Share your ‘travel hacking’ (but legal!) tips with us. We’ll publish the best ones on our Facebook wall!