Travel can burn a hole in your wallet, and it's only getting more expensive — hotel rates are projected to go up 3.7 percent and airfare 3.5 percent for 2018. Finding deals and discounts is one way to save, but spending a little more time on hacks to beat the system will stretch your dollar far.
Entrepreneur Travis Chambers, who founded a video marketing agency that makes social videos, has taken more than 100 trips in the past three years with his wife and two toddlers, and says he's saved a total of $60,000 with his tried-and-true travel hacks, averaging $20,000 a year in the past three years.
"Travelers need all the help they can get to save a buck while on vacation," Chambers tells CNBC Make It, "especially when traveling with family."
Chambers, 30 — who has been an avid traveler since his mid-20s when he had an eye-opening trip in Switzerland ("My passion for travel really connected here") — knows how much the costs can add up. Through trial and error, his wife and he discovered ways to save time and money on nearly every aspect of a trip, from flights to accommodations.
"We made a habit of going on a big trip almost every month," Chambers says. "Because we had a new business and our income was unpredictable, and also we have two children, we had to figure out ways to hack travel for it to be possible."
Chambers has visited Hawaii, North Carolina, Switzerland, New Zealand, France and Iceland with his family.
"We average spending $1,000 a trip, and we noticed we spend about 60 percent less than what our friends, associates and travelers typically pay for vacations," says Chambers, for both domestic and international travel.
How do they save so much? The family sticks to certain rules.
"We absolutely never fly anywhere unless it's under $450 per person round-trip, and we never stay in hotels during busy seasons. I'm a fan of the sharing economy and often rented our place on Airbnb. The stay from guests can cover the cost for almost an entire trip." Chambers rented his two-bedroom home in Redondo Beach, California, for $147/night and $969 for the week.
These are his best tips to save money when traveling.
1. Instead of the hotel mini bar or nearby grocery store, buy your provisions online
"Have either Amazon Pantry or Instacart deliver food to your hotel or rental for breakfast and/or snacks, bottled water and sodas," Chambers says. "Do it before you leave home.. it's there when you arrive! And it saves money and time." At any hotel in the world, the front desk will bring your deliveries or let you pick it up at the front desk. Amazon Pantry is available in the US, as well as France.
On a recent trip to Paris, Chambers saved $300 by ordering provisions through Amazon Pantry France, which he decided to put toward dining rather than stash away. "That $300 savings paid for us to go splurge on two dinners out and feel great about it."
2. Think about renting a timeshare from someone who owns one
A timeshare is a property that vacationers can buy into as owners for a predetermined timeframe and use it as a vacation rental for a predetermined times per year. Many timeshare owners can regret buying into one as they never return to use it.
"When possible for vacation travel, I scan Craigslist and Facebook groups and pay people pennies on the dollar to stay in their timeshare," Chambers says, adding that very few timeshares restrict renting. He stayed in a timeshare at the Marriott Ko' Olina in Oahu, Hawaii, for a week for $300 while the owner was not there. "Three hundred dollars is what someone would pay a night at this hotel."
"People make poor decisions and have regret when buying into timeshares," he adds. "Their loss is your gain."
Red Week is a popular timeshare community where owners list their timeshare rentals.
3. Rent other people's cars through car-on-demand apps
You can rent other people's cars with car-on-demand apps, like Getaround and Turo, and it's going to save you money.
"On Turo, a Dodge Challenger Hellcat goes for $130/day. You'll easily spend $350/day for a similar, base-model sports car on Hertz Luxury. Also, the buyer is already covered by a $1-million Turo insurance policy, so you don't have to pay insurance."
A convertible Ford Mustang in Los Angeles is $51/day; the rate starts around $100 at car rental agencies.
4. Ask for discounts when using peer-to-peer vacation rentals, like Airbnb or VRBO
Chambers adds that every time he books an Airbnb, he messages the owner to ask for discounts, and he usually gets one for longer stays. "I commonly save another 10 to 20 percent simply by asking."
If you're traveling with a smaller group, he says, don't hesitate to share a home with someone else. "The benefits of this are that it's even cheaper, and housemates can often be the most unlikely travel partners that makes your trip even more memorable."
5. Use "hidden-city" ticketing
"It's counter-intuitive but because an airline's booking algorithms are based on supply and demand, demand for a short flight is often higher than demand for a longer flight," Chambers says.
This means that farther destinations can be cheaper than closer ones, so if there's a connection in your flight itinerary, some insiders will book the entire ticket but only fly the first half of the route. It's often called "hidden-city ticketing."
"I save thousands of dollars a year by booking a flight to somewhere that has a stop through my destination, where I get off. It's often cheaper this way," says Chambers.
To find routes, Travis uses Skiplagged, an app that's free to download. Skiplagged shows flights other search engines won't show you, including hidden-city flights. With the app, you can filter flights by duration, number of layovers, takeoff/landing time and more.
"My most common flight is Boise to Salt Lake City," Chambers says. "When I book my flight ahead of time, it's $130 round trip and all is well. A last-minute booking is $500, but a last-minute flight to Los Angeles via Salt Lake is as little as $220. Anytime I encounter a fare that just seems unreasonable for the distance, I check hidden-city connections and more often than not it is half the cost or better."
But be careful if you plan to book this way. Hidden-city ticketing is not illegal (United tried to sue Skiplagged and failed) but frowned upon by airlines.
You also take risks and make sacrifices. For instance, you cannot check a bag if you're going to abandon the second leg of the trip. Also, if a flight attendant gate-checks your bag, you're basically screwed.
"We've successfully skiplagged a few dozen times without any issues, and If you properly manage the risks, you can save up to hundreds of dollars per flight," Chambers says. "You should take time to know risks involved, like an airline can take away all your points if they want to."
6. Take a cheap bus
Munich, Germany-based FlixBus is a low-cost bus travel company with 250,000 daily connections to around 1,700 destinations in more than 27 European countries, and it debuted in the western U.S. on May 15.
"FlixBus travel takes a little longer but it's about $30 compared to a $150 Euro train ticket. You can even take it overnight so you can sleep, thus saving travel time and money on a place to sleep."
FlixBus tickets in the US will start as low as $2.99 one way. For now, scheduled routes debuting this summer only include select cities in California, Arizona and Nevada, including Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Tucson and San Diego.
There's also MegaBus, where fares start at $10.
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