COST SAVER TIPS
We are often asked "how can we save money on this trip?" by first time (and even experienced) travellers.
Some of these suggestions may not be compatible with the way that you travel, or you simply may not want to try them. They have been thought of, by considering the pros and the cons. But it is ultimately, your choice!
Here are some suggestions (please read our disclaimer):
Go All Inclusive: To go all inclusive means, to take a package or accompanied tour with other people who either join you from your home country, or join you at your destination. It usually includes selected meals, hotels and ground transportation. This is usually works only for popular destinations with substantial volumes, such as seasonal tours, pilgrimage tours, Velankanni, Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The pros of accompanied travel are that: you have a guide, you get the advantage of group airfares and hotel group discounts, and much of the unknown risk factor and possible exploitation by scam artistes is removed. Some meals are included, so your total costs are pretty much known before you leave. Some All Inclusive tours are actually premium solutions that are much more expensive (about double) than buying its components separately.
The cons of packaged or accompanied travel are that: you are restricted to the destinations and sights included on the tour without flexibility, you are restricted to operator-selected airlines and fixed dates of departure from restricted starting points, you can't take a break to visit friends en-route, you have to keep up with your group, or stay back if someone in your group goes missing at stops, and have to merely take photos and move on without fully appreciating your destination, including its inner secrets, food, culture and its people. Your meal choices are restricted if they are included in the package, and it may not be the cuisine of the country, but may be British pub food or even a fast food chain. If all you want to do on your holiday is sunbathe at a beach or resort, these cons above are not relevant, and you should definitely go all-inclusive.
Buy an open jaw ticket. If you are travelling to many destinations, which your main airline flies to, always return from the city where you end your trip, rather than backtrack. It would make sense to end up in a city from which your airline can take you back home. This does not add significantly to your cost - on the contrary, you save both time and a considerable amount on the cost of backtracking to your point of origin. Buy the smart ticket, and avoid that costly one-way ticket for the return journey. See: Open-Jaw and Circle
Take an excursion. The usual rule is avoid tour guides accompanying you every day on long trips. There are exceptions to this, and you can get an excellent, value for money local tour by a small company for a fraction of the cost of a long guided tour from major outbound operators.
Stay more than one night. Generally, hotels offer better deals if you stay for more than one night. The one night stay guest is identified as a business profile guest, so leisure rates are made available for more than one night's stay. Business destination hotels are cheaper on weekends and have Trade Fair premiums. Leisure destination hotels are cheaper on weekdays and have more off-peak periods.
Travel in even numbers. Couples, or two friends sharing a room, reduces the average cost to half or just more than half, as the cost is for the room and not per person (whatever others may tell you). Triple rooms for three adults are rare in budget accommodation. If three adults in a room is unavoidable, it may make sense to go a little upmarket to a serviced apartment or an upscale hotel which allows more than two adults. e.g. if a single/double is USD 84, the cost for all three is USD 168, averaging USD 56. But if the Triple Room is USD 135 the average is USD 45. Family Rooms at upscale hotels, also offer similar benefits, allowing four adults, or at least two adults with two children under 16.
Use Public Transport - where possible only. In developed countries only, the bus, surface or underground train, or tram is usually the cheapest way to get around, especially with an Off-peak Pass or (in London) a "Oyster" card with capping. Taxis are usually expensive, and get stuck in traffic for long periods of time in large congested cities, with the meter ticking. The number of exceptions are reducing, though they still exist. Study your map and plan ahead, and preferably get instructions from your hotel or us, if you have a long and busy itinerary on a particular day. However, if it is raining or snowing hard, or you are in a hurry, or you are travelling with a family of four or more, a taxi or mini-van / MPV can prove to be far more cost effective than public transport. Remember, if you have to catch a train or coach, and the timetable of the public transport is not favourable, trying to use public transport is false economy, and can wreck your trip.
Never launder your clothes in your hotel. Laundry is very expensive in hotels. Even at street-side laundromats, the coin operated machines can cost more than the value of your clothes bought at home. Handwash your dirty clothes in the bathroom sink at your middle stop, ensuring that you have at least a three night stay here, in the middle of a 2 to 4 week trip.
Hire a car. Cars are liabilities in large cities, but can be useful if you are going to be based outside a city, or if your itinerary is bookended by large cities. Cars are great to explore the countryside, and also for extended road trips on any continent. If you have a group of four, it can even be cheaper than buying a train pass, or buying individual bus/train tickets. Things to think about include - cost and convenience of parking, traffic snarls, fuel costs, possible accidents, differing road rules, driving on the other side of the road than you are used to, the need for an international driving licence and the stress and fatigue of driving hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.
Do a Dummy (dry) Run. This is more of a disaster avoidance, rather than cost saving. You can save a lot of time and money by doing it. If you have a very early start in the morning to catch a cruise ship, tour coach or train, do the journey from your accommodation to the departure point, to check out the breakfast places that suit you, and the time it takes to get there. Then you know what time to wake up, what time to check out, and the route to get there. Most coach operators recommend that you be there 15 minutes prior to the departure time to tag your bags and verify your identity (and get a good seat!)
Check both overland transport and airfares. In some cases, travelling on a good budget airline is both faster and cheaper than travelling by train or bus.
Tell us everything, and ask advice. Book and ticket early and book smart. Even if you have a confirmed booking on a flight, the fare can change until the itinerary is ticketed and paid for. If you may need to date change, put the ticket for refund or may need to do a side trip, tell us in advance. We will ensure that your fare allows you to do this. If you do not tell us, we sell the most restrictive, cheapest fare to you, and doing your post-purchase transaction can be very costly. If you want to know the date change, refund or re-routing fees, please ask us. We will tell you before you buy your ticket.
Stay outside the city, or downgrade your accommodation. This is not recommended for short trips. You will spend on your transport as well as spend time getting to the main places that you want to visit. This would make sense if you do not want to visit major attractions in city centres, but your target is a place near your externally located hotel. Vet your accommodation on Tripadvisorto be sure (with the usual pinch of salt).
Travel Light. This usually pays off: the more bags you have, the more you will have to pay taxis to cart them along with you. Also, in the USA, there is a check-in charge of USD 25 upwards per piece for domestic flights.
Large Breakfast, Skip Lunch. If you are staying at a good bed and breakfast in the UK, or a 3 star hotel or above, you can eat a hearty breakfast at the buffet and skip lunch, perhaps having a sweet, ice cream, fast food or sandwich in the mid-afternoon when feeling peckish. There is no rule that you have to have breakfast at the same hotel that you are staying. You can go to a different, less expensive hotel or even to a local street cafe and experience the local culture. Breakfast is the cheapest meal that you can have in Europe. Most 3-star breakfast buffets will beat any supermarket on pricing, whereas most Lunches and Dinners will not. In touristy Europe and some other destinations, you will find a 3-course "Tourist menu", (includes starter, a main and a dessert) for lunch, and sometimes even dinner. This is often priced the same as a single dinner main, and is done by their B team, not the usual chef. Fast Food and basement food courts are often the cheapest and least risky meal you can have (not considering dietary constraints). Don't let that prevent you from experimenting with what you see the locals eating!
Buy from the Supermarket. If you are in an expensive city and a tourist area to boot, all the shops and malls in the centre will be priced high. If you find a supermarket chain, this will be cheap for basic necessities such as napkins, water, soft drinks, paper cups, bread, margarine, spreads, tinned fish, cheese, biscuits, chocolates and other essential groceries for a do-it-yourself lunch or dinner. In Central Europe, tap water is safe in major city centres. For longer stays, you can even put together a dinner if you are staying in a room with a kitchenette, a villa or a good apartment.
Have Local Currency. It is true that credit cards offer an excellent way of monitoring your transactions. However for low value items, and for places that do not accept them, you should have a pre-calculated amount of local currency. You can then be more frugal with meals (if you so wish), by frequenting food outlets that don't even accept credit cards. This might prove to be a most rewarding experience as well, as it will be where the locals eat.
If your bank has given you a PLUS (or CIRRUS) ATM card, you can withdraw money in the local currency. To avoid cash advance fees and interest, you should link your current and savings account to the credit card (or simply use your debit card instead). Note that HSBC Advance and HSBC Premier customers may withdraw from an HSBC ATM anywhere in the world from their own account, and not the credit card account, without any additional charge (at the prevailing Visa/Master middle rate). Please take care to retrieve your card once the withdrawal is complete. In some countries (like Turkey and Estonia), the cash is dispensedbefore your card is returned.
Traveller's Cheques are now outdated and are not in use. Foreign exchange commissions can be very high, whether charged to you direct, or through a very bad exchange rate at "Commission Free/Fee Free" counters (between 3-10%).
Think Frugal when Souvenir shopping. You may see several items which you might consider as "good souvenirs". If you are not careful, you will end up with a whole lot of "junk", which cannot be displayed or even stored at your home. They are usually low value and highly marked up, so this could be a major part of your spending. To avoid this trap, think: 1) where would I keep this? 2) who would want to or have the time to see this?