1. Plan Ahead. First, and foremost, planning is fun. It’s exciting to start planning. As soon as the idea is planted in my head that I might want to visit a city for a marathon or event, I go to Kayak and set up a price alert for flights – I always use the daily alert, not the weekly alert. Fares can change like the seasons, and in order to take advantage of a good rate you need to know about it.
2. Early Bookings can be Great Deals. I know we typically hear talk of “last minute bargains,” but I find that some of the best bargains are found sooner rather than later. Some trips, especially for popular marathons in large cities, are best planned before the town wakes up and realizes that there is a big opportunity to make lots of money. Point in fact…. In 2011, right after the Miami Marathon, I decided I want to go back again for the 2012 Miami Marathon. Miami hotel rates, especially for the marathon weekend, are very VERY expensive (as in other cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles). But I looked around, and the Marriott Marquis downtown, a four star hotel very close to the start and finish of the marathon, had apparently not realized that the marathon was the last weekend in January. So, I booked a government rate (yes, I’m eligible for that rate – – one should always explore and exploit all of the rates they are eligible for) for less than $110 per night. Pretty incredible.
3. Flexibility. Remain flexible and don’t commit if possible. Yes, I said plan ahead. But also recognize that you don’t want to back yourself into a corner if you don’t have to. Plans sometimes change, and its great to know you can change your destination, your hotel or your dates of travel. Hold hotel rooms, but don’t opt for non-refundable if possible. For example – I’ll cover it in another post, but knowing how to use Priceline can be great in planning trips. However, on at least two recent occasions, I got fabulous deals on Priceline for a Friday to Sunday stay, realizing, long after, that I’d prefer to go from Saturday to Monday, and I was stuck. A bargain is only a bargain, if you use it.
4. Keep checking. Hotels, Airfares and Car Rentals change. If you are renting a car, make a reservation early. They can nearly all be canceled without penalty. Often, car rental prices keep increasing – and if you placed a reservation early, you will have the benefit of that rate. On the other hand, if the price decreases (and you’ll only know that if you check back), then you can cancel and take advantage of the lower rate. Some people say very good things about using Autoslash to keep watch on car rental rates. Hotel rates can also change, or become available, over time – but you can only take advantage if you keep checking! (see, Keep Checking Trip Details Right Until the Last Minute).
5. Use all advantages you have. Read blogs and sign up for emails, and point and mile programs. Much more to follow on this. For example, based on a tip, I signed up for the frequent flyer program on Kingfisher Airlines. Nope, I never heard of them either. But, they were giving away “silver” elite status just for signing up. And since they are a future partner of American Airlines, and other One World Airlines, that may mean the ability to check bags for free (ok, I almost NEVER check bags, but still….) or perhaps even boarding a flight early or getting a better choice of seats. So… Hello Kingfisher. (Update: Kingfisher disappeared a few years ago).
6. Be persistent, but not annoying. Be nice. Be very nice. If you are dealing with a representative on the phone, and the conversation does not seem to be going in the desired direction, don’t argue and don’t plead. Hang up and try again. Because…. you never know!!!
7. Priceline and Hotline are your friends. Do not be afraid of sites such as Priceline or Hotline. You can get some amazing deals. There are lots of tricks to get the most out of these websites. (I love www.betterbidding.com – check it out!). (Update: I have not used Priceline or Hotline in years, preferring to use special rates or points and miles I have accrued).
8. Apartment and Vacation Rentals. I’ve heard some wonderful reports from people renting apartments or houses on websites such as Airbnb. This might be especially suitable to family travel, or travel for more than a few days.
9. Loyalty is rewarded. Show some loyalty, if possible. If you can concentrate your flights on one airline, or hotel stays at one hotel brand, you may be able to get “status.” Its not about snobbishness – its about good prices, good treatment, late checkouts, free wi-fi, etc. A late checkout is worth the difference between showering or not showering after a marathon. And to me, that’s worth A LOT!
10. Take advantage of credit cards. Get some credit cards that have special offers. Don’t just buy because the card has a good advertisement. Read up on the deals. Listen to the experts’ reports on why one deal is good or not. I’m sure I’ve gotten more than 20 credit cards, and earned hundreds of thousands of miles, since I originally began this post (and my credit score has soared to over 800).
11. Earn and Burn. This is a summary term. People who collect points and miles, say its best to earn and burn them, because unlike money in the bank, points and miles don’t increase in value with time.
12. Be organized. Find a way to keep track of your planning. Never, ever let points or miles expire. There’s a myriad of ways, other than flying to earn points and miles. Try Award Wallet or other services to help keep track of your points and miles.
13. Sometimes the Deal Chooses Me. Sometimes I plan to run a marathon, and work my travel plans around it. But sometimes a travel deal comes along, and I look to see if I can work a marathon into it. A few years ago, there was a mistake fare on Delta, such that a round trip fare to Barcelona was $250. I quickly researched when the Barcelona Marathon was and found that the fare would work. So I ran with it. Literally. Remember, most airfares, even non-refundable fares, can be canceled within 24 hours of purchase. So, if you come across a particularly good rate, book it right away, then cancel it if it won’t work for you.
That’s enough for now – I’m sure that I have to pack for another trip. But I’d love to hear your comments – any pointers or tips you have, or any questions or topics you’d like to see covered.