Today was our second port day in Alaska as we docked in Skagway. Skagway is famous for the role that the port city played in the Alaska gold rush. The city is filled with free museums and old shops and it really is like taking a step back in time. Probably the most famous activity in Skagway is the White Pass railway, although it is rather pricey.
We were traveling on a bit of a budget, and Skagway also has a lot of great activities that are completely free. One of our favorite things to do here is to hike along any number of the great nature trails. On our first Alaskan cruise we did the Lower Dewey Lake trail, so this time we wanted to do something different. First, we did the hike to Yakutania Point with a slight detour to Smuggler’s Cove. Once we finished that hike we had plenty of time left in port so we decided to do the Lower Reid Falls and Gold Rush Cemetery as well.
Yakutania Point and Smuggler’s Cove
Our first hike was to Yakutania Point which offers some excellent views of the water and the docked cruise ships. The hike itself was relatively easy, although it did have some narrow paths and uneven rock steps. The trail head starts just behind the Skagway airport with a footbridge across the Skagway River. We were feeling a little adventurous, so we also climbed on the rock outcroppings at the end of the trail. These gave us an excellent vantage point to see the Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Mountains.
Just past the halfway mark for the Yakutania Point trail is the turnoff for the Smugglers Cove trail. While we were on our way back we decided to take the turn off and hike out to Smugglers Cove. This added an additional 2-3 miles round trip, but the trail itself was easy with almost no elevation gain. The Smuggler’s Cove trail winds through mixed coastal forests before opening up to a sheltered tidal inlet. This appeared to be a bit less well known than Yakutania point, but the views were absolutely breathtaking.
Gold Rush Cemetery and Lower Reid Falls
After we hiked back to the airport we walked through the city to see some of the shops and then continued along the main road until we reached the railroad tracks. Here was the start of the trail to Lower Reid Falls which also goes through the Gold Rush Cemetery. The cemetery itself is just past the parking lot, so much of the walking to reach it is paved and smooth. This is the oldest cemetery in Skagway and is the final resting place for a number of the most famous gold prospectors to come to Skagway in search of their fortune.
From the cemetery it’s just a short forest hike to Reid Falls. The falls are about 300 feet in total and cascade down the mountain in an absolutely picturesque scene. These hikes are amazing because they provide a great contrast to each other. You can see the ocean and the forests, waterfalls and gravestones, history and nature. And best of all? We did it all for free.
I’m not shy to admit that cruises are by far one of my favorite ways to travel. From the small luxury ships to the great floating cities, I love to cruise. You can see just about the entire world from a cruise ship. Alaska. The Caribbean. Asia. Europe. Even Antarctica has a number of cruise opportunities. Unfortunately, many people have the idea that cruises are prohibitively expensive and end up shying away from what could be their new favorite way to travel. Far from being too expensive, I’d argue that cruises are a very budget friendly vacation idea.
It is definitely true that you can find some very expensive cruises out there. One example is the 127 day Viking World Treasures cruise which can run as much as $50,000 per person. Antarctica cruises can cost up to $12,000 per person. There are even a few suites on the “budget” cruise lines that can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. But with over 20 million people taking a cruise each year, these pricey options are the exception, not the rule.
So why exactly do people think cruises are so expensive? How much will a typical cruise actually cost? And how does that compare to other vacation options? Put on your captain’s hat, because we’re about to go on a journey to see the value of a cruise vacation.
Why people think cruises might not be a budget friendly vacation?
I touched a bit on this above; there are some very pricey cruises out there and the media loves to talk about them. But even if you’re just looking at a budget cruise line like Royal Caribbean or Carnival, there can be a bit of sticker shock. Partially, this is because of the way cruise lines advertise their prices.
Most cruise lines will advertise their price per person per day. So you will see an advertisement that says something like “3 Day Cruises from $99!” When you then break down the price, however, it comes out to $750. Quite a bit more than the $99 that got you excited. The problem is that the $99 price point was the cost per person, per day and didn’t include taxes and fees. Cruise cabins are designed with two passengers in mind, so the room itself is $198 per day. For a 3 day cruise that’s close to $600, and then taxes and port fees can add another $100-$200.
Thankfully, this kind of deceptive marketing is going away, although the per person rates are still advertised, despite the fact that you can’t just book that rate for one person. Most cruise lines will add a “single supplement” for anybody cruising alone. This single supplement typically brings the total cost to just a touch under the price for two people.
Another reason why cruises appear to be so expensive, is because most expenses are included in the quote. When you are booking a standard land vacation you will see separate prices for the hotel, food, activities, and transportation. So with a cruise you might see the grand total of $2,000 and think it’s expensive. But add together everything from a land trip – food, hotel, rental car, etc. – and you’ll quickly see that you’re actually spending more than you anticipated.
Of course, not everything is included in the cruise fare. Excursions, alcohol, the casino, etc. will all cost extra. However, these same things will also cost extra when you are planning a non-cruise vacation. Even better, many activities on board are included that you would have to pay for otherwise. Cruises offer pools and water slides, miniature golf and rock climbing, movies and plays, comedy shows and concerts. Each of these activities could cost you $5-$50 per person on land, but are included with the cost of a cruise.
How much does a cruise actually cost?
This is a really difficult question to answer, and the best option would be to reach out for a detailed price quote. That being said, there are some general pricing rules we can follow, depending on some of the details of the cruise.
What all impacts cruise price?
There are a few different aspects of your cruise that can change what you should expect to pay:
Cruise Company – Different companies have different price structures, but typically your mass market cruise lines will be cheaper. Generally speaking, Carnival is often the cheapest, followed by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Holland America. Celebrity and Princess can be a little more expensive, and then Disney and the luxury lines like Oceania, Silversea, Azamara, and Seabourn even more so.
The Ship – Even within a single cruise line, prices can vary wildly from ship to ship. Newer and larger ships will often fetch a premium while the older and smaller ships often have lower prices to entice more cruisers.
Room Type – There are four main types of rooms – Interior (no window, no balcony. Cheapest) Ocean View (A window that doesn’t open.) Balcony or Veranda, and finally, the different levels of suites.
Length of Cruise – Most cruises are 7 nights, but they can range from 3 to 21 or even longer. On a per night basis, longer cruises are actually typically cheaper. This is due to a decrease in demand as well as an anticipation of higher on board spending.
Destination – Destination can make a huge difference in cruise price. The Caribbean, which has dozens of ships in competition with year round cruises will often be cheaper than Alaska or Australia cruises. Speaking of Alaska cruises, the one way Anchorage to Canada cruises are often significantly cheaper than the round trip Seattle cruises.
Bottom line? At a base price expect a 7 night cruise to cost between $1,000 and $2,000 for two people. If you want a more exotic itinerary, a nicer room, or a newer ship that price can rise, but under $2,000 a week is typical and is a very budget friendly vacation.
Budget Friendly Vacation Comparisons
Prices can vary based on your personal taste, but I’ve set up a few different comparisons to see how cruising compares to other vacation options. We will take a look at a week in Europe, a week in Alaska, and a week in the Caribbean.
Cruise vs Land – Europe Edition
For this comparison I chose a week in prime summer travel season – mid June, 2020. The cruise I chose is Royal Caribbean’s 7 night Eastern Mediterranean cruise out of Venice leaving on June 13th. This cruise visits Venice, Kotor, Corfu, Athens, Mykonos, Argostoli, and returns to Venice.
Cost for 2
For the land portion, we have two options. We can just do a full week in Venice, or we can actually try to duplicate the exact itinerary. When considering each, I will come up with numbers for three different types of budgets. For low budget I will assume a cafe for breakfast, and fast food for lunch and dinner with a three star hotel. Mid budget assumes a 4 star hotel with a casual restaurant for dinner. High budget will be a 5 star hotel, casual lunch, and nice dinner.
Single City Costs
Hotel (7 nights)
Meals (7 days)
Public Transit(7 days)
One Attraction Per Day
As you can see, the total price is just barely lower than the cost of the cruise. However, this limits you to seeing just one city while the cruise will let you see 6 cities. What happens if we were to try and visit the same 6 cities not using a cruise ship? Each leg of the trip (6 in total) would cost between $150 (bus or train) to $400 (regional flights). At the lowest budget that would make the cruise $600 cheaper to see the same cities.
Cruise vs Land – Alaska Edition
For Alaska, there’s no good way to travel to many of the port cities so for the land portion we will just assume a full week spent in Anchorage. The selected cruise is on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas leaving Seward, Alaska on May 22, 2020.
Cost for 2
Aside from the suites, this cruise is even cheaper than the Mediterranean option. The attractive pricing, the unique itineraries, and the absolutely stunning natural beauty are all reasons that Alaska cruises are my personal favorite.
Hotel (7 nights)
Meals (7 days)
Rental Car(7 days)
One Attraction Per Day
Here we can see the cruise not only visits much more of the state, but it is also cheaper.
Cruise vs land – Caribbean All-Inclusive
For the Caribbean we’ll try to get a bit more apples to apples. We’ll stick with just one location, but compare an all-inclusive resort to a cruise. There are a lot more cruise options, so we’ll price out three. First, the newest and biggest, Symphony of the Seas out of Miami. Next, Freedom of the Seas out of Puerto Rico, and finally Liberty of the Seas out of Galveston.
With Caribbean options, we are now getting a much more budget friendly vacation. For the all-inclusive resorts, we will also consider three different islands, and three levels of resort as well.
Here we can see that all-inclusive resorts are very comparatively priced with cruises. Indeed, AI Resorts and cruises offer many of the same amenities; it ultimately comes down to if you prefer multiple destinations and time at sea, or a single destination with a more traditional hotel experience.
Cruises are a vacation that offer a very strong “bang for your buck.” There is a cruise available for nearly any budget, and the total price of a cruise vacation is in line with more traditional types of vacations. When you consider what type of vacation to take, you have to consider all the variables, and cruises have many different pieces to them. While the total price may appear high at first, remember that you are paying for your hotel, meals, transportation, and entertainment.
If you are ready to find a cruise, all-inclusive resort, tour group, or individual travel plan, contact us today. We’ll be happy to help you plan the perfect budget friendly vacation.
Occasionally companies may offer special promotions that can be a great deal for future adventures. Currently Wyndham Rewards is offering a promotion for one free night at any Wyndham hotel after staying just two separate times. Wyndham Rewards is already a great value because of their flat redemption options. With just 15,000 points you can stay for free at any hotel under the Wyndham brand. Normally, you earn 10 points per dollar spent at a Wyndham property, with a minimum of 1,000 points per stay. That means that normally it takes 15 stays to earn a free night. With this promotion cutting that down to only two stays, the value is amazing.
In fact, the value is so great that you may even want to consider making a mattress run to get these points before the promotion expires.
What is a Mattress Run?
You may have already heard of a Mattress Run, or the somewhat related Mileage Run. If you are not familiar, a Mattress Run is when you reserve a hotel that you don’t need just to earn loyalty points. While it might seem like a waste, there are times where the value of the points earned can be higher than the cost of a hotel room. Wyndham Hotel Group is a perfect candidate for this, especially with the current promotion. Wyndham includes a wide variety of hotel brands, including some budget offerings such as Days Inn and Super 8. Depending on your location you can often find a budget hotel under the Wyndham umbrella for under $40 a night. Even if you don’t need a hotel right now, for only $80 you can earn 15,000 points and get a free night at any Wyndham hotel worldwide.
In order for the stay to count you have to actually check in, so you can’t just find a random hotel clear across the country and reserve a night. The easiest way to complete a mattress run is to book the cheapest hotel close to your house, check in, leave the key in the room, and then go home.
The Wyndham Rewards Promotion
As mentioned above, the promotion just requires two stays at a Wyndham property during the promotion period. Your two stays must be completed before June 30th, 2018, and must be two separate reservations, not just two nights. You also have to have a Wyndham Rewards account and register for the promotion.
Registering for the Promotion
To register for this promotion you must first have a Wyndham Rewards account. This account is free to create at the Wyndham Hotels website. Once you have an account and are logged in, go to the promotion page and register for the promotion. Once that’s done you are good to go and are free to start booking your stays.
You must have a Wyndham Rewards Account
You must register for the promotion on Wyndham Hotel’s website
There must be two completed stays at a Wyndham property by June 30th, 2018
The room must be booked directly through the hotel. You can book:
Online at WyndhamHotels.com
Online at the specific chain’s website
Via phone to the hotel or Wyndham’s Toll Free reservation line
No shows do not count; you must actually check in to the hotel
Getting the Most out of the Promotion
In order to maximize the value of this promotion, you should focus on two points. First, minimize the cost of your two stays. If you were already planning on staying at a Wyndham property you don’t have to worry about this, but it is particularly important for Mattress Runs. Mid-week stays at budget properties will usually offer you the best prices, but it can vary depending on your geographic location. Days Inn, Super 8, and Travelodge are often the cheapest options, but it’s a good idea to search all Wyndham properties via the Wyndham website to get the best deals for your area.
The second part of the equation is deciding where to spend your free night. Wyndham Grand resorts often offer the best redemption value, although Ramada and a number of Las Vegas casinos, including Harrah’s, Caesar’s Palace, and the Rio can also offer an amazing value. Wyndham has also recently added vacation homes and condos to their offerings, adding even more amazing redemption opportunities. Peak season rates at some of these properties can start at $300 a night. That means that for about $80 you can earn 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points and get a free night valued at over $300. Without the promotion, it would take 15 stays to earn a free night, which would cost you at least $600. This represents an amazing value and an excellent opportunity to splurge at a resort you may otherwise never get to experience.
Airfare is notoriously expensive and as a result airlines have begun focusing on no-frills service. Often this means that the cost of your ticket includes nothing more than the ticket itself. Over the past decade this has become more common, with many airlines starting to charge for checked bags. This also led to the rise of “Ultra Low Cost Carriers”, or ULCCs. ULCCs would charge extra for just about every service. Choosing a seat, checking a bag, drinks, snacks, and even carry-on bags would cost extra.
This model is most commonly associated with dedicated ULCCs, including Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant in the United States. However, the larger legacy carriers have recently implemented their own version of this concept. Enter “Basic Economy” fares.
Basic Economy Comparison Table
Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in
Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in
Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in
Choose or Auto-Assign at check-in
Auto-Assign at check-in only
1 Personal Item Only
1 Personal Item Only
Ultra Low Cost Carriers
Frontier is based out of Denver and often offers the cheapest tickets when flying from the Western United States. Often one way tickets can be found for less than $100, but nearly everything comes with an additional fee. Carry on bags stored in the overhead bin start at $30 each way if you purchase online. All of Frontier’s baggage fees are higher if you purchase at the airport on the date of travel. Change fees are $99 plus any additional difference in ticket price.
Passengers are free to check-in online 24 hours before their flight, or at the airport the day of their flight.
Spirit is very similar to Frontier; bags, drinks, snacks, and seat selection all cost extra. Just like with Frontier, paying for your bags when you book the ticket will be cheaper than paying at the airport. Basic seats on Spirit have only 28 inches of legroom, the smallest on any American carrier. The extra cost “Big Front Seats” have an impressive 36 inches of legroom but can cost up to $200+ for each leg of your trip.
Also like Frontier, Spirit offers free check-in online or via their mobile app 24 hours before your flight. Checking in at the airport will cost an additional $10.
American Airlines was the last of the legacy carriers to adopt the basic economy model, starting in February 2017. American is the middle of the pack between Delta and United; more restrictive than Delta but not as bad as United. Seat assignment is available for purchase 48 hours before your flight, or will be automatically assigned at check-in. You can check-in online or via the mobile app 24 hours before your flight.
Upgrades to Premium Economy can be purchased, but will not be complimentary, even for elite members. All passengers who purchased a Basic Economy ticket will board last, even if they purchase Premium Economy or have elite status. No changes or refunds are allowed on Basic Economy fares, but they do still earn frequent flyer miles.
Delta has the least restrictive basic economy offering of the legacy carriers. You are free to check-in online or via the mobile app 24 hours before your flight, and can select your own seat at check-in. Upgrades to Premium Economy are not available, even for purchase, and basic economy passengers will be the last to board. Unlike American, if you have elite status with Delta you are free to board with the other elites, even with the basic economy ticket. Best of all, basic economy passengers on Delta have the same baggage allowance as other passengers. You are free to carry-on a personal item as well as a larger carry-on for no additional charge.
No changes or refunds are allowed on Basic Economy fares, but they do still earn frequent flyer miles.
United basic economy is… it’s just the worst. If you are not paying to check a bag you cannot even check-in online with a United basic economy fare. Without a checked bag you must check-in at the airport, and you have to wait for a United agent to sign off on your check-in. My last time flying United in basic economy, this actually caused me to miss my flight. It took us close to 20 minutes to get an agent over to the kiosk to approve our check-in and by that time it was too late for us to complete the check-in process and receive our boarding pass.
United does not allow a large carry-on for basic economy passengers, and automatically assigns seats at check-in. You will still earn frequent flyer miles, but unlike Delta and American, these flights do not count towards earning elite status.
Considerations When Booking Basic Economy
For my personal travels, United is the only airline that I refuse to fly in basic economy. With every other airline, it is something that I will at least consider if the price is right.
Understand the Rules
The fact that United does not allow online check-in was not widely publicized. If I had known how difficult checking in would be we might have pushed to arrive at the airport earlier, or avoided booking the ticket all together. For ULCC’s like Frontier and Spirit, knowing that bag charges are cheaper online can save you significant costs. Also, knowing that they do not offer snacks for free means you can purchase a drink or snack in the airport before boarding.
Use Them for Short Flights
For particularly short flights the restrictions placed on basic economy fares will be less noticeable. If you are flying on a smaller regional jet that only has four seats across, you can’t end up in a middle seat. Less legroom would also be more tolerable on a short flight, so the inability to upgrade your seat may not be a big concern.
Be Careful if Travelling in a Group
Without the ability to choose your own seats there is no guarantee that members of your party will be seated together. Even on American and Delta where you can choose your own seat at check-in there is no guarantee that there will be adjacent seats available. There is a new law, the FAA Extension Security and Safety Act of 2016, that will require airlines to make accommodations for families travelling with children 13 and under, but this is not active yet. Until this is officially implemented, it would be best to avoid basic economy if you need to sit with your family.
Double Check Before Booking
When booking a flight directly from the airline’s website the ticket will be clearly labelled as basic economy before you purchase. If you use an online booking engine, however, it might not be as obvious. Even with basic economy fares, you can cancel without penalty within 24 hours of purchasing, as long as your flight is more than a week away. Make sure that you pay close attention to what you are purchasing so there are no surprises when you reach the airport.
Trying to plan an adventure on a budget can be a daunting task, but there are several steps you can take to minimize the stress. It does not matter how big of a vacation you are planning. Whether you are taking a short weekend getaway, a week long cruise, or spending a month abroad; overpaying for any vacation is not pleasant. Thankfully, you have options that will help you make the most out of your vacation budget. Read on to save money on your next dream vacation, and keep more money in your bank account.
Be Flexible Whenever Possible
When and Where You Travel Matters
One of the best ways to save money on a vacation is by being flexible. You have probably seen this in action when attempting to book flights; many websites will ask if your dates are flexible. If you say yes they will then show you the cheapest price available within 3 days. You can take this even further by using a tool such as Google Flight’s Low Fare Calendar. Often you can get much better deals flying on a weekday, or on a date when the airline has many available seats.
Aside from dates, you can also potentially save money if you can be flexible with the airports you are flying between. Sometimes this can be obvious, such as considering both O’Hare and Midway if you are flying into or out of Chicago, but there are other options. Depending on how far you are willing to drive you can find a large number of potential airports to price check. For example, somebody in Chicago might consider going to Detroit. If you are in New York you may consider Philadelphia or even Boston.
Planes, Trains, or Automobiles
Finally, you can also compare different transportation options. If your destination is not too far you can consider taking a train or driving. While both options are slower than air travel, when you add in the time spent in security lines and any delays, the time difference may well be worthwhile for shorter routes. You can also look into combining travel options; on a recent trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, we were able to save $150 per person by taking the train from Vancouver to Seattle, and then flying home. The time difference between taking a direct flight from Vancouver was only 2 hours; well worth the overall savings.
Of course, it is not always possible to be flexible. School, work, and other obligations can restrict the time frame that you are able to travel. These limitations can also make it such that a quick, non-stop flight is necessary, even if the monetary cost is higher. One of the most important things to remember is that your budget is not just the dollar amount spent, time must also be budgeted.
Using Points to Your Advantage
Frequent Flier Miles
When we talk about using “points” to travel, there are many different programs that can come to mind. Many people are familiar with “Frequent Flyer” programs; points that you earn for travelling on a specific airline or airline alliance. These points can be redeemed for free or discounted flights, seat upgrades, or other perks. Unfortunately, if you do not travel often these points can be slow to accumulate, and with some programs they can expire.
Aside from flying, many airlines have credit cards or special shopping portals that can help you earn additional miles. If you travel often, especially if you almost always fly on a specific airline, these points can be extremely valuable. Still, their use can be severely limited since you are limited to specific airlines and restricted to award availability. Just because there are open seats on a flight, certain dates or routes can be blacked out for travel using points.
Hotel and Cruise Loyalty Programs
Airlines are not the only industry that use the point system to encourage and reward loyalty. Many hotel chains offer similar programs, where each night you spend in a participating property can earn points which can later be redeemed for various perks. The same limitations apply as with airlines, with blackout dates and having to stay at specific properties, but you may be surprised as to what all is included in a specific chain. For example, Wyndham owns 15 brands, including hotels such as Days Inn, Super 8, Ramada, and Wyndham Garden. Marriott, which recently acquired Starwood, has 30 brands in their portfolio.
Cruise lines also offer a loyalty program, but these are traditionally handled quite differently from airline and hotel programs. While miles and stays can earn you status with a particular airline or hotel group for a year, cruise status does not expire. The points that you earn for cruising do not translate to free cruises, at least not until you reach the highest tiers, but instead offer you benefits on future cruises. Some typical perks can include discounts on all future cruises, free drinks or internet on board, early boarding, and priority waitlists for reservations.
Credit Card Points, Miles, and Cash Back
All of these points lock you into a specific brand, but there is another option that is much more flexible; credit card points. Cash back credit cards are well known, and an excellent way to save a small amount on all purchases, but there is so much more to credit card points. One example, and my personal favorite travel credit card, is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Points earned on the card can be redeemed with a 25% bonus when booking travel through the Chase website. It also provides the option to transfer your points to various partners, such as the aforementioned frequent flyer programs. American Express has a similar travel portal program, and Citi has a 4th Night Free program when you book four or more consecutive nights in a hotel through their service.
Consider All Costs
When travelling on a budget it can be really easy to just look at the big purchases, but it is crucial to consider all the costs. For example, you may find a flight that’s $100 cheaper at an airport 200 miles away. At first, this can look like a great deal. However, the plane ticket is not the only cost you need to consider. If it will cost you $50 in gas to make the round trip drive, and $15 per day to park, that cheaper ticket can wind up costing you a lot more.
Maybe you found a hotel for only $50 a night, compared to another that is $100 a night. At first glance it seems obvious which hotel is cheaper, but when you consider all the associated costs it may not be so straight forward. Maybe the cheaper hotel has no airport shuttle, so you’ll have to spend $25 each way on taxi fares. Perhaps internet or breakfast are not included and will cost you an extra $10-$20 per day. In order to truly get the best price on your vacation it is important to consider all the expenses you will incur.
Recently, many airlines have begun offering “basic economy” fares that are cheaper than the ordinary tickets. Unfortunately, these then add on additional fees for large carry-ons, choosing your seat, or checking a bag. Cruise lines will add daily gratuities, and do not include sodas, alcohol, internet, or shore excursions in their listed price. It can be extremely easy to just look at a trip and say, “It will cost me $250 to fly, and $1,500 to take a cruise”. If not prepared, however, you may get home and see that you were charged an extra $50 in baggage fees, $150 in cruise line gratuities, and $75 on sodas while on board the ship. All of a sudden you have gone through your entire vacation budget without even realizing it.
Understanding the Rules of the Game
This is where having a knowledgeable travel agent can really come in handy. For example, most plane tickets are non-refundable and have a large fee to change flights. For that reason I often recommend that travelers on a budget book flights last, when they are certain that the vacation won’t be cancelled. There are some tricks to getting the absolute best price on flights, but they also have downsides. For example, sometimes it might be cheaper to book one ticket between your departure airport and a middle airport, and then a second ticket to your final destination. While the ticket itself is cheaper, you will end up paying for checked luggage twice. Also, if your plans change you will have to pay the change fee twice.
Travel insurance is another expense that can sometimes make sense, but you need to understand the terms. Some travel insurance will reimburse you if you have to cancel a vacation because you lost your job, or had your leave request revoked, but not all. Some packages won’t pay out if you had a pre-existing medical condition. Others may not be valid if a flight is cancelled for mechanical or staffing issues. Many people who are impacted by these rules come to believe that insurance companies will do anything to not pay a claim. However, it ultimately comes down to understanding what the insurance does and does not cover.
Refundable Expenses and Price Drops
Aside from flights, some other aspects of your vacation may be able to be cancelled without penalty. Cruises, for example, are often fully refundable up until 2-3 months before you sail. This also means that if the price of your cruise drops after you book, you can get it repriced at the better rate. Here at Adventures With Anthony we offer the guarantee that you will get the best available rate. If you book a cruise and the price drops before final payment is due, we will automatically adjust your final cost.
Hotels can be the most confusing of all because cancellation policies will vary wildly. Often, whether or not you can cancel a hotel stay is dependent on the exact rate you booked. The same exact room may have both a refundable and a non-refundable option. Sometimes the policy can vary depending on the season or how far in advance you book. Having a knowledgeable agent working on your behalf can make finding the rate right much easier.
Make Sure You’ll Be Happy
This is by far the most important thing to keep in mind. No matter how great of a deal you scored, if you don’t enjoy yourself it will be money wasted. For example, if you absolutely hate flying it might be better in the long run to purchase a more expensive non-stop flight. Otherwise, you may start your vacation incredibly stressed and won’t be able to properly enjoy yourself. Similarly, when planning a cruise it might be better to spend a little more for a ship or itinerary that you are really excited about.
In the end, you need to budget your time, money, and happiness. Focusing exclusively on spending as little money as possible can backfire, but with a little research and flexibility you can maximize all three.
One of the unique things to think about when travelling internationally is the logistics of foreign currency. In America the majority of stores and restaurants will accept credit cards, but that is not always the case. In many countries cash is king, and being stuck without cash on hand could be extremely problematic. That is why it is crucial to know how and where to get local currency. Equally as important, you need to know how to get the best exchange rate when purchasing foreign currency.
Paying with a Credit Card (in the Local Currency)
Often the best exchange rate you will get comes directly from the major card issuers. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express all calculate their own exchange rates, and often they are the best rates available. The rates between the three issuers are often very close to one another, although MasterCard often has a slight edge. When you make a purchase with your credit card, as long as the merchant charges in the local currency, you benefit from the exchange rate calculated by your card’s issuer.
Aside from the card issuer, you also have to consider the bank that issued you the card in the case of Visa and MasterCard. Many cards will charge a small fee on every purchase made in a foreign currency. 3% is a common fee, and while it appears small, it can add up significantly over the course of a vacation. That being said, there are a large number of cards that do not charge any foreign transaction fee. It is a very good idea to have at least one card in your wallet that does not charge a foreign transaction fee.
Using a Debit Card in a Local ATM
Just as with credit cards, debit cards use the exchange rate set by the issuing bank, almost always Visa or MasterCard. It is very important, however, to choose the local currency if the ATM gives you a choice. If you use an ATM in China and request US Dollars, for example, the ATM determines the exchange rate. This rate will often be significantly worse than the direct rate offered by the card issuer. This also gives you the great benefit of having local cash, in case the need should arise.
Also like credit cards, there are fees that can be charged depending on the bank the debit card is attached to. Although not as common as credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, there are a few banks that do not charge any withdrawal fees for using out of network ATMs. A few banks will even reimburse you for any fees charged by the bank that owns the ATM. USAA, if you qualify for an account, and Charles Schwab are two such banks. For other banks the fee charged could be a flat amount, such as TD Bank’s $3 fee per withdrawal, a percentage of the withdrawal amount, such as Ally Bank’s 1% per withdrawal, or a combination, such as Chase Bank’s fee of $5 plus 3% of the withdrawal amount. This fee is separate from any fee charged by the bank that owns the ATM.
Purchasing Foreign Currency From Your Local Bank
One option for obtaining foreign currency before you travel would be to purchase currency from your local bank. Not all banks will offer this option, and each bank that does sets their own exchange rate. This rate is often worse than the direct rate offered by Visa or MasterCard, typically by around 5%. Aside from the worse exchange rate, banks will often charge an additional shipping fee to deliver the foreign currency to your home or a local branch of your bank.
This option is typically only available if you have an account with the bank in question. For example, Wells Fargo and Bank of America both offer foreign currency purchases, but they require you to pay with your associated checking or savings account. With the exchange rate being approximately 5% worse and an added shipping fee, it might seem like a bad idea to purchase currency. However, it could be necessary or just extremely convenient, depending on your plans when you arrive. For example, if you are arriving in a country via cruise ship or over land rather than flying, there may not be a convenient ATM. Having cash on hand when you first arrive can be invaluable, both to save time and in case you need cash before being able to find an ATM.
Using a Dedicated Currency Exchange Service
The last option we will discuss is to use a dedicated foreign currency exchange service. You can find these in almost all major airports, and as such it can be the most convenient option if you find yourself needing foreign currency on very short notice. Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a cost; these services often have the worst exchange rates you will find. Travelex is one of the largest and most well known exchange services. Based in London with over 1,500 stores across 27 countries; you can almost always find a Travelex. The rates are often 10-15% worse than the rate offered by the banks, along with an additional processing fee.
Sample Exchange Rates
Below is a table showing the exchange rates and fees for the different options discussed above. These rates were taken as of September 20th, 2017, and show the cost of purchasing 20,000 Japanese Yen using each option. For Visa and MasterCard, we assume that you have a card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee.
There are several tools that can help the discerning adventurer make the most out of their travel budget, but when it comes to finding the best deal on flights there is perhaps nothing more powerful than Google Flights. This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the various tools and techniques that you can use in Google Flights to get the best possible price on your next adventure. Today, we will be focusing on how to use Google Flights to search for airfare from multiple airports. You can also see the other tips and tricks for using Google Flights like a master below.
Explore Destinations to Decide Where to Fly (Coming Soon)
Tracking Flight Prices to Know When to Book Your Ticket (Coming Soon)
We have already seen how Google Flights can help you pick when to take your next vacation. However, when you take your vacation is not always so flexible. Maybe you are taking a cruise, going to a wedding, or have limited days when everybody can take time off. In these situations the Low Fare Calendar loses much of it’s usefulness. Still, being flexible is a great way to score a deal, and searching multiple airports could be the key. To learn how to master this skill, watch our video below or keep reading.
Many online travel tools allow you to search airports that are near your home, but they are typically very limited. For example, Orbitz gives you a dropdown with a list of up to ten of the closest airports. This list could include small, general aviation airports that have no or very few commercial flights. There is no easy way for you to specify a list of airports that you are willing to travel to or from.
Searching Multiple Airports With Google Flights
When using Google Flights on the other hand, searching multiple airports for the best deal is as easy as listing the airports. In both the departure and arrival fields you can list as many airport codes as you like, separated by commas. The first airport that you enter will auto-complete, but after that you need to know the code for each airport you want to consider. If you are unsure on an airport code, just list that city first and let Google auto-complete. If you are unsure on multiple airports you can find several resources online by searching for “IATA Airport Code Lookup.”
You can also click the ‘+’ sign in the airport text box, or select “Nearby Airports” in the airport dropdown. Doing this will provide a list of airports by distance similar to the list provided by Orbitz, but with two large benefits. First, Google takes into consideration all the airports you have already entered. Second, each airport has a checkbox, so you can select as many of the airports as you want.
Finding Multiple Airports Using the Map
While knowing the airports you want to consider or being able to find a list of nearby airports can be great, sometimes it’s more beneficial to be able to see the airports. Google Flights has you covered in that department as well. At the top of the flight search page, just to the right of the date and airport selections, is a map. You can quickly see the destination airports you have chosen on this map, but it’s real strength shows when you click on it.
When you click on the small map you are taken to a page with a fully functioning Google Map. This larger map shows all airports as red points, and you can hover over them to get the airport name. You can zoom in and out and pan the map, and many of the larger airports will have the price for your flight dates displayed. Clicking on an airport will reset your destination to the selected airport. You can then see the cheapest flights to that airport on the left of the screen. You can also quickly see any airports that don’t have available flights, as their pins will be gray. This could help you find additional airports you didn’t originally consider, or eliminate airports that are too far away.
Limitations of Google Flights for Multiple Airports
While Google Flights is extremely powerful and useful, it does have some downsides. First, when searching for multiple airports you have to have exact dates. There is currently no way to combine either flexible dates or the extremely powerful Low Fare Calendar with multiple airports. Also, additional airports after the first don’t auto-complete, so you need to know the airport codes you want to consider. The map can only be used to select a destination airport, and overwrites any currently selected airports. This means that there is no way to use the map to select multiple airports, or change your departure.
It is also important to note that while this can help you get the best deal on airfare, there are other costs you must consider. Driving to an airport further away can require gas, time, and parking or rental car fees. You also need to be mindful of timezones if you book a flight from an airport in a different state. If you want some help planning an adventure, reach out to us today.
There are several tools that can help the discerning adventurer make the most out of their travel budget, but when it comes to finding the best deal on flights there is perhaps nothing more powerful than Google Flights. This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the various tools and techniques that you can use in Google Flights to get the best possible price on your next adventure.
Using the Low Fare Calendar to Find the Best Days to Fly
Explore Destinations to Decide Where to Fly (Coming Soon)
Tracking Flight Prices to Know When to Book Your Ticket (Coming Soon)
Today we will be discussing the Low Fare Calendar feature, a tool that allows you to quickly see the best priced flight each day between two airports for the next 11 months; as far out as airlines publish their fares. This is perfect if you know where you want to travel to, but are flexible as to when you actually go. One great example might be if you wanted to visit Hawaii sometime in the winter, or perhaps you have just always wanted to visit Paris and do not care when you visit, as long as you get a great deal on the airfare. Watch the video below or keep reading for a detailed tutorial showing how to make the most out of this powerful tool, and how to never overpay for your flights again.
You can find the calendar on the main Google Flights page. Just enter your departure and destination airports (it will autocomplete for you if you do not know the airport codes), and then click on the departing date field. Once you click on this field a calendar will appear on the screen as seen below.
How to Use the Low Fare Calendar
Once the calendar is open you can use the arrows on either side to navigate between months; the full range of dates available can vary but typically goes out approximately 10-11 months in the future. For each day Google lists the price of the cheapest flight, and the days with the cheapest rates will have their price highlighted green. This makes it really easy to see at a glance which days have the best possible rates. The overall lowest price found will be bold as well as green; you can see an example of this by looking at December 2nd in the screenshot below. Once you select a departure date by clicking on it in the calendar, the prices will update to show you the cost of a round trip ticket that returns on each day after your departure date.
It is important to note that once you select a departure date you might find round trip flights that are even cheaper than what the calendar originally showed. This is because Google uses the currently selected dates to determine how long of a trip you are planning. In this example, the original dates before I started looking at the calendar defaulted to August 8th to August 12th, or 4 days. That means that the calendar will display round trip prices assuming a four day trip, so the price displayed for December 2nd was the return flight on December 6th, or 4 days later. If you know how long you want to be away you can change the original dates to anything that matches your preferred duration. For example, if you want to spend two weeks in Hawaii, you can change the return date to August 22. This will make the calendar pull prices assuming a 2 week trip.
Viewing Flight Details
After selecting a departure and return date you will be redirected to a page detailing the different flight options that match your selection. Here you will see a list of the best flights for your dates followed by the remaining flights ordered by price. As we can see below, the cheapest flight is almost 22 hours long, thanks to an 11 hour layover. We also see that this is an overnight flight, arriving the next day.
Congratulations, you have now used Google Flights to find the cheapest flight available. However, the calendar also has a number of filtering options that you can use to find the absolute perfect flight.
Filtering Results to Find the Perfect Flight at the Perfect Price
Now we have found the cheapest flight from Chicago to Honolulu this winter, but I don’t like that long layover. Thankfully, the Low Fare Calendar also works with all the filtering options so we can choose a shorter duration. Just below the date selection boxes, we see 5 filter options; Stops, Price, Airline, Times, and More. Under each of these you have several filters you can set based on your personal preferences. Under “Stops” you can choose to only see nonstop flights; “Airline” lets you choose a specific airline or alliance. You can even exclude airlines if there are specific lines you do not want to fly. “Times” allows you to specify when you want to leave or arrive at your destination, and duration is under “More”. You can also exclude any specific connecting airports if there is an airport you do not want to travel through.
I am going to restrict my flights to those that take less than 14 hours from departure to arrival. I can do this by clicking on the “More” heading and dragging the slider bar until it says 14 hours. Once I do this, the calendar will automatically update it’s prices. Now I can see that the cheapest price has changed from $648 on December 2nd to $703 on December 4th. It’s $55 more per person, but at least I know I won’t be stuck in an airport for 11 hours.
Putting it All Together
If you know where you are travelling to, the Low Fare Calendar on Google Flights is a powerful tool. Combined with the other tools available on Google Flights, you can be sure that you get the best deal. Make sure to use the filters to your advantage and you’ll be able to quickly find the perfect itinerary. Finally, if you would like assistance or want information on an entire vacation, send us a request here. You can also call us at (800) 307-2457 and we’d be happy to help.