Tired of paying too much and getting hit with ridiculous fees while you’re on the road? These four great travel hacks will help you to eliminate some of the biggest causes of wasted money while traveling.
1) Sign Up For A Fee-Free ATM & Debit Card
Fees for withdrawing money and making debit purchases are a problem for all travelers, but they hit overseas travelers especially hard. Each withdrawal at an ATM can end up costing in excess of $10 between the fee of a few dollars and percentage of the transaction your own bank charges plus the fee that the ATM owner adds on. Debit card purchases outside the country also usually come packed with a substantial transaction fee.
Fortunately, a number of major banks are offering accounts that are targeted specifically at international travelers tired of getting soaked with fees just to use their own money. Offers from Capital One, Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Discover give travelers at least a certain dollar amount in transactions with no fees, and a couple of these accounts make everything entirely fee-free. Just be aware that they usually manage to do this by limiting your interactions with the bank to the use of their online services and the ATMs of other banks; use of your own bank’s ATM or offices might incur a fairly hefty added fee.
2) Take Advantage of Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses
This travel hack is somewhat situational; you’ll need a decent FICO score (around 700 or so), a stable income and to not be carrying an excessive debt load to pull it off. If you have those elements in place, however, you can take advantage of the substantial sign-up bonuses for new credit cards to get much of your travel expense at a substantial discount or even completely for free.
Here’s how it works. Credit cards that are attached to various rewards programs will often offer new customers a big haul of those rewards points for meeting a certain spending amount within the first 90 days of owning their card, usually somewhere between $500 to $1,000. Ideally, these cards will also not have an annual fee, at least in the first year. This chunk of points is often enough to cover airfare, a couple of hotel nights or the bulk of your dining expenses at your destination. There’s nothing stopping you from then canceling the card at no added cost.
Savvy travelers have been doing this for a decade, and the practice is informally referred to as “churning.” While it’s technically taking advantage of credit card companies, the fact that they are aware of the practice and continue to make these sign-up offers indicates that enough people are sticking around and paying fees to make the practice very profitable for them.
3) Consider Subscribing To A Paid Discount Program
Depending on how and where you travel, paying annual dues for a membership in a discount program that focuses on travel (such as AAA or Student Advantage) can actually yield quite a bit more than that in savings for you each year.
Let’s run the numbers. These programs charge an annual fee in the range of about $20 to $60. That’s a modest fee, but why should you pay for discounts? Because those discounts are very substantial, especially for frequent travelers.
Nearly all of them have discounts ranging from 10% to 20% on every purchase with the biggest hotel and motel chains, rental car agencies and land-based transportation companies (Amtrak and Greyhound). Some offer discounts on tickets and services with major airlines, as well. The best part is, there is almost never a cap on how many times you can apply these discounts, and the discounts almost never invalidate you from getting points through each company’s rewards program as well.
The discounts on your train, plane and rental car purchases alone for one trip is often enough to cover the annual membership fee. After that, any further discounts you receive are pure savings, and many of these programs offer various retail discounts you can apply while at home. Some programs of this nature to look into are AAA, the Lion’s Club, Student Advantage, Veteran’s Advantage and AARP.
4) Search For Lodging More Efficiently
Hotel search engines are all well and good, but they only give you a narrow slice of the overall available lodging picture. Things like direct home or room rentals by owner, hostels and guest houses may offer accommodations more suitable to you at a much better bargain than a standard hotel. A service like AllTheRooms stacks up all of the available options next to each other to let you easily compare everything that’s available, not just a select few brands of hotels.