Stretch Your Travel Dollar to the Max

By Martin Brown

Stretch Your Travel Dollar to the MaxDiscovering money-saving travel opportunities is more about the time and effort you are willing to put into the process than anything else. Networking with friends who share your enthusiasm for travel, reading travel publications, and surfing the web are all essential to saving big on travel.Like every other aspect of investing, you can do a really good job, or a really poor job, or hit somewhere in the middle. To get the most from your dollar, always keep in mind the fact that there is real money to be saved if you’re willing to be flexible with your travel plans.

Looking for Deals and Steals

Often the occasional traveler will say something like, “I wanted to go to Orlando in August, and it was to be my one vacation this year. I knew the $1,050 airfare was a rip, but what are you going to do?”

Wrong attitude.

A better one is to consider ways to cut that $1,050 fare down to $300.

Prior to the Internet, we had pretty limited search capabilities. ut now our options are wide open.My choice is Sidestep.com for fast, reliable comparison shopping between several travel networks for hotels (Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Priceline.com, to name a few), and most airline carriers. Sure, it may take you a couple of hours of web work to find the right money-saving deal, but when you consider long it takes you to earn that $600, isn’t that time well spent?

Flexibility Is the Key

For example, if your goal is a week of sun and surf in, say, Florida, and you’re based in a city like San Francisco, which has limited direct flights to just a few key cities, be flexible as to where you come in, even if it is several hours from your key destination.

That said, forget flying into Orlando and land in Tampa instead. A direct flight with Southwest will get you there for $375 roundtrip: a savings of $675, whereas the best round-trip price into Orlando might be $1,050. And from the Tampa Airport, you’re only a 67-mile hop, skip and a jump from Mickey and Minnie Land.

Better yet, start your trip by enjoying Tampa’s exotic Ybor City district, or the clear turquoise water that laps up against the Gulf of Mexico beaches in nearby Clearwater, Dunedin and St. Petersburg.

Don’t Get Stranded

Car rental firms also vary wildly depending on the airport in that market you are flying into. Again, try Sidestep.com, although Yahoo! Travel has an easy-to-use comparison template, and seems to pull the best rates  By the way, always book two car reservations. When you land in Kansas City and they have no car for you, the rental company will say “Sorry, and hope you have a nice day” you’ll be stuck without a ride if the rest of the other rental companies are also sold out.

Multi-Airport Markets

Another way to save is to be flexible as to which airport you’ll fly into as well. For example, you can find astounding price differences between landing at Chicago’s O’Hare, or coming into Midway. This is true of so many major markets. The San Francisco Bay Area is served by three major airports, the LA area is served by five; Washington, DC is served by three, and the New York metro has four; Houston and Dallas have two each, and so on. The difference in pricing from one airport to another can be wildly different. In most cases, these airports are less then 30 miles apart.

In most cases, I rent a car when I get to an airport, so it really doesn’t matter to me if one airport is twenty minutes from my hotel, and the other is an hour away. Again, if I’m saving hundreds of dollars, I’ll fly to the more competitively priced airport. I’m happy to spend an the extra forty minutes on the road in order to save some big bucks. If you don’t need a car because you’re in a metro market with a wonderful transportation system, it probably services all the airports in the area no matter which one you’re using, so again, it’s your time against money saved.

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