Experience has taught me a lot about traveling. Over the last decade or so, I’ve picked up a few habits that often have saved me a lot of time and money. Travel logistics have never been as difficult as they’ve been in 2022. These time-saving and money-saving travel tips have become important tools to navigate the landscape. And let’s be real: everyone loves to save time and save money while traveling.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but here are a few of the most useful and less-obvious time-saving and money-saving travel tips that I’ve shared with friends and family to help them adjust to an ever-challenging travel environment.
Learn to live without your checked bag
It may be easier said than done for some of us, but anyone who’s traveled for work extensively will tell you that checked bags make your travel more complicated and inhibit your ability to call audibles when complications arise. Especially in 2022, with delays and cancellations at all-time highs, flexibility is key to making it to your destination. Sure, you may want your high-heeled shoe collection for a week in Miami Beach, but the more you learn to pack efficiently and start scrapping checked bags, the more you’ll never want to bring them again.
Let’s say you’re trying to get to Las Vegas from Tampa, and your scheduled layover is in Dallas with American Airlines. If the first leg of your trip is cancelled, you may be able to get changed to a flight to Austin that has a connection to Las Vegas and still salvage the trip. Not having to deal with the logistics of getting your checked bag to Las Vegas is a major plus and gives you the ability to change flights or even airlines mid-itinerary.
Suppose you’re flying from Boston to Pensacola, but through New Orleans. You arrive in New Orleans to find that your flight to Pensacola is delayed by several hours, and there’s only one per day. In this scenario, you might be better off renting a car to make the second-leg to Pensacola, which is just three hours away on Interstate 10. With just a carry-on and no checked bag to worry about, you could cancel the second leg and just drive it.
Hauling across the bayou in a rental car may not be appealing to everyone, but for those who enjoy driving, making this last-minute change could end up saving you time and frustration. For veteran road warriors, flexibility is key.
Sit near the doors on the rental car shuttle
Want to save time when renting a car at the airport? When you’re riding the rental car shuttle, sit as close as possible to the doors, so that, when you arrive to the rental car center, you’re among the first off the shuttle. You’ll beat several people to the counter, which could save you 15-20 minutes or more, as lines can be painfully long, and processing can take forever.
Of course, this doesn’t mean elbowing your fellow travelers to beat the off the bus. Common courtesy and decency may be a dying art, but you can still plot a swift exit without being a jackass about it.
It’s also helpful to have the rental car company app on your phone; some companies like Enterprise have kiosks where you can manage the beginning of the check-in progress yourself and just head to the parking lot.
Reserve the cheapest rental car possible – and then negotiate from there
Unless you’ve got a large group with a ton of luggage, or have specific needs (4-wheel drive, SUV, etc.) your best bet when reserving a car online is to take the cheapest option available. Often, you’ll end up in a better car because the economy cars are the first ones off the lot, and they’ll put you into a nicer car for no up-charge.
That said, you’d be surprised by how friendliness and a little camaraderie with the rental car agent can go in terms of landing a free upgrade. I’ve gotten countless upgrades this way, just by addressing agents by name, giving them a smile and saying, “Any chance for an upgrade? I’ve got a lot of driving ahead of me” or something along those lines.
Your mileage may vary here, and don’t expect to go from a compact to a Jaguar for free, but you’ll be surprised how often this works.
Need a one-way rental car? Don’t book it that way
Pre-pandemic, one-way rental cars used to be a cheap travel hack between select markets, especially in the southwest. Depending on supply and demand, I found several deals that didn’t include drop fees between markets like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix. The drop fee is a surcharge applied to a one-way rental car for not returning it to the location from which you rented it.
That said, I’ve found on a few recent one-way rentals that, if I didn’t disclose that I was intending to return the car to a different airport, the fee could be waived upon the return if the rental car agent wanted to. This has saved me several hundred dollars in recent months.
Now again, this is somewhat of a gamble, and you may not be able to get out of the drop fee, but if you’re a regular customer and don’t mind a little haggling, you may be able to catch a break. Just by asking, “Hey Jenny, anything you can do about that $200 drop fee?” Depending upon the agent’s seniority, they may be able to take it off your bill on the spot.
Check the hotel market first, but wait until you land to book
This approach can also be risky at times, but, with so many flight delays and cancellations, I never book my hotel until I know I’ve actually arrived to my destination. That way I don’t end up paying for a non-refundable booking that I can’t use.
Generally, I’ll check Hotel Tonight a week or two ahead of my trip to get a quick sense of what the market looks like. For instance, today I’m heading to Chicago, and hotels in the River North area of town are floating around $280-$320 all week—a tad pricey for Chicago on a summer Saturday night. That said, this morning, prices had dropped, and there were several options around $$250. By the time I land in Chicago around 6 pm, I expect they may have dropped even further. (Update: I scored a great 4-star hotel for $220 just by waiting!)
I did get burned on this last-minute approach once on a trip to Twin Falls, Idaho, when I waited too long to book a hotel on a Saturday night, and the town’s limited inventory was sold out when I arrived. I ended up having to find an AirBNB 30 minutes outside of town around 9 pm. But I’ve also saved several thousand dollars over the years when flights were cancelled, and I never made it to my destination as planned.
One more note on this: If you’re booked ahead for a casino resort in Las Vegas, and you end up not arriving the first night of your stay, you may be able to get the hotel to remove the night from your bill, especially if you are a member of their rewards program and have gambled with them in the past. This worked for me a few months ago. I even won a few bucks on the blackjack table. That’s a win-win!
Love the National Parks? Buy the ‘America the Beautiful’ Pass
If you plan on visiting more than one National Park in a year’s time, the America the Beautiful pass will pay for itself. As a National Parks junkie, I typically get to several every year. For just $80, I’m covered for the next 12 months. While some smaller or remote parks don’t charge an entry fee, most parks cost $40 or so for most passenger vehicles.
Connect Lyft to your Delta frequent flier account
This one takes time to pay dividends, but, if you’re a frequent flier on Delta Airlines and use Lyft to get around, you can earn Delta SkyMiles points for every Lyft trip you take. They also award double points on trips to and from the airport! Uber and Marriott also have a similar partnership where you can earn Marriott Bonvoy points for each ride you take with Uber.
Let’s hear your tips!
What time-saving travel tips and money-saving travel tips have worked consistently for you? Leave a comment below to share with your fellow travelers…