Whether it's written down in the back of your agenda, in a note on your phone or filed away in a mental cabinet to be called on by daydreams when work and life get too hectic, we all have a bucket list of places we'd love to go.
Unfortunately for many of us, that's exactly where these destinations stay — on a list that never gets checked off. Pricey flights and hotels make jet-setting to far off, exotic locales difficult. But if you know how to go about booking them, you can snag awesome deals and shave the price tag way down, taking them from a dream to a reality. All it takes is patience and a few insider tricks.
Case in point: Last year I was finally able to check Morocco off my list — and I did it for a third of the price. Here are the strategies I used to save money, plus some insider knowledge from other travel bloggers and experts who are checking destinations off their own bucket lists.
Snag a glitch flight
Going to Morocco was on my travel wish list for about two years, but the cheapest flights that I could find averaged $1500. Not exactly budget friendly.
So I put a fare alert on the destination and waited (...and waited) for the price to drop. For nearly 20 months, it never did. Then at the end of October 2018, a flight from Atlanta to Marrakech on Delta Air Lines popped into my email. I thought it was too good to be true: It was $520 round trip. It had to be a mistake — and it was. I found a flight “glitch” and it lasted for about three days. So I pounced on it, booked my ticket and was set to finally visit Morocco in December.
The airline industry posts and manages thousands of flights each day in their grid matrix. Because of that, mistakes happen ... They are called glitch flights.
Typically, the biggest expense of a trip is the flight. Finding a place to stay and things to do can be sorted out up to the last minute before your arrival. But luckily for us, the airline industry posts and manages thousands of flights each day in their grid matrix. Because of that, mistakes happen; and they do quite often. They are called glitch flights — temporary price errors made by the airlines that if you are lucky enough to find, can get you a ticket at a deeply discounted rate.
Warning: Technically, the airline can reject the glitch rate. But in my experience, the airlines will honor it. The best way to know that your flight is booked is when you get the confirmation email. Once that comes through, then it’s official with the airline and you are all set. You can then proceed to book your hotel, tours, activities and ground transportation.
Get a credit card that racks up miles
The other way to save big on flights is to get a credit card that puts your hard-earned dollars to work. “I save for flights three ways: miles, miles, miles!” says travel blogger Jessica van Dop DeJesus of the DiningTraveler.com. “I've had a United Mileage Plus card for 10+ years and I try to collect as much miles as I can from the program. We actually go to Europe once a year on the card.”
The key: Use the card as much as possible. Most people do not concentrate their benefits on one travel rewards program, so they never accumulate enough to cash in the benefit, like a free flight. But, being intentional about collecting reward points for a specific program will put you on the fast track to freebies. You should also see what affiliates your airline program has and use those services, too, in order to collect more points and miles by doing the things that you do outside of riding on an airplane. I use the SkyTeam program. I try to make all of my travel purchases with my Delta American Express card. I book my hotel stays at Marriott and when I use a shared ride service, when available I select Lyft. Using Marriott and Lyft all add points to my SkyMiles as they are a part of the program.
Be flexible to go everywhere and anywhere
Most people have a list of places they want to go — it can be the tropical islands of Hawaii or the powder white slopes of the Swiss Alps. Through sites like Kayak.com, Airfarewatchdog and Google Flights, you can search the destination airports and track those fares. The benefit of setting fare alerts is that you can get a sense of the average price of a ticket; and when the prices dip to a bargain, then you can pounce on it and purchase the ticket at a discount.
Websites like Momondo and Skyscanner actually let you search 'anywhere' and 'everywhere,' respectively, in the destination field.
But if you rethink this strategy altogether, that's how you can end up in some epic places that you never even considered. The entire world can be your oyster if you are flexible to go anywhere. Websites like Momondo and Skyscanner actually let you search “anywhere” and “everywhere,” respectively, in the destination field. Then just put in your travel dates. Next, a page populating the places on sale opens, listing destinations from the cheapest at the top. Here is where you can see locations around the world that you may have never considered before or you didn’t even know that you could afford to visit.
“Flexibility is a common characteristic found in seasoned travelers,” says Howard Blount of Backroad Planet. “[Travelers] know the ability to consider every option, especially when researching destinations, can turn an ordinary trip into an adventure.”
Marissa Anwar of Darling Escapes adds, “If you’re a more adventurous traveler, venture to places that need more tourism dollars like Egypt; the decline of the tourism industry [in recent years] means that not only do you get to experience a country rich in history and culture, but it’s likely to be way cheaper.”
Being flexible in both your destination and when you can travel is when you can see the best deals overall. By not restricting your travel schedule, you can pull up the calendar on these websites and select the price of the ticket with the lowest fare, getting the best possible rate.
Travel in the shoulder and off season (and on weekdays)
Shoulder season is between peak and off season — which varies at different locations around the world. For example, summer and fall is high season in Europe, but it's the off-season in the Caribbean. So if you'e looking to get away at the end of summer or early fall, not only will flight prices to the Caribbean be lower during these times, but luxury hotels are cheaper and the crowds are not so in-your-face.
"September to November is the cheapest period to book a hotel on average, and it’s about 40 percent cheaper than the winter period, the most expensive time to book," says Johnson John Rose, communications specialist at the Caribbean Tourism Organization. "But of course, this will vary by destination."
Off-season travel has it’s cons — namely, the weather. Popular destinations typically have their draw because of different highlights — landmarks, history centers, natural phenomenons. But, peak times for travel are driven by the weather. Do some research on the weather conditions during off-season times to see if it worth it to you or not. For example, visiting India during monsoon season is likely to be a miserable experience, but the Caribbean during hurricane season could be worth the risk. On the flip side: Europe in summer can be scorching, but in October, it's lovely with just a light jacket making off season a smarter choice for some. I went to Morocco in December when it was chilly (and I had to wear layers and a coat), but slow enough to have almost no crowds and discounted excursions.
Off-season travel also makes the case for buying travel insurance. As a general rule, you should get travel insurance if you cannot afford to lose the cost of your trip if “something” happened. The “something” can be anything from a canceled flight due to weather causing an extra overnight stay, to an emergency hospital visit while abroad.
“The insurance you’ll need depends on what you will be doing, and what your concerns are,” says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com. “A good basic travel insurance plan should include trip cancellation — reimbursement for non-refundable, prepaid expenses, and travel medical coverage — also known as travel health insurance, which provides coverage for unexpected illness or injury while traveling.” What most travelers don’t realize is that travel insurance is a really cheap addition, especially in the context of what you will be protecting. Comprehensive coverage is typically up to seven percent of the total trip cost.
Booking your trip to travel Tuesdays and Wednesdays usually yield better rates not only for flights, but for accommodations, excursions and even restaurants.
DeJesus points out that traveling mid week also opens up the opportunity for better deals. Weekend travel is, indeed, the busiest. So, prices tend to be higher than weekday travel. Booking your trip to travel Tuesdays and Wednesdays usually yield better rates not only for flights, but for accommodations, excursions and even restaurants. Add that to visiting a destination during its low season, and you can save up to 75% on the entire experience. Especially hotels.
Take advantage of Airbnb
As for accommodations in Morocco, we stayed in private residences hosted by Airbnb. It was my first go at using this type of vacation rental. Before this experience, my understanding was Airbnb was a paid version of couch surfing. Although you can find shared spaces to lay your head, there are also private homes that range from basic to luxury. In Morocco, we stayed in a luxury property fully equipped with a butler and chef. It was a five-bedroom property for just $89 per night compared to a five star hotel which averaged $250 a night in Morocco’s low season.
In addition to the accommodations, we booked our tours through Airbnb Experiences and Get Your Guide. These services allow you to handpick vetted guides and tours. Beyond just looking at their reviews, you can see the guides profiles and the profiles of the reviewers, which ensures authenticity of the comments. Once we found a guide that we trusted, he taught us how to haggle and negotiated discounts as we explored the markets. It was a way for us to fully immerse in the culture and connect with locals, while feeling safe and protected from scams.
When you understand that the travel industry is based on supply and demand, then you can craft out an epic dream trip of your own like a pro! Where are you headed first?
MORE TRAVEL TIPS FOR A WEEKEND GETAWAY
- Save $520 (or more) on your next flight with these 4 airfare hacks
- How to pack a carry-on (so you don't need to check a bag)
- 5 ways to make your vacation worth it
- Why a three-day weekend may be better for your mental health than a longer vacation
- How to find the best travel rewards credit card for you