[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. You can view the current offers from our partners here —Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
Everyone has that one place they’d love to visit once in their lifetime. For me, it’s Bali, Indonesia, which I’ve been dreaming about since I saw a picture of the Water Temple on Lake Beratan in high school. Getting there won’t be easy, but it won’t be impossible either. In fact, after digging around for tips on what to consider while plotting my budget, my dream vacation may just be in reach. Read on for the ultimate guide to saving money on your dream vacation, wherever that is.
As we’ve written before, you can always use your airline’s frequent flier or loyalty number when booking on an online travel site to earn rewards. And if you have an airline miles credit card, you may be able to earn even more points for future travel. If you’ve amassed enough points, they may qualify for redemption on your rewards credit card‘s online portal.
Wherever you’re going, you’ll want to pack light, advises Matthew Ma, co-founder of The Flight Deal, a travel deals website. Though most airlines offer one carry-on bag free of charge, it isn’t uncommon for them to charge fees for each extra bag. Be sure to factor this cost into your flight comparisons and keep an eye out for credit cards that offer free checked bags.
Cell Phone Charges
Getting hit with roaming charges is one easy way to eat into your travel budget. Check prices with your provider about a short-term international plan if you’re heading abroad and want to use your phone and data services. You can also keep your phone on airplane mode to block any data or phone use and avoid roaming charges, relying on Wi-Fi connections to check your email and social media accounts.
People just love their food, as our huge grocery bills show, so it’s no wonder people tend to go overboard when traveling. After all, who can resist the lush produce of Italy or the wonderful wines of France? Fortunately, there are savvy ways to enjoy the food without spending a ton of money. Consider making a few meals at home or splitting costs with a traveling buddy. If all else fails, these credit cards for foodies may help you earn points back on your meal purchases. (Remember, before applying for any new credit cards, it’s a good idea to check your credit scores to ensure you qualify. You can get two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.)
Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’re traveling abroad, there’s a chance you’ll get hit with foreign transaction fees when you use your credit card. The fee gets tacked onto the charge, and can range anywhere from 2% to 3% of your purchases. You can avoid this by bringing a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. (See our roundup of best travel cards.)
No matter where you’re going, it helps to shop around to find the best hotel for your budget. Credit cards like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express can also help fund your trip, as they offer points to cardholders, which can then be redeemed for free stays on consecutive nights.
Nearly every airline outside of JetBlue and Norwegian charge extra for in-flight internet access, says Matthew Ma. “Some charge a fixed rate, but different carriers charge by usage, and that can get really expensive,” Ma says.
Traveling with a baby is usually free on domestic airlines, but some international carriers charge up to 10% of the normal fare to carry an infant, Ma says. Be sure to research prices beforehand.
Some standard healthcare policies cover medical expenses abroad, others don’t, says Ma. If you’re traveling abroad, he strongly encourages you to consider opting for this insurance, as many domestic plans won’t cover healthcare expenses abroad.
Overweight Bag Fees
This is one time it pays to pack light. International carrier fees for stuffing too much in your bags can run in the hundreds of dollars, says Ma. It’s a good idea to check weight limits with your carrier, and don’t forget if you are a frequent flyer, you could qualify for heavier bags.
If you’re boarding pets, be sure to factor this into your budget, as the fees can quickly add up. Bringing Fido on board? Check to see if the country requires the animal be quarantined, which can cost extra and may require boarding. Airlines also charge various fees to bring pets and typically require advance booking, so it’s a good idea to contact your carrier to find out what requirements they have.
Many international airlines charge fees for processing credit card transactions, Ma says, which can cost anywhere from 2% to 3% of the total transaction. If you’re considering booking your airfare online, try using a debit card instead.
If you’ll need a set of wheels for your trip, it helps to look for ways to cut costs. Airport rentals tend to be more expensive, writes Credit.com contributor Jim Wang, and add-ons like having an additional driver, being under the age of 25 and so on can send your tab soaring. See if you can put your travel rewards credit card to use, and don’t be afraid to ask for upgrades at the counter, which are sometimes offered for free.
Rental Car Insurance
Collision damage waivers, as rental car insurance is legally called, waives you of any responsibility for damage. But this fee can be high, writes Wang, and oftentimes your auto insurance or credit card already offers this coverage. “Before electing this waiver, check to see if you are already protected,” he advises.
“A lot of European airlines charge for seat assignments, which can be anywhere from $29 to $60 one way,” says Ma. “We’re seeing more and more of that.” Fortunately, most airlines allow passengers to check in up to 48 hours ahead of time, so if you log in online, “most of the time, you can avoid paying for the assignment,” Ma says.
Sitting With Family
Some airlines are making travelers pay extra to sit together, according to a recent WSJ article. For extended families wanting to do this, the costs can run into the hundreds or even thousands, the paper reported. And often those with elite-level status snag the unassigned seats when they go to book.
Depending on your plans and how much money you’re putting down, you may want to consider enrolling in travel insurance. Though prices vary, it can be useful to have on hand if a leg of your trip gets cancelled or your luggage goes AWOL, Ma says.
“Some countries require proof of yellow fever vaccinations,” Ma says, and those “shots can get very expensive because most health insurance doesn’t cover them.” After all, “we don’t normally need malaria pills,” he says. If you see a doctor to get these vaccines, be prepared to pay out of pocket.
Though most U.S. citizens can travel abroad without having to think about visas, some countries require them. That includes China, Brazil, Australia and many countries in Africa, Ma says. “For Americans, in general, travel is very open,” but in some places, like Russia, “the visas are prohibitively expensive.” Budget accordingly.
At publishing time, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
Image: Denis Moskvinov