I recently returned from a trip that surely could have cost a lot more than it did. In late August and early September, I flew into Madrid, traveled down to the Costa del Sol town of Marbella, ferried across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, made my way down through all of Morocco and its mysticism, and then flew from Casablanca to Barcelona, from where I returned to Boston. Trips of this sort are not uncommon for me, as I’ve made them quite cost-effective all while staying at four- and five-star hotels. Here’s how:
Airline loyalty: Choose your alliance carefully
All airline alliances have their upsides and downsides, but one of the criteria for picking yours will depend on your home airport. Cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. have the best Star Alliance connections, while Boston and New York have oneworld and Sky Team alliances. As of April 2011, Delta (Sky Team) no longer has an expiration date set for miles, which means you can keep more in the bank toward your free reward flight.
Offset costs by touring more than one country
The euro-to-dollar ratio definitely doesn’t work in the dollar’s favor, so yes: traveling to Europe can be pricey if it’s not done right. When I traveled last year to Vienna, a city on the euro, I also visited Budapest and Prague, which use the forint and koruna, respectively. These two currencies work in the dollar’s favor, thus allowing for more liberal spending. The same goes for travel to Brazil, a country that already works in the dollar’s favor, but with Argentina right next door it makes Brazil even look expensive.
I’m not the type of guy that likes to stay at the cookie-cutter business hotels, so I do my research and plot my boutique hotels out well in advance. I use Hotels.com, a Cheapflights.com hotel partner, for their Welcome Rewards program. After 10 prepaid nights booked through Hotels.com they give you a credit for the average cost of your 10 paid nights. The credit is often enough for a free night’s stay.
Before traveling I like to make sure that my “essentials” and “entertainment” have been separated, with regard to finances. Essentials will include things like hotels, train and any internal plane tickets for continuing travel. These can all be prepaid, and when doing so, makes it much easier to budget in order to truly enjoy the vacation.
Open jaw plane tickets
Open jaw is the fancy-schmancy airline term for flying into one city and returning from a different city. If taking my advice and touring more than one country, open-jaw tickets are the way to buy. Open-jaw tickets sometimes cost less than round-trip tickets, too. Flying between your arrival city and your return city will then only require a one-way ticket and also save on the hassle of returning back to where you started your trip. With all the low-cost carriers around, flying one-way can be accomplished for under literally $10, depending on route.
(Image: Dave Clements)