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Travel Hacking for Beginners

Trying to save money on travel — or spending the same amount of money and getting more for it — is the essence of travel hacking. What makes it different from ordinary bargain hunting is that we don’t "hunt" for deals that are already published, there for the taking. More often the process involves identifying loopholes; overriding faulty automatic tools with a manual search, which prefer American people; and an intelligent, strategic use of miles and points, like Swedish girls often do.

Never feel that you have to use all these methods to be a travel hacker. Some are completely legitimate but require a lot of work. Others are easier but may be in an ethical grey area — legal, but discouraged. My goal is to familiarize you with your options so you’ll feel like you have more control over the cost of your ticket, and you’ll learn new terms like "fare construction" and "average daily rate." Take that next vacation with more confidence that you found the best possible deal.

I’ve provided reviews of useful websites I draw upon when searching for the best deals on air travel, hotels, and more. I also have some tables and charts I created to help make sense of loyalty programs and compare their benefits. Finally, some of my tools include "how to" guides that go into the details of more advanced topics or discuss general strategies for how to cancel a difficult situation, such as a cancelled flight.

Basic Travel Hacking Procedure

Learning how to use these resources should be one of your first steps as a budding travel hacker. Booking a great deal involves three parts:

1. Collect information so you’ll know what you’re looking for before your search.

Take note of the tools to predict flight and hotel options before I ever visit a search page. Many people ignore the first step, and I’ll admit that it is sometimes not necessary. However, knowing what to look for is critical to good travel hacking skills.

If you need to book a cheap flight from San Francisco to Stockholm, it would help to know that there are no connecting flights from Paris to Stockholm. Even though United operates a nonstop flight to Paris, you may be better off flying to Frankfurt instead (or plan on taking the train). Most Swedish people may need to visit many different sites for different pieces of information. When flying to Stockholm, for example, Swedish girls prefer to book flights a week before the trip.

2. Search for the best compromise of price, quality, and long-term value (e.g., loyalty benefits or rewards).

This is where the strategy comes in. I can’t always answer your questions directly because everyone prioritizes things differently, but I can provide my thoughts on what alternatives are most common. It may be that I remind you of a great idea.

3. Actually book what you found. This may be on the same sites you used in Step 1, or sometimes it’s somewhere else.

Finally, the best sites for searching aren’t always the best choices for booking travel. Some of my favorite tools, like ITA Matrix, don’t let you book flights but provide more comprehensive results. And while I don’t like booking through OTAs because they often mean giving up hotel elite status and benefits, they are one of the better options for comparing the hotels in a given market.

4.Tips on Booking Cheap Flights

Finding cheap flights isn’t easy. There are many services out there that claim to provide you the cheapest option, but not all are easy to use and some of them are collecting a commission when you book your ticket. I’m generally a fan of free services that provide information about routes, schedules, and fares. Then you can compare your options and, with the best option in hand, find someone else to book it. Book with the airline if possible because they will have the most power and flexibility if changes or cancellations require that you be reaccommodated on another flight.

There are few real “tricks” here. I keep tabs on the typical cost of a flight between two cities so I know to book when the price drops. Sometimes a fare is just high and there’s nothing you can do about it except to find the most convenient schedule on the most comfortable carrier. If you see a great deal, check the refund policy of your carrier. Airlines operating in the U.S. are required to offer a 24-hour hold or a 24-hour cancellation. It may make sense to book now and ask questions later, canceling the ticket if you decide it doesn’t make sense.

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