Today (January 22, 2021): 10 tips & tricks for affordable luxury travel in 2021.
Now that 2021 is here and with the prospect of vaccines, it’s time to start making travel plans. And while we all dream of traveling to far-flung destinations, flying in Business (or First) Class, and staying at ultraluxe hotels, nobody likes to break his/her wallet on a holiday. Here are the top 10 travel tips & tricks that I use to optimize my own travel expenses.
Feel free to share your own travel tips & tricks, and leave a comment.
1. FIND THE CHEAPEST HOTEL RATE ON TRIVAGO OR HOTELSCOMBINED
When I want to stay at a particular luxury hotel, I always start with an online search for the cheapest room rate at that hotel. This may sound like mission impossible given the number of search engines that are available on the internet these days, but it is not difficult at all since two aggregator websites will do the job for you in just a few clicks! Trivago and Hotelscombined are two very helpful websites that check at once the price of a hotel room at hundreds of other sites (e.g. Ebookers, Booking.com, Otel.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Hotelopia, etc …) and then show you where you can book the cheapest rate. Try it out for yourself here (and find out how easy it is):
Once I found the cheapest rate for a hotel room on Trivago or Hotelscombined, my strategy to book that rate depends on the hotel type:
- If the hotel does not belong to a large hotel chain, I book the room via Hotels.com using a Best Rate Guarantee; this not only enables me to book that room at the cheapest rate (found on Trivago or Hotelscombined), but in addition, I collect free hotel nights via Hotels.com’s excellent Rewards program (read here why I like Hotels.com so much).
- If the hotel is part of a large hotel chain (e.g. Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Hyatt, etc …), I make the booking directly on the official hotel website using a Best Rate Guarantee program; this will get me an additional 10-25% discount and enables me to collect loyalty points that I can redeem for free hotel nights.
- If the hotel offers complimentary Virtuoso perks (cf below), then I calculate how much I would save by booking via Virtuoso (which rarely offers the cheapest rate) compared to Hotels.com or the official hotel website (which rarely comes with extra perks). If the difference is substantial, then Virtuoso is always my first choice for a hotel booking. Fyi, booking via Virtuoso will also get you hotel points within your preferred hotel loyalty program.
2. GET UPGRADES AND OTHER VIP PERKS WHEN BOOKING VIA VIRTUOSO
Booking luxury hotels via Virtuoso is extremely rewarding, not so much in terms of saving money on the room rate, but rather in terms of special perks that you will receive at the property itself (e.g. upgrades, free dinners, free spa treatments, etc …). Virtuoso is the industry’s leading network of luxury travel advisors, spanning over 26 countries and 9,000 travel advisors. So when you book your holiday with Virtuoso, most of the time, you will be in touch with a Virtuoso travel agent and not make the booking online yourself. Virtuoso travel agents network with the world’s most luxurious hotels & resorts, most of them belonging to the portfolio of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands. The single best reason to book a stay through a Virtuoso travel agent is that it means value for money as it will get you access to the above mentioned special VIP perks (and will potentially save you hundreds of dollars).
The advantage of booking through Virtuoso is particularly evident when staying at an Aman property, the world’s top hotel chain. In line with Aman’s hyper-exclusive and ultra-luxurious reputation, you’ll never find a lower rate than the one published on the official Aman website. But booking through a Virtuoso travel agent rather than on the Aman website itself will get you some free extra perks (often worth hundreds of dollars). So if you are an Aman junkie, like me, then Virtuoso is the way to go (otherwise you are leaving money on the table).
My favorite Virtuoso travel agency is Classic Travel, not only because of their excellent service, but also because they are one of the few Virtuoso travel agencies that offer an excellent online booking tool (click the banner below to try it out for yourself).
3. FIND THE CHEAPEST FLIGHTS WITH GOOGLE
I mostly use the airfare search engine Kayak when planning my air travel. Kayak checks the price of your requested flight at tons of sites at once, including Orbitz and Cheaptickets, and allows flexibility in your travel dates. However, Kayak does not display all prices, so that is why I also check other online ticket-sellers as well (e.g. Travelocity, Hipmunk, Momondo, Hotwire, Skyscanner, and Expedia). Another tool has also helped me tremendously in finding the cheapest ticket: Google Flights. It’s a very simple tool: you just enter your travel dates and destination (city or country), hit ‘explore destinations’ and Google shows you a map where you can travel for the lowest price.
4. FOLLOW FAMOUS TRAVEL BLOGGERS
Many airlines and hotels have their own loyalty programs that allow you to earn points or miles that are redeemable for free flights, upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals or shopping. Everybody should participate in these programs as they can save you tons of money by travelling (almost for) free as well as offer you tons of other perks. However, it does take quite some effort to get some basic knowledge of how to collect miles & points in the most efficient manner. One of the best tips is to subscribe to the newsletters of expert bloggers, so that you will be instantly updated on promotions and tricks for earning or spending your miles or hotel points. I hereby list my 6 favorite travel bloggers, who have helped me to save considerably on my own travel budget:
- One mile at a time (my favorite blog)
- The Points Guy
- Million Mile Secret
- Loyalty Lobby
- View from the Wing
- Head for Points
That said, my own travel blog (now six years old) also aims to be a valuable resource with tips & tricks that help you save money when traveling in style. In my hotel reviews, I always write a section about ‘how to save money’, which explains the best strategy to book that particular hotel. In addition, each Friday, I publish a newsletter with interesting up-to-date travel tips.
5. KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR SALES BY AIRLINES (ESPECIALLY QATAR AIRWAYS)
Most airlines occasionally run sales, offering flight tickets at a discounted rate. If you add yourself to their mailing lists, you will be notified among the first when they have a sale. For example, British Airways often has sales where they allow you to book a Business Class return trip and fly one leg in First Class. Swiss regularly launches sales with First Class fares that are cheaper than flying Business Class. But the winner here is Qatar Airways, which often launches incredible 2-for-1 sales where your companion will travel for free when you buy one Business Class ticket. For example, a few weeks ago, Qatar Airways had a sale with Business Class fares from Europe and the USA to the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Oceania from as low as an incredible 1000 euros or 850 USD per person. Although that sale has ended now, they will launch some new ones in the future.
6. EARN MILES BY CREDIT CARD
I guess most of you are familiar with the concept of airline miles, but for those who aren’t: frequent-flyer programs are customer loyalty programs used by airlines that allow you to earn points (or miles) that are redeemable for free flights. Around 50% of my miles are not earned by flying, but by using my credit card, which earns me 1.5 miles for every dollar spent. I don’t spend more money since I have this credit card, but I ‘learned’ to use my credit card for all my daily expenses (grocery, gas, shopping, etc …) instead of paying in cash. In the US, and to a lesser extent the UK, credit cards are great for earning lots of miles (signing up for a credit card can come with huge mileage bonus offers, often enough for a transatlantic Business Class ticket). If you are not a resident of the USA or UK, a good strategy may be to acquire a, American Express credit card, which is available in most countries (albeit often at a heavy fee) and allows you to convert Amex points in airline miles.
7. UPGRADE USING YOUR MILES
You may not have enough miles for a Business Class flight, but if you book in the class below your preferred seat, you may be able to upgrade your ticket using your air miles or points. British Airways is one of the airlines with the best frequent flyer program when it comes to using your miles for an upgrade (I have reviewed British Airways Business and First Class flights on a number of occasions here). Using British Airways miles – called Avios – to upgrade one class (from Economy to Premium Economy, from Premium Economy to Business, or from Business to First) is one of the best ways to spend them. It usually requires around 25,000 Avios to upgrade a cash booking to the next cabin on a longhaul flight (when there’s availability of course). Avios can be used for an upgrade on British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines flights.
For example, if you want to fly with British Airways in Business Class from London to New York, you can book a Premium Economy ticket, and then login to “Manage My Booking” on BA.com, select your flight and choose to ”Upgrade this flight with Avios”. If there is reward availability, British Airways will tell you how much it will cost. In this example, an off-peak reward flight in World Traveller Plus costs 26,000 Avios; an off-peak reward flight in Club World costs 50,000 Avios. Therefore the cost to upgrade this flight using Avios is 50,000-26,000 = 24,000 Avios. If you booked your ticket through a travel agent, you will need to check with them to see if your booking can be upgraded with Avios. Alternatively, if you are ready to book and do not yet have any tickets for your trip, you can use the BA.com ‘book and upgrade’ form to search for availability and get a price for booking and upgrading at the same time.
Even if you don’t have enough miles for an upgrade, don’t despair. If you are running low, consider converting your hotel points over to airline miles to boost your balance. Many airlines also offer a part-buy miles-flight option where you can pay to buy in the miles that you need as you book your redemption ticket.
8. TRAVEL TO EMERGING DESTINATIONS
The most popular travel destinations are popular – and expensive – for good reason. Think Maldives or Seychelles, and you know that the superlative scenery will cost you at least a $1000 USD per night in high season (and that’s not even for a room in a top hotel). But some of us are looking for more profound and authentic experiences that these off-the-shelf tourist attractions just can’t offer – experiences that also allow to save big on travel. Only few countries fit that profile and they are on my radar to visit in the near future, before the crowds – and with that a rise of room rates – arrive: Mongolia, Georgia, Montenegro, the Cook Islands, Uzbekistan and Paraguy all seem terrific travel destinations for 2021, where one can still travel cheap without compromising too much on luxury.
9. BOOK NEWLY OPENED HOTELS
Booking newly opened hotels is one of the money saving travel tricks that I have been using for years with success. I always try to stay at luxury hotels that just opened to make use of often insane opening offers, launched to lure guest. For instance, Soneva Jani in the Maldives (opened in 2016) and Six Senses Bhutan (opened in 2019) offered their guests discounts of more than 50% (including many extras) in the first weeks after they opened. Some hotels will even allow you to negotiate your own rate (that happened to me when I stayed at Como Maalifushi in the Maldives and Raflles Seychelles). For that reason, you may want to read my lists of the hottest new hotels 2020 and 2020, and check whether one of the featured hotels is located along one of your future travel itineraries. Especially in Asia, there seems to be a boom in luxury hotels (e.g. Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand).
10. DON’T BE OBSESSED BY TRAVEL & LOYALTY
I have to admit that I used to be obsessed by loyalty programs in the past. I would book hotels and do mileage runs, with the simple goal of acquiring as much hotel points and airline miles as possible. Granted, this strategy has offered me plenty of awesome experiences, such as flying First Class with many of the world’s best airlines. However, over the years, I came to realize that loyalty have become less rewarding (with many hotel and airline programs introducing massive devaluations) and that loyalty was determining my travel plans and not the other way around. That is why I left my obsession for loyalty programs behind me. By doing so, I noticed that I reduced my levels of travel-related stress (yes, loyalty can cause stress by making you want to maintain your elite status) and that I introduced more variety in my travels by exploring new destinations, airlines and hotels. In fact, I am considering abandoning all my loyalty programs and just take a more relaxed approach when it comes to travel, especially since there are so many good travel deals out there these days that loyalty doesn’t seem to make much sense anymore.
Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned for Monday when I reveal a new top 10 travel list.