The previous TRAVEL SAVINGS article discussed looking for promo codes, discount codes, and discount vouchers for everything from ferries to trains to airline flights. Today we’ll discuss MORE train travel, hotel, and apartment reservations.
Our preferred method of saving money whilst travelling is to get an apartment in any city that we will be in for more than 2 days. A 3 day minimum booking is pretty standard for most of the holiday apartment letting sites. But when you have your own full kitchen set-up, you can make and eat the meals you want for a fraction of the cost of eating out each day.
For our upcoming Paris and Brussels stays of 3 nights in each city, I looked at both AirBnB and Roomarama first. Each site has a wonderful variety of apartment styles and sizes. But in the end I went back to AirBnB where I have always had positive experiences in the past during a week in Amsterdam and a week-plus in Barcelona.
Things to check are what the EXTRA fees are on each listing. Some hosts are incredibly flexible and charge no additional fees other than the standard AirBnB booking fee of around £18-20. But other hosts charge security deposits of up to £500 for a 3 night stay AND a cleaning fee of up to £50. I’m a bit too frugal to embrace those costs, so my final list of possible selections all had no cleaning fees and little or no security deposit.
I never did find an apartment on either of the sites above for our Brussels stay and ended up booking an apartment for Brussels on the Booking.com website. We had a specific area that we wanted to stay in since we were coming into the same huge train station from Paris, and then several days later we’d be departing on the EuroStar from that station.
By the way, if you click on that link above for the Eurostar, you’ll see under the current DEALS FROM LONDON a fare of £69 per person for the London to Brussels route. That would have cost us £138 for the two of us — right? I booked with RailEurope instead of with the Eurostar site and paid a total of £80 for the two of us — a £58 savings!
If specific locations or neighbourhoods are important to you when booking an apartment or hotel, input that information into the search bar on the left side of the page at Booking.com and it will produce a list of options that are in or near that specific neighbourhood or site. I used this same website for our overnight hotels in Toronto and Vancouver and put the name of the international airport in each of those cities into the search field and found quite reasonably priced hotels for those one night stays. And in each of the 3 reservations that I made on Booking.com, I was able to save 20-30% off of the price on other booking sites by comparing the prices at the other sites and ALSO ticking on the hotels that were offering 24-48 hour discounts or a mark-down because it was one of the last 3-5 rooms. You have to really keep your eyes open for specials on all of these sites because they can really save you quite a lot when you are planning trips both large and small.
The final element of our upcoming trip was how to get across the continental United States without flying. I found ONE Delta flight from Cincinnati to Seattle with no layovers or plane changes, but I ruled it out immediately when I saw what the baggage sizes and limitations were. Our carry-on bags are the international flight size, not the domestic flight size! Also we carry SO MUCH tech gear and have even more items than we did when we left Australia 2-1/2 years ago — 2 15″ MacBook Pro laptops, 4 passport drives, cables and connectors, 3 Nikon DSLR cameras, 8 lenses, and a small Lumix camera. We carry all of that in our carry-on luggage along with a change of underwear and, if we are lucky, some pajamas and an extra pair of jeans. I use rolled-up t-shirts and socks, and a thin cashmere cardigan to cushion the cameras and lenses.
The Delta flight’s baggage size restrictions meant we would have had to check on 2 extra bags full of essential gear. Nope! That’s how I make my living and it is far too valuable to lose. In case this is news to people flying either domestically or internationally, it is never-ever safe to check on tech gear when flying because it ‘mysteriously goes missing’ rather often from inside your bag or it runs the risk of being irreparably damaged by gorilla-fisted luggage handlers. And if you think your travel insurance policy will reimburse you for missing tech gear — no, they will not. If you read all of the fine print in travel insurance documents, they very specifically state that there will be no reimbursement if you pack valuable items such as cameras, computers, or jewelry inside your check-on luggage.
We thought it might be fun to do a week long cross country drive in a tiny rental car. But then I began to research those options (and spent a full day doing that on website after website!) and I was simply stunned at the costs. Not only have the costs of renting a car risen dramatically in the USA since we were last there over 11 years ago, but the agencies that do allow one-way rentals all charge a one-way drop off fee of £1,000 minimum! That figure was in Great Britain pounds, NOT in dollars. At that point I said to my friend here in Newcastle that we could have purchased an old ‘banger’ car and insured it for the cost of a one way rental plus petrol plus food and hotels on the road PLUS a £1,000 drop-off fee. Sheesh! And did you know that the rental car agencies apply a ‘pick-n-mix’ strategy nowadays and you pay $149 a week for the all-important sat-nav and an additional $10 a day for a second driver? The renting-a-car option went right out the window!
Our final option turned out to be not only the cheapest but has the potential to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures that we will always remember. We have always loved travelling by train because it is a gentle and relaxing option compared to flying or driving. I looked at the AMTRAK site in the USA and discovered that we could travel from one side of the United States to the other in complete comfort in the privacy of our own room AND with all meals included for less than the cost of either the Delta flight or the eye-watering car rental option. But wait — there’s more!
I did a web search for “Amtrak Discounts” and came up with several options. Here’s an example of a 42% fare reduction for the second passenger that is running on Amtrak right now. This discount does not apply to the purchase of the sleeper cabins, but it did drop the cost of our complete train ticket by $50. We’re using Amtrak again for the Tacoma to Vancouver section of the trip prior to flying off to Australia, so I used the code again and along with a special that the Amtrak Cascades route is currently running, I saved another $17.50 off the $80.00 original cost for that 6 hour trip. It all adds up!
Here is the main AMTRAK page for current discounts. It will change week after week, but you can set up an email alert and stay apprised of the fare specials so you can grab a bargain.
Adding up ALL of my bits and pieces of discounts, I’ve saved £185 in British money or $280 in US dollars. If hotels are already paid for, that is DAYS of daily expense money. So now do you see why I keep reinforcing that it all adds up?
Hope this series has helped some of you think outside of the one-site-does-it-all mode of travel reservations and you’ll take the plunge into looking for discount codes and promo vouchers, too. Make a game out of it and have some fun adding up those savings!
©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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