Top 10 Tips to planning your next trip

With the new year upon us, it’s time to plan my trips for 2017. Every year, I update my list of places that I would like to visit. If you don’t have one, create one. Let this serve as a guide when searching for cheap flights, but don’t restrict yourself to only visiting destinations on your list. This alone will save you a lot of money. Here are my top 10 tips:

1. Use Skyscanner to find cheap flights

Flights are a major expense of any trip. Therefore, scoring the cheapest flight possible will impact the overall budget of your trip drastically. Skyscanner is my favorite tool to use for finding the best prices and times to travel. The Skyscanner website and app are super easy to use. They basically do all the work for you by searching through websites such as Orbitz and websites of respective airlines to find you the lowest prices and where to purchase. Each month, I use Skyscanner to search for flights to destinations on my list to see if there are any flight errors or deals. Its cheapest month feature is great for pinpointing the month with the lowest fare prices for the destination while its monthly view option displays the lowest fares per day. Once you’ve populated the necessary information, you will have a selection of sites to purchase the ticket from based on the price you chose.

Skyscanner Homepage || Download Skyscanner App for your phone

Stay tuned for my next post with instructions on how to use Skyscanner.

2. Travel during off-peak seasons

Flight prices generally skyrocket during spring break and holidays. Try to travel when school is in session to avoid a huge jump in prices. For example, flight prices to Aruba after September 1st were approximately $200-250 per person, but because my friends were in school we booked for August, which costed approximately $550 per person. Destinations being less crowded is another benefit of traveling during off-peak seasons.

3. Book with Orbitz

Once you’ve settled on the flight deal that you found with Skyscanner, it will show you a list of links and sites from which you can purchase it for the selected price. If possible, select the Orbitz option to purchase, since Orbitz allows free 24 hr cancellations. You can also earn Orbitz points and use them for future travels.

4. Use Ebates

I always check Ebates before making any purchase, especially flights, hotels, and car rentals, to see if it qualifies for cash back. I didn’t become an avid user until the past year, and I’m glad that I did because I received a total of $315.92 back, which was enough for a round trip flight.

Ebates allows you to shop over 2000 brands, such as Sephora, Orbitz, Bloomingdales, GNC, Petco, etc. and earn cash back.

Ebates referral link for $10.

If you have an account, be sure to add the Ebates Cash Back Button to your Google Chrome bar, so when any shopping qualifies for cash back, it will alert you to activate it. This allows you to save effortlessly.

 

5. Use your paid days off wisely

I often get asked how I’m able to go on so many trips within a year. My answer is always by planning wisely. How so, right? Each year, I get 20 vacation days, 5 floating days (use it or lose it by year end), and 7 company-paid holidays, which is a grand total of 32 days off. If flight prices and deals permit, I usually book departure flights for Friday after 8:30 PM and return late on Sunday (after 9:00 PM) or super early (before 6:00 AM) on a weekday where I can still make it into work. This method is not meant for everyone. Believe it or not, to save and use my days wisely, I’ve landed and gone straight to work, multiple times, luggage and all. By using this method, not taking paid holidays into account, taking off 10 days will give me a 17 day trip. If I use this method with paid holidays in mind, my 17 day trip could cost me less than 10 days off.

Benefits will vary from one company to another, but take what you have and use it to your advantage. Although my company does not offer these perks, from my knowledge, there are companies that offer 2 weeks off in addition to their vacation days for the holidays, summer Fridays, and work from home days. Plan wisely!

6. Open and use travel credit cards

Use your discretion. If you can not afford a credit card with an annual fee, please do not apply for one. You will only be adding on unnecessary financial burdens. If you can afford an annual fee, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. Here is a detailed comparison between the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve by Chase. After spending $4000 per card, I earned 50,000 and 100,000 bonus points from opening the Preferred and Reserve, respectively. Before you open a card, be sure to time it wisely since you need to spend $4000 within the span of 3 months in order to get the bonus points. Apply for the card when you know you need to make major purchases or have friends and family who could help you reach the goal. For example, for my old school relatives who are terrified of credit cards and were planning a family vacation, I kindly asked if they would mind paying me in cash so I can charge it to my card. As expected, they didn’t mind and that charge alone was over $5,000, and since it was travel related, I earned 2x the points for the purchase with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Spending $95 for an annual fee on a credit card made me cry a bit inside, but I have to say, it was all worth it. I’ve saved a lot of money since from foreign transaction fees because I use it abroad quite often and I never have to worry about the fees that I will incur. Also, I’ve experienced first hand how handy Damage Protection is. During my trip to Aruba last August, I got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, the type where I could scream and no one would hear me or come to my rescue. Luckily, with the help of my 3 other passengers (small, 5 feet 5 and shorter) we were able to switch the tire on our Jeep Wrangler and drive off to safety. The best part was waiting until the following morning to return the car and  explain what happened. I held my breath as she examined and I knew it wasn’t going to be good by the look on her face and the subtle sighing. Then, bam, she lets me have the bill and said the cost for the damages (popped tire and dented rim) will be over $600. That was more expensive than our flight. Holy moly, but it is what it is, so I paid for it. Luckily for me, I enjoy reading all the fine booklets that come with my credit cards and I remembered seeing a damage protection subsection for the Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits. I also called Chase to confirm that my type of damage was covered, and indeed it was. After filing a claim online, I received a reimbursement check for the damages I incurred and paid for. That’s $600 back in my pocket.

After the Reserve was released, I immediately applied for it due to my great personal experience with the Preferred and because it provides all the benefits of the Preferred and more. To avoid paying an additional annual fee, I downgraded my Preferred to another Chase card that doesn’t have an annual fee. By downgrading, you do not lose your points accrued nor the age of your account.

I am excited to reap the benefits that comes with the Reserve.

7. Book with your points for a better deal

I see many blogs describing their experience booking first class round trip flights for dirt cheap or really little with points. Call me stupid or whatnot, i just can’t grasp the concept.

A simple person like myself, would open rewards cards for each and every airline, car company, and hotel, as long as it is free. Who is to say you won’t ever fly with them again? And if I do, I can accumulate points for future flights or exchange for goods. At this point, I haven’t quite figured out what to do with those points yet.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points on the other hand, I’ve redeemed for flights. Always compare the prices you find on Skyscanner with the prices listed in Ultimate Rewards because it is not always cheaper to book with points. Hotel bookings seem to be more expensive through Ultimate Rewards, but flights vary. A recent flight I booked costs $355.96 on Ultimate Rewards and multiple sites, but could be redeemed with 23,730 points. That was a good purchase.

If you have any suggestions or advice on how to better utilize my points, please leave me a comment below!

8. Airbnb

Living accommodations are another hefty expense. Hostels and couch surfing are some cheaper alternatives to hotels, but when I am traveling, I HAVE to have a clean and spacious bathroom. Most hostel bathrooms are shared and since I hate being rushed when I’m getting ready in the morning, taking a shower, or using the bathroom, I generally don’t stay at hostels. Luckily, when I was in Amsterdam, the hostel we stayed at provided private bathrooms, like a hotel room. Airbnb is my first option when considering living accommodations abroad. I’ve stayed at Airbnbs in LA, Korea, Japan, Italy, Hong Kong, Iceland, London, Paris, and many more. I’ve only had one bad experience where my friends and I felt scammed because the photos depicting the space was overly exaggerated, making our stay extremely uncomfortable because we felt like sardines in a can. Besides that, I’ve had wonderful and accommodating hosts. From my experience, the amount that I paid is definitely cheaper than if I were to stay at hotels, and way more spacious. Most listings provide multiple photos and honest reviews written by previous guests. This does not mean that you shouldn’t stay at hotels, because some hotels have their perks too. My stay at the Renaissance Hotel in Aruba granted all the guests in the room (4 total) free access to their private island with flamingos. Furthermore, there were free amenities and we were not required to do much cleaning. Although a cleaning fee is added to your Airbnb total, you should try and treat it like a friend’s home and less like a hotel.

On another note, I haggle. I have no shame what so ever. If I see a listing that’s above my budget which I would love to stay at, I always send a private message asking for a better offer if possible. Also, don’t be afraid to mention it if you are celebrating any special occasions. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Most of the time, I get a better offer, other times not. The important thing is to be respectful by not asking for a super low price, such as 75% off.

Referral Link for $35 off your first Airbnb stay.

Please comment below if you would like any of my Airbnb host recommendations!

9. Create Itinerary & Map locations

I went on my first international trip without much of a plan. All I knew was that we would be there and figure it out as we go. Boy, was I wrong. That was a terrible idea because I am a person who likes everything planned to the T and I get frazzled when things don’t go according to plan. For the amount of time we stayed, we could have done a lot more, but we wasted time googling basic knowledge such as tipping manners and kept revising areas because we didn’t have a sense of direction or place in mind. Not everyone needs an elaborate itinerary, but you should have a basic one. It comes in handy when I want to share it with friends or time has elapsed and I can no longer remember names or addresses. My itinerary has since expanded to an options list, day by day tentative schedule, and expense sheet. The expense sheet has been awfully handy because I can provide it to others to use as reference, so they can have an idea of how much they might be spending.

My itinerary for HK, Japan and Korea

I love creating a new map through Google Maps for my trips. I pinpoint places I want to visit and am able to better visualize where everything is. During the actual trip, I can easily navigate from one point to another without wasting time entering addresses.

10. Follow blogs and ask your friends for advice

Don’t be afraid to ask your friends for advice and how much they spent on flights because it can help you determine if the price you find is a standard price or an amazing deal. I’ve noticed many of my friends who travel also enjoy sharing their experiences. Their advice can help you budget wisely and save. My itinerary is a compilation of recommendations given to me by friends and bloggers, and ideas found on the web.

 

Comment below and let me know if this was helpful to you!

Until next time,

Mei

*Ambassador for Skyscanner
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