5 Money-Saving Travel Tips You May Not Know About

by  Paul Eisenberg | Jan 23, 2013
Packing for a trip
Packing for a trip / seb_ra/iStock

Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days of the week to book the cheapest plane tickets, a home exchange is a tidy way to save money on lodging, and a restaurant that serves the same entree at lunch and dinner often charges less for it at lunchtime.

These are among the “greatest hits” of money-saving travel tips, bits of advice that are repeated year after year in travel journalism because they’re (often) true and always manage to find new audiences.

The nice thing about such a tip is that it can help you if you hear it at the right time, even if you’ve heard it many times before. My problem, and I suppose it’s not a big one, is that, as a travel writer, I feel like I have heard them all before.

So to maintain my sanity, I regularly scour my sources to collect tips I’ve never heard before, or at least haven’t heard in a while. Five such money-saving tips that you may not know follow. And if they’re old hat to you, my apologies…but please do pass the “savings” on to a friend.

1. Download the My TSA mobile app. While the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule about transporting liquids in carry-on bags isn’t all that perplexing, there were moments on the road recently when airport security screeners busted me, reminding me that my tube of shaving gel and jar of mustard were indeed considered liquids and also exceeded the 3.4 oz. carry-on limit. The screeners offered me the chance to check the items, but, of course, I couldn’t be bothered with that (can you?) and thus had $11 worth of stuff confiscated. And I am still missing that mustard.

The other day, I learned from Mike Kelly at On Call International that the TSA mobile app (available for iPhones and Android smartphones) is worth downloading for its “Can I Bring?” feature, which clues you in about whether your item is suitable for a carry-on, checked bag, both, or neither. After getting easy answers to my shaving gel and mustard questions, I learned that the app is entertaining, too. Just so you know, you may bring a water gun home for your child, but it must be in a checked bag. However, if you want to carry home a dog bone for Fido, that’s fine to pack in either a checked bag or carry-on. Go figure.

2. Remember membership discounts. While it might be fairly obvious to remember to use membership benefits that you’re paying for, I struggle to remember at the right times that my AAA card is good for more than auto emergencies. For the cost of a basic AAA annual membership (upwards of $50, depending on where you live), you can benefit from the AAA Show Your Card and Save Program, which Kelly noted can get you discounts on hotels, car rentals, theme parks, and other travel expenses. There’s a AAA mobile app, available for iPhone and Droid, that locates these discounts.

3. Check membership sites for handy budgeting tools. If you’re 50 or older and have an AARP card in your wallet, you’ll likewise want to check what travel benefits come with AARP membership – there are many, including savings on vacation packages, flights, hotels, car rentals, and other big-ticket travel expenses. And even if you’re not yet a member, the AARP website has a bunch of handy free web tools that will assist you with budgeting, as well a landing page that gives you baggage fee information for more than 100 airlines.

4. Consider a BABA holiday. Recently, Cheapflights.com came out with a list of travel trends, among which was something I had never heard of: the bag-a-bargain abroad or “BABA” holiday, which means choosing a vacation destination in part because services or goods available there are significantly cheaper than what you’d pay at home. So according to Cheapflights, this could mean “savings on duty-free and electronics in the Far East,” or getting great deals on “made-to-measure suits in Thailand and Hong Kong, prescription glasses in China, leather goods in Spain and Portugal, and specialty rums throughout the Caribbean.”

The BABA concept also extends to the realm of medical tourism, the website suggests, going on to say that if you’re considering a trip someplace to get an inexpensive procedure or surgery, “we’d stress that you need to research thoroughly and look at your insurance options if you wanted to consider this, ensuring your chosen provider is well-regulated and legitimate.” I’ll add that an excellent resource I’ve used to research medical travel is Patients Beyond Borders. It’s highly enlightening reading even if you’re not considering such a trip.

5. Stop going for the “perfect pump.” Despite the fact that the ability to swipe a credit card at a gas pump has long made obsolete the need to achieve a perfect pump – the art of fueling your tank until the precise moment your gas cost comes to a round number like $40 so you don’t have to get change from a gas station attendant -- I recently learned from the Environmental Protection Agency that attempts to top off your gas tank to get that perfect pump can result in your paying for gas that never makes it into your gas tank.

Specifically, the EPA explains that fanatical topping off “can result in your paying for gasoline that is fed back into the station's tanks because your gas tank is full,” which is why the gas nozzle clicks off when you have a full tank. Further, “gas station pumps are equipped with vapor recovery systems that feed back gas vapors into their tanks to prevent vapors from escaping into the air and contributing to air pollution,” so “any additional gas you try to pump into your tank may be drawn into the vapor line and fed back into the station’s storage tanks.”

What money-saving travel tips help you when you travel? Share your tips in the comments!

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