What's the dream holiday to be this year? A weekend getaway to Barcelona? A Caribbean beach escape? Backpacking in Laos? Whatever your plan, it's amazing how much time and money you'll save on flights, hotel, food and more via the use of a few simple tricks and shortcuts.
Some of these are obvious - we all know to book out-of-season if we can - but others are a little more below the radar. For instance, did you know that you can haggle via phone for cheaper luxury hotel rates? Or that you should fly on Tuesday or Wednesday for the best prices?
Industry insiders such as app creators, travel bloggers and self-styled "travel hackers" have made it their business to know this information. They've honed it into a fine art, accruing an arsenal of knowledge that covers everything from how to bag the cheapest flights to the best way to score freebies abroad.
And their expertise isn't limited to saving money alone. It answers a full range of travel dilemmas, whether you want to avoid the check-in queue from hell, find the best restaurant in town or learn a foreign language pronto.
So whatever trip you're planning for 2015, be the smuggest jet-setter of the lot by arming yourself with these savvy holiday hacks from those in the know.
Words: Anna Brech
Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday for the cheapest rates
"Tuesday, 3pm EST (8pm GMT) is the cheapest time to buy a ticket. Airlines aggressively advertise sales on social media, so follow your favourites on Twitter and Facebook. These sales are usually pulled before Thursday, so be sure to book your ticket before Wednesday night.
Flying on Tuesdays and Wednesdays usually provides for a 15-25 percent drop in the ticket price. Fly into hubs and book shorter legs separately. In addition to fare aggregators like Kayak, FareCompare and Skyscanner, check the airline’s site and in different currencies to see if the ticket is cheaper."
- Stephany Zoo of elitedaily.com
Buy your ticket directly from the airline
"If your airfare drops after you book your ticket, most airlines will refund the difference, minus a rebooking fee, in the form of a voucher. There are two conditions: You have to ask for it, and you must have bought your ticket directly from the airline."
Travel the day of the holiday to save money
"If there isn’t a major family event that occurs the morning of the holiday for which you are travelling, consider booking a flight that arrives the day of the holiday. Because so many people are determined to have already reached their destinations by then, planes and airports feel like ghost towns on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. That lack of flyers translates into real savings, so if you need to book a flight and haven’t, check out fares available on the holidays themselves at a discount site like flights.com."
- Clint Johnston of triphackr.com
Save your air miles for first class or business class tickets
"Probably the single best use of frequent flyer miles is for international tickets in First or Business Class. This is because premium tickets usually come with a premium price tag of 4-10x the cost of an Economy ticket - but with miles, the ratio is much lower.
You can also sometimes buy miles outright and then immediately redeem them for a premium ticket that would otherwise cost much more."
- Travel writer Chris Guillebeau
Arrive early or late to increase your chances of an upgrade
"If passengers need to be moved between cabins for operational reasons, the airline will probably know this several hours before the flight. So if you’re among the first few passengers to check-in, you have a higher chance of being chosen.
Likewise, closer to the end of check-in, airlines might be faced with overbooking if more passengers have turned up than they were expecting."
- Skyscanner's James Teideman (via dailymail.co.uk)
Mark your baggage as fragile
"Not only does this mean your bag is more likely to be handled correctly, but it’ll also find itself at the top of pile in the storage compartment of the plane. The result? Why, you’ll get your bag back first, of course. Jackpot."
- Daniel Crudge, hostelworld.com
Pick the right security line
"This is more of an art than a science. The best line is usually not the shortest one. Two things to check are the efficiency of the personnel manning the line and the mix of travelers ahead of you. Several things to watch out for include families with small children, unconventional luggage which will likely be inspected, and anyone who looks like they haven't been in an airport security line in the last 10 years."
- David Lavenda, fastcompany.com
Never change money at a UK airport
"You’ll probably end up with 5-10 per cent less than you’d get by shopping around for euros or US dollars either in your local area or online. For more 'exotic' currencies, such as Egyptian pounds or Croatian kuna, consider taking sterling and changing it out there."
- Travel journalist Simon Calder (via tescoliving.com)
Jiggle your way through turbulence
"If you're petrified of turbulence during flights, try slightly jiggling your body when you hit some rough air. No one will notice because everyone is being moved around due to the aircraft movement. Sounds a little crazy but your movement will counteract that of the aircraft and you won’t feel the turbulence so much. It really does work!"
- Jamie Wortley, Skyscanner
Always ask for an upgrade at hotel check-in
"When you check in to the hotel, ask for an upgrade. Tourism is very bad right now and you are much more likely to get free upgrades and goodies just by asking. They want to keep customers happy and have them go home recommending them to others. Use that to your advantage."
- Matt Kepnes, of Nomadic Matt
Haggle via phone for the best luxury hotel rates
"We're all familiar with haggling when it comes to buying a house or a car, but you can also do it when booking a luxury hotel. Many top-end hotels are flexible on price if they have spare rooms, particularly if you are booking very late and especially at a time of the week when they are not so busy. Sunday nights, for example.
This is very hush-hush, so the best way to get the deals is by phone. Call the reservations department, speak confidently and make them an offer. You'll often get a discounted rate, a free room upgrade or breakfast thrown in."
Favourite your hotel number on your home landline and use Skype
To avoid costly international call fees "text your hotel number home and get your nearest and dearest to call you back – if your landline provider allows free favourite numbers that you can change at will, find out the hotel number you'll be staying at and temporarily make it one of your favourites. If you're travelling with your computer, sign up for Skype: you can connect to another Skype account back home for free or to your home landline for a fraction of the cost of the hotel phone."
- Travel writer Kate Simon (via aol.com)
Pack an empty water bottle
"Before you begrudgingly crack open one of those $6 bottles of Fiji in your hotel room, fill yours up at the hotel’s fitness centre instead; they almost always have a complimentary jug. No one’s going to judge you if you don’t bother stepping on the treadmill, plus you’re saving cash and reducing waste."
Use a portable white noise machine to sleep better
"I’m a super light sleeper. I hear everything. Blame my urban environs, but I just can’t sleep any more without a white noise machine. I even have a white noise app on my phone that I love (TM Soft) & I have been known to put earphones in to sleep on planes. But for a noisy hotel room, or a way-too-quiet cabin, I love my portable white noise machine. I think it kind of looks like a UFO, but it’s light weight & tucks perfectly into a suitcase."
- Travel blogger Christina Saull (of myviewfromthemiddleseat.com)
Head to the places next door to guide book recommendations
"I rarely look to guidebooks for the name of a hostel or restaurant. Instead, I look at their recommendations as things to piggyback on. Lonely Planet recommends a place as 'Our Pick'? Great, I go there, and walk two doors down to stay nearby. Rough Guides says 'this is the best restaurant in town'? Perfect! Almost every one of those recommendations will spawn another restaurant within walking distance, especially in less developed countries. Industrious entrepreneurs quickly learn that when these books recommend a place, they quickly get overcrowded and prices go up. The solution: they open a place right next door or nearby to handle the spillover. Without fail, those are the places that are cheaper, more delicious and not jaded."
- Jodi Ettenberg of legalnomads.com
Use chalkboards as an indication of good restaurants
"Keep an eye out for chalkboards: Or blackboards as we used to – correctly – call them when I was at school. It’s not a guarantee, but any place where the menu changes sufficiently to warrant specials being written up in chalk at least looks like it cares."
- David Whitley of The Grumpy Traveller
Picnic with local food to save money
"Eating out can gobble up your money very quickly. I know it is part of the full experience of travelling but to save your budget do try to have one meal a day as a picnic, buying food locally and supporting the local shops and markets - this can be exciting anyway! Also, look out for menus of the day. These tend to be in the local rather than tourist restaurants, and they can be very good value, especially at lunchtime."
- Wanderlust editor-in-chief Lyn Hughes (via essentialtravel.co.uk)
Pre-load Google Maps on your phone
"A technology trick that we always use on our travels is turning our iPhone into a free GPS device, even when we were out of wifi in the most remote of places. We found if we preloaded our next location when we were in a wifi zone, even after we left the hostel, our ‘current location’ tracker would still update along the map... When sitting on a dodgy chicken buses passing through San Pedro Sula, or catching a taxi around the backstreets of Managua, it was nice to know we were headed in the right direction."
To learn a language quickly, speak with a native straight away
"Spend a few hours learning some phrases from a pocket phrase book and then find a native and use them immediately. When the language has a context of real-life communication for you from the start then you will be on the path to improving it much quicker. If you can’t find any foreign-language communities where you live, you can find someone to speak with online."
- Benny Lewis (@IrishPolyglot) of fluentin3months.com
Ask Gogobot for specific trip questions
"It’s hard to describe Gogobot and do it any justice. It’s ‘Facebook for travel’ but it’s better than that. You can easily create trip itineraries by browsing through reviews and then add your own thoughts on your return. But the real gem is the advice you’ll get from other users when you post a focused question. It took me a long time to start using it because no one described it well. Don’t make the same mistake."