Travelling can be expensive. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to do it on a budget. As someone who loves both saving money and travelling, I've realised there are sometimes downsides to these money saving travel tips. Being aware of them can help you pick which savings tips are worth it and which aren't.
I'm not suggesting you avoid any of the following methods for saving on travel. Instead, I'm presenting them so you can be informed when you weigh your options. Sometimes, you can save enough money that the downsides are worth it. Sometimes they aren't. But at least you'll know what to expect, and maybe you can even work around the cons.
Booking a Cheap (But Unaccommodating) Hotel
Depending on the length of your trip, the cost of lodging can be huge. I've booked my hotel through discount apps or tools to save some cash. The hotels themselves have been hit or miss, but on several occasions I've had the hotel clerk hint that they don't like when guests book using this method. And yes, sometimes it affects my stay.
During a recent trip, I booked a cheap hotel on HotelTonight, and I was given a smoking room. When I called the front desk to ask for nonsmoking, they said they couldn't make special accommodations since I booked through this app. To be fair, this hotel had bad service overall, so they might have been unaccommodating regardless of how I booked. But on a separate occasion, a friendly hotel clerk joked, "Oh you booked on HotelTonight? We're going to give you the worst room." I asked, "Do hotels really do that?" He said, "We prefer when you book directly through us. Some places will give you better service." One insider confirmed this with Consumerist:
Booking through third-party sites can land you in the rooms that regular patrons don't want. That means the smoking room at the far end of the hall away from the elevator. "My hotel doesn't maliciously put third-party internet guests into our smallest rooms, but when occupancy climbs, we're forced into it. Perhaps you won't receive the best rooms if you book directly, but at least you won't be earmarked during the arrivals process for the less desirable rooms."
At the same time, I've stayed at some great places through third-party apps and sites, so it really depends on the hotel, the clerk and other variables (like room availability), but it''s something to watch out for regardless. Consumerist adds that a lot of hotels have lowest price guarantees. So if you see a cheaper price online, it might work in your favour to just call the hotel directly and ask for that rate. The Points Guy lists some of those hotels with guarantees here.
I've also booked a hotel a little far away from the city centre because it's cheaper. Sometimes this works well and you get to explore a non-touristy part of the city. However, it can also be a drawback. For example, when my fiance and I went to Dublin, we stayed a few kilometres away from the city centre, where most of our points of interest were located. We walked a lot, and that was actually fun, because we got to see the city outskirts up close. On drunken nights, however, we'd take taxis back to our hotel, and it added up, making the hotel savings negligible.
It's not always a bad idea to book a hotel a little farther away. However, consider the transportation system of your destination city. Does the city have a simple bus or train system with stops near your hotel? What time does transportation stop running? What do cab or Uber prices look like? Weigh all of this against your potential savings.
Buying a Cheap (But Inconvenient) Flight
Discount airlines may save you money, but you often get what you pay for. There are no amenities, comfort isn't a priority, and don't expect much in the way of customer service. That aside, these airlines also often charge a crazy amount of fees. So many, in fact, that it may not be worth the "savings". During our trip to Dublin, we took a cheap Ryanair flight to London. We had to pay a fee for just about everything: our carry-ons, paying with a credit card, and even printing our boarding pass at the airport (they have since nixed that one, thankfully). After all was said and done, they weren't much cheaper than some of the other major airlines.
But sometimes, the discount carrier's flight is still cheaper, even with those fees. Just make sure you read the fine print before booking.
Another popular way to save on flights is to fly into a regional airport or an airport that's a little farther away from a city centre. This can also be more convenient, since these airports are usually less crowded and stressful. But sometimes you make up for the savings and convenience in ground travel time once you land. For example, my friends and family often visit me in Los Angeles, and instead of booking a flight at LAX or even Burbank, they will fly into a "nearby" airport that's 80km away. The flight is cheaper, but with traffic it takes hours to get into the city. Factor in transportation costs, and it becomes much less of a "deal".
Similarly, red eye and early morning flights are often cheaper, but you should consider your lodging. If you get into town at midnight or 6am, you're paying for a full night at a hotel you'll only use for a few hours. Some hotels offer discounts for late night arrivals, but not all of them do. It's worth asking the hotel about their policy and making your case.
Alternatively, you could also book that night using one of those last minute hotel apps like we mentioned above. You can probably find a room at a deep discount in the middle of the night. Then, book the rest of your trip at the hotel of your choosing.
Travelling in the Off-Season, When the Weather is Miserable
For the most part, I've had great experiences travelling to places during their off season. It's a hell of a lot cheaper, and I still have a great time. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
For one, some destinations are cheaper during certain months because the weather is terrible. It might be super hot or rainy, or it could even be a little dangerous. For example, Kiplinger explains that cruise lines offer deep discounts from June to November, because it's hurricane season in the Atlantic. They offer a word of warning and a couple of suggestions:
Warning: the cruise company won't reimburse you if rerouting delays force you to shell out for extra hotel nights or other itinerary changes. You may want cover your bases by booking travel insurance through a third-party provider, such as Travel Guard...Check out Cruise Critic's "Hurricane Zone," which provides storm updates and links to hurricane-season deals.
I've also travelled to places in the off-season only to find they were semi-deserted because it wasn't tourist season. Shops weren't open; restaurants closed early. This was fine by me, but it's something to think about, depending on what you're hoping to get out of your trip.
And that's the bottom line of all of these drawbacks, really: Whether or not the savings are worth it depends on how much you're saving, what your personal preferences are, and how likely the drawback is to occur in the first place. But being aware of them can help you set reasonable expectations for your trip and prepare yourself for any inconveniences.