I’ve worked as a travel agent in the travel industry for almost ten years now. I thought I’d share some travel hacks with you guys on how to save yourself money while booking travel and ensuring you get the best deal, but also the best value for money. I’ve worked as a travel agent in three different countries. The preferred destinations might change, but the rules for finding travel deals still remain the same. Travelling is a huge passion of mine. My number one goal as an agent is to have customers who get their best value for money, but also, have a fun and stress-free experience. So let’s check out the travel hacks I’ve learnt through my career.
This guide is not just about where to book cheap flights, or what time of year you should be reserving your holiday. Anyone can usually figure out those tricks. This guide is more than that. This is travel industry insider knowledge that you can hopefully use to your advantage. So what are the hacks and how can you save yourself money while booking travel?
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Travel Hack 1
Stopovers Can Save You Money
A stopover, if you’re not sure, is when you add another stop to your normal return ticket. This can dictate which airline you fly with and also what destinations you may end up visiting on your holiday. This travel hack is awesome as it saves you money while booking travel, and also gives you another great destination to check out. Sometimes you don’t even need to stopover, you can transit and still get the discount.
Let me give you some examples of what I use in my job.
Here’s a big one, and a weird one. It can be more expensive to buy a return ticket to Dubai with Emirates than it is to buy a return ticket with Emirates to Europe. The difference can be over a thousand dollars. This is probably because the main demographic of people flying only to Dubai usually have more money than those flying onwards to Europe.
The cheapest option in this situation is to see if you can turn Dubai into a stopover (for the length of time that you want) and then travel onwards to Athens or Budapest or maybe Cairo. The world is your oyster!
Another example is when my clients fly to America. Some cities are just more expensive than others and this can make a big difference in the ticket price. For example, New York City is cheaper than Washington DC. I once saved one of my clients three thousand pounds (this was a business class ticket), because we booked a non-direct flight to DC going via JFK. They were able to take the direct flight back and still save that much money.
So just ask yourself when you’re booking a ticket. Is there another destination that I want to go to that might be cheaper if I add it in? I recommend speaking to a travel agent to save money on your travels, but you can also do a multi-destination search online.
Travel Hack 2
Open-Jaws Are Great, But What Are They
So what is an open-jaw ticket and why is an open-jaw ticket so great. An open-jaw ticket is when you fly into one destination and out of another. You can also have open jaws at the point of origin, although they’re a little bit tricker (an example is fly out of Barcelona but back to Madrid). How this travel hack can save you money while booking travel is like the one above. Some airports are just cheaper and who wants to backtrack on their holiday if they don’t need to. They also work really well with tours and cruises that don’t finish at the same place that they started.
Let’s look at some fun examples.
A lot of people fly into London Heathrow. It’s a super busy airport. What it also has is an incredibly high departure tax! A cheaper hack is to fly into Heathrow if you want to and then fly out of another airport. It can be as easy as flying out of Gatwick instead. But it’s more fun to go and explore Europe and depart from somewhere like Barcelona or Rome. Usually these destinations are even cheaper to fly out from.
Here’s how an Open Jaw ticket is priced.
It’s really simple to get an estimate if there’s no multi-destination option on the website you’re looking on. The price of an open jaw is the cost of both return tickets divided by two. So if it’s going to cost $900 (EUR/USD) to fly to London return, but $700 (EUR/USD) to fly to Rome return you’re going to end up saving $100 (EUR/USD) by booking it as an open-jaw ticket.
Please remember, an open jaw is not two one way tickets. This is usually very expensive. I had two clients quote an open-jaw ticket themselves online and luckily didn’t book it as the price of the two one-ways was $2500 AUD! I put it in the system, priced it as a return open-jaw and got it for $850 AUD! The cheapness of an open-jaw ticket is the fact that it remains a return ticket just with different destinations.
Travel Hack 3
Look For Wholesale or Supplier Rates
This can sometimes be bait to get people to buy a package holiday, but it can also legitimately save you money when booking your travel. A lot of cruises offer flight and cruise deals and they can definitely be worth checking out. River cruises especially can have some great flight deals. You’ll obviously have to book with the supplier and then check out their flight deals.
Package holidays can be a thing. To get these you will have to book through the supplier or agency that is offering it. It will be a deal between that company and the airline. You’ll have to book the package, which is usually just accommodation and flights, but it’s definitely a win/win when you get one of these. I sold a lot of these in Hawaii, Thailand, Bali, Fiji, and California when I worked in Australia and New Zealand. These usually have strict travel dates, and you usually can’t get the deal during peak season.
Travel Hack 4
Buy A Round The World Ticket For the Cost Of A Return
These tickets are some of my favourites to sell. I love creating complicated itineraries and you’ve usually got to check routing and codeshares and stopover and transit rules. You’ll probably need to speak to a travel agent about these ones, as the systems we use just make creating these a lot easier.
So what’s the travel hack here?
A normal round the world ticket will set you back around 4000 Australian dollars easily. I do recommend them if you’ve got the money and the determination to travel anywhere you want to go (I’ve used one and they’re amazing). However, they’re a lot of money and these return tickets are a lot cheaper to buy.
Let me give you an example of some of my favourite multi-stop return ticket options.
Emirates had an amazing one between Australia and Europe (which unfortunately the last time I looked they had suspended). You could fly all on Emirates planes from Australia to Singapore/Kuala Lumpur/Bangkok (you’re choice). Then from there, you flew to Colombo in Sri Lanka and from there to Male in the Maldives. From the Maldives, it was a quick flight to Dubai and then your choice of any destination in Europe, and you could add in an open jaw for the departure to make it even better. The cost of the ticket was a return to wherever you went to in Europe and then a little bit extra for some of the stopovers. The fun part is that you can always mix and match on the way back. Maybe fly via Denpasar in Bali for your return.
A lot of airlines offer tickets like this, and as an agent, all we need to do is check their routing maps in the system and see where they can fly, any codeshares we’re allowed to use, and if there’s any cost for stopovers. You can add in places like Tokyo or Tahiti or Thailand into your travels.
Have a look at Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Emirates, British Airways, Qantas or Air New Zealand to name a few.
Travel Hack 5
Travel Seasons Can Save You Money
All tickets have a travel season. The season is always based purely on the departure date of the ticket. The date of your return makes no difference. The seasons have a distinct start and end date. The easy term for them is, low season, high season, and shoulder season, but they’re much more than that.
Let’s look at an example of how this hack can save you money when booking travel.
In this example, one season starts from 22 April and ends on the 31 May. The cost of a return ticket to Europe from your destination is 1500. The next season is the 1 June to the 25 June and a return ticket will cost 1800. By moving your departure date by one day in this case you get to save 300! Sometimes you can find these seasons in the rules of a ticket, or speak to a travel agent about price changes. You can also just have a play with the dates to see if there’s any difference.
Travel Hack 6
Remember That Codeshares Are Awesome
A codeshare is an agreement between two or more airlines. This gives an airline a much wider range of destinations that they can offer and ensure you can see the world much more easily. We see a lot of these into Australia and New Zealand as most European airlines do not fly that far.
Codeshares can be similar to alliances like One World or Star Alliance, but can also be separate agreements.
Lufthansa has a huge codeshare agreement with multiple airlines like Air Canada, United Airlines, Swiss and Singapore. Sometimes you can buy a British Airways ticket but fly the entire way on American Airlines.
The only downside to codeshares is that it can be tricky to pin down who to speak to. Sometimes as an agent I will spend ages calling one airline about their ticket, only to be told that I need to speak to the other airline because it’s their plane.
Travel Hack 7
How To Get Free Hotels From Airlines
Here’s a travel hack that most airlines don’t want you to know about. When you originally buy your ticket, if you are forced to stay overnight somewhere due to a bad connection, then a lot of airlines have to offer you a free hotel. This is different to a free hotel given because the airline missed their connection. This type of hotel is called an STPC in the industry and it stands for Stopover Paid by Carrier.
So how do you get an STPC?
The stopover has to be bad right from the beginning, and there can’t be another flight that you can take to get you out of there sooner. Korean Airlines is a good example of this, especially from Australia to Europe. They have some great tickets, but the plane from Seoul to London departs before the flights arrive from Australia. This forces anyone buying this ticket to stay in Seoul for almost twenty-four hours. But Korean Airlines offers an STPC if you book these tickets. You get to stay in the Grand Hyatt, check out Seoul and have breakfast, all for free.
Don’t get too excited as you don’t get to choose your hotel, but it is free and usually a good standard of property.
Not every airline offers a free hotel with a bad connection, and some of them create crazy rules to try and get out of having to offer it, but it can be possible. Just call the airline and ask, if you’re forced to stopover by a bad connection, or ask your travel agent.
Travel Hack 8
Always Read The Rules
Every ticket has different rules and I can’t stress this enough. You should know what you’re buying before you book it. As a travel agent, one of my least favourite things to do is tell someone, who didn’t know, that their ticket is non-refundable and non-changeable. If you can I would avoid tickets that do not allow changes. These are very restrictive and you’re stuck if something happens. You don’t want to have to buy a completely new ticket just because you need to change the date by one day.
Trust me, this almost happened to us. We were going to Dresden to see the Christmas Markets. That wasn’t changing, however, we discovered that they close on Christmas Eve, right when we arrived. I had to call Lufthansa and managed to get their help in fixing our problem.
Travel Hack 9
Airline Time Changes Or Cancellations Give You All The Power
When an airline changes or cancels your flight this is not a great moment, but you can turn it into a positive if you’re smart about it. Here are some travel hacks to hopefully give you more value for your money. If the airline changes or cancels your ticket this gives you all the power. You can choose to ask for a full refund and book with another airline, or you can change your flights to match what you need.
I once had to book someone onto a non-direct flight to Washington DC because the direct flight was a lot more expensive (we’re talking thousands in price difference). Then the airline made a time change to his flights a few weeks later. Because of this, I was able to call them and get a waiver to change him, free of charge, to the direct flight. You can usually change the airport as well if it’s within a certain radius of the old airport.
Other sneaky options can be changing to an airline that they have a partnership agreement with. British Airways will let you change to a Swiss Air flight if they change or cancel your flights to or from Switzerland. If your British Airways flight to Kuala Lumpur gets cancelled you can change free of charge to Malaysian Airlines. You can always call them to ask. Alternatively, book your ticket with a travel agent and they’ll do all of this for you.
Travel Hack 10
Some Non-refundable tickets allow Credits
Let’s face it, a non-refundable ticket is much cheaper than a refundable ticket usually. It’s not fun if you end up needing to cancel in this situation and lose all your money. Unless your reservation is a domestic USA ticket you can always request the taxes back. However, a better alternative that you can sometimes do is turn a ticket into a credit. You will have to use it within one year of your purchase of the original ticket, and it would have to be used on one single ticket (not multiples).
Speak to the airline or your travel agent to see if this can be done. Some tickets will always expire on the original departure date so you can’t do this type of credit with them (unless there are exceptional circumstances).
Travel Hack 11
Be Careful With One Way Tickets
This travel hack is more about ensuring you have stress-free travel experiences. The idea of buying a one-way ticket somewhere and then travelling for however long you like is great, but might not be approved by the country that you’re going to. Most countries like to see that you are planning on leaving within the allotted time frame and are not planning on staying illegally. When you check-in your airline should always check that you have an onwards ticket (unless you’re a citizen or resident of your destination).
If you still want a one way then you may also be required to show that you have enough money to live in that country for the legal amount of time without working. This means having enough money in your bank account. An onwards ticket can be as easy as a rail pass in Europe or a bus ticket to a neighbouring country. People still enter some countries on one-way tickets, but your experience and success can rely on the immigration official that you get on the day.
Travel Hack 12
Always Check Your Passport or Visa Requirements
You should always be aware of when your passport is expiring. A lot of countries need you to have 6 months of validity from your departure date (not from your arrival date). You do not want to turn up to the airport and be denied boarding. Many countries do not do rush passports anymore, so getting one at short notice can be very stressful and sometimes unsuccessful (looking at you Australia).
You also need enough pages for stamps, so if your passport is getting full, you might like it, but the immigration officials won’t.
Visas are so important. I can’t stress this enough. When I first started as a novice travel agent I was taught to watch out for the big five. These are India, China, Brazil, Vietnam and Russia. This obviously depends on what passport you have, but these are the countries that should start ringing visa alarm bells as soon as you plan on visiting. Vietnam is definitely not as bad as it was when I first started, but you still need to sort it out before you go. A great website is CIBT Visas. Their information is always up to date and you can even pay them to help you get it if it’s too overwhelming.
Let me tell you a horror story I heard when I worked as a travel agent in Australia. A woman booked a tour and flights to Russia and never considered that she might need a visa for this holiday. She turned up at the airport and the airline let her on the plane. This was the second problem. It is an airline’s responsibility to check your passport and visas. They’re usually very careful as if they bring you illegally into a country they have to then bring you back. This woman turned up to Russian immigration with no visa. Russia being Russia took her for questioning, left her in a cell, moved her to a detention centre, and then forced her back on a plane home. Don’t be this woman.
Travel Hack 13
Buy Travel Insurance
This hack is self-explanatory, but so many people are still caught out by this. You should always travel with travel insurance. It’s not the most fun part of your holiday, no one likes planning for when things might go wrong, but it’s definitely one of the most important parts of your holiday. Just check out this story as to why it can be so important!
Even if you have a reciprocal agreement with that country travel insurance will still cover everything else that the agreement doesn’t. I learnt this the hard way when I lived in New Zealand. I came back to Australia for mine and my twins birthday and broke my finger playing volleyball in the pool. I’m Australian so I get access to our free healthcare. However, I didn’t have time to wait in emergency for eight hours, I was flying out that day. I had to go to a private clinic and pay a lot of money to get a special splint made for my finger. I was also unfortunately robbed on that same holiday and could have claimed the $100 AUD that I lost.
Travel Hack 14
Book With A Travel Agent
You may have gotten this vibe from most of what I was saying, but I’ll say it here again. The easiest travel hack to save money while booking your travel is to book with a travel agent. We’re trained to know everything that I’ve mentioned above. I’ve saved my clients’ money by just suggesting that they move their date, or that they add a stopover.
The added value isn’t even about money. If you book with a travel agent you have support. Instead of being stuck in Cuba trying to call your airline and being on hold for hours you can call your agent and they can do it for you. Agents don’t call the same number you’re calling. We have a special trade support number and can usually get through faster. We also have a lot more control over the tickets that are booked in our special Global Distributions Systems. With the airline’s permission and a simple waiver code I can change a ticket to the flights you want, manually recreate the ticket so the change is free, and then issue it for you within seconds.
This all comes with experience, but every agent has resources that they can check. I can guarantee, if you find a good travel agent you’ll be set. Even if you enjoy planning your travel just do that all beforehand and then let the agent do the rest. I always joke with my clients that do this that they’ve made my life easier. I’ve saved clients caught in Pakistan due to impending war, rebooked someone halfway through their flight as they were diverted to an airport and were going to have to go to another one. I’ve changed tickets for people rushing home for funerals and found someone a way home when strikes had almost made it impossible.
I enjoy my job. I like the difference that I get every day. I enjoy the challenge of a tricky itinerary and the elation of having a win for a client. Unfortunately, as I work in corporate travel I can’t book travel for the public, but I can help if you have any questions. Hopefully, some of these travel hacks will help you.