Frugal Traveler: Ways to Save in 2018

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Frugal Traveler

Eight tips to help keep your travel expenses nominal and your wallet fat this year.

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CreditAndy Rash

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Jan. 5, 2018

Last year may have been a disappointing Dumpster fire in countless ways, but it was a great year for travel deals — saving money has never been easier or more accessible to more people. Looking forward to 2018, there’s no reason to think it should be any different. Here are eight tips to help keep your travel expenses nominal and your wallet fat.

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Deals on flights go live and then are snapped up so quickly that it’s practically a full-time job keeping track of them. According to Matthew Kepnes of the website Nomadic Matt, one of the best ways to stay on top of the latest deals is to sign up for the many deal newsletters that catalog the best travel bargains — he specifically recommends those from the websites Scott’s Cheap Flights, The Flight Deal and Secret Flying.

Remember the Old Standbys

AARP and AAA have been around since 1958 and 1902. Yet despite the tens of millions of members between them, they’re somehow overlooked as great resources for discounted flights, hotels, rental cars and many other travel-related expenses.

AARP has its own travel portal powered by Expedia, which offers members 10 percent discounts on certain hotels and 25 percent off some car rentals, among other benefits. Membership — which was once reserved for the 50-plus set but is now open to anyone 18 and over — costs $16 annually, but there’s currently a deal for $12 for your first year when you choose to auto-renew your membership.

It’ll be a few years before I’m ready to join AARP, so in the meantime, I belong to AAA. A regular membership (cost varies by state) gets you the roadside assistance the organization is famous for, as well as discounts on hotels and rental cars. A basic membership also includes $100,000 in travel accident coverage when you book your trip through AAA. An additional fun hidden benefit to membership is that they will handle certain D.M.V. transactions for you, like registration renewal and transfer of vehicle ownership.

Save Money While Doing Some Good

Hurricanes Maria and Irma caused devastation in the Caribbean that continues to affect the daily lives of residents. Rather than stay away, though, I would argue that tourists should consider visiting those places that have been hurt by natural disasters. Getting a good deal in Napa Valley (which suffered its own setbacks this year because of wildfires) or the Caribbean isn’t cynical — it’s helping a region that needs money get back on its feet.

“Travelers who visit the parts of the Caribbean that were hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria will see various stages of the rebuild/recover effort,” Hugh Riley of the Caribbean Tourism Organization wrote in an email. “Some islands will be fully up to speed and ready for the winter; others, only partially so.” (As of now, many Caribbean destinations are fully operational.)

Carefully research your destination before going, but don’t hesitate to jump on a good deal. I recently found deals to Christiansted, St. Croix, on select dates in February with round-trip flight from New York City and seven nights lodging for under $750 per person, taxes included. Deals to Puerto Rico (which is in various stages of recovery, although tourist spots in San Juan are largely back in action) are even better: You can score seven nights at the boutique Dreamcatcher hotel in San Juan with nonstop flight from Kennedy Airport for around $625 per person, taxes included, during select dates in February.

Set Your Google Alerts

We’ve all been there: JetBlue had a flash sale two days ago but you didn’t find out about it until it was over. This is where Google Alerts can help — the customizable alerts, delivered to your inbox or RSS feed, are a great way to get the upper hand on sales on flights, hotels, and more. You can customize the alerts to arrive daily, weekly or as they happen.

Play around with combinations of words and figure out what works for you — an alert for “flight flash sale” to keep up on airline sales, for example, or “laptop discount” if you’re looking for a deal on a new computer. The best part is that there’s really no downside to setting a few alerts. If, after a few days, you find they’re not sending you useful information, you can tweak them or eliminate them entirely.

Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry for Free

Having Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck is a must for frequent travelers to ease the way through those long security lines. But why pay for it? A number of credit cards out there will cover the fee ($100 for Global Entry, $85 for PreCheck; Global Entry includes the PreCheck benefit) with miles or points or, better still, cover the cost entirely by way of a statement credit.

The Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite card from U.S. Bank offers up to a $100 credit every four years for Global Entry or PreCheck. Among other cards that tout the same benefit are the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, the American Express Platinum card and the Citi Prestige card (which offers the credit every five years instead of every four years).

Money Back on Your Purchases

Make your online shopping work for you by using shopping portals — sites that get referral bonuses from retailers and then pass on some of those savings. Let’s say you want a new pair of boots for a coming trip, and you plan to purchase them from Shoes.com. By making the purchase through a shopping portal like Ebates, you could get a big chunk of that purchase refunded to you; as of this writing, Ebates is offering 12 percent cash back on purchases from Shoes.com. Money you earn through the portal is sent to you via check or PayPal.

Most of the major bank and credit card companies have their own shopping portals, too. Discover Deals is currently offering 5 percent off purchases made in the Apple Store — why not get $150 back on that $3,000 laptop purchase? Use sites like CashbackMonitor.com to track which portals are running the best deals.

No More Pesky A.T.M. Fees

A.T.M. fees can mount up quickly when you’re traveling. Fortunately, there are options. The Citibank Account Package will waive A.T.M. fees when you maintain an average $10,000 monthly balance. And Chase’s Premier Plus Checking will waive fees up to four times per month when you maintain a $15,000 monthly balance.

The king of vanquishing A.T.M. fees, however, remains Charles Schwab Bank and its High Yield Investor Checking account. The account requires no minimum to open, charges zero fees regardless of account balance and offers unlimited rebates on A.T.M. fees worldwide. The catch: It has to be linked to a Schwab brokerage account.

Protect Your Privacy

There’s no silver lining to the massive Equifax data breach this year that exposed the data of 145 million Americans to potential hacking and identity theft, which cost Americans $16 billion last year alone. Protecting yourself after a security lapse of that magnitude is tricky. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three major (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) credit bureaus — make it a habit to check every so often for suspicious activity. While Equifax is now offering freezes and locks on your credit file, it is also pushing free enrollment (through January) in its TrustedID Premier credit monitoring service.

It may seem a little perverse, however, to hand the keys right back over to the person who just totaled the car, so to speak. If you’d rather not use Equifax’s credit monitoring, sites like WalletHub and Credit Karma offer free services.

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