Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told us that Australia’s borders are “unlikely” to open up this year. Qantas has suspended the majority of its international flights until March next year and, as part of its major restructure, Virgin Australia has stopped long-haul flights entirely.
For anyone filled with that wonderful sense of wanderlust (and those who just like to take a break from Australia for a bit), it’s hard to imagine a worse time to start planning your next trip. While uncertainty remains the big theme of this COVID-19 era, there’s no reason you can’t start preparing for your next holiday today.
You probably won’t be able to lock in the dates and destination just yet, but you can plan ahead with these five tips that will help you cut the costs of your travel.
#1 Use comparison sites (and compare between them)
If you book directly with a hotel or airline without checking a comparison site first, you could be throwing away big savings for a tiny amount of effort. Even if you do check comparison sites, it can often be worthwhile comparing the comparison sites because the prices and providers listed on these sites often differ.
The starting point for pricing your accommodation or flights is to look at where you usually book online, whether that’s with the hotel or airlines directly, or through a major online travel agent with a name that’s ingrained in your brain from extensive advertising like Booking.com or Expedia.
(Sidenote: the companies behind these two sites make up a huge percentage of the online travel agent business. Booking Holdings – the parent company of Booking.com – also owns sites like Momondo, Agoda and Kayak, while Expedia Group owns sites like Wotif, Hotels.com and Orbitz. Keep this in mind when looking at these sites!)
The price you found using your usual methods is your baseline, and now your aim is to beat that price. If you only want to check one site, Google has a great travel section which arguably has the best combination of ease of use and good discounts. Skyscanner is also reliable at finding cheap flights, and you may as well check their hotel comparisons while you’re there. For more flight deals, check Australian comparison sites I Want That Flight and Beat That Flight.
Since there are often many different room types available at every hotel, searching for accommodation can feel a bit more difficult, but start with the big names like Trivago and Hotels Combined. If you’re still not satisfied with what you’ve found, head down the rabbit hole of searching for ‘hotel comparison sites’ on Google as deep as you want to go. Just don’t spend too long doing research as the payoff may not be worth it!
You should keep in mind that comparison sites are the middleman between you and the online travel agent that will actually be responsible for your booking. If you haven’t heard of the company that is offering the best price for your booking, do a little research online and, if anything seems fishy, go with a more reputable company that you recognise with positive, legitimate reviews.
There have been multiple examples of companies collapsing and leaving their customers in the lurch, and it’s not worth taking a risk for just a few bucks. But don’t forget, this problem isn’t exclusive to online travel agents (see the collapse of the British travel agency Thomas Cook in 2019 that left 600,000 travellers stranded overseas).
If you don’t find any good deals, or if cheaper prices are only available from companies you don’t recognise or trust, there’s nothing wrong with going back to booking directly or booking with your preferred online travel agent. For hotels, a direct booking might come with extra perks like free breakfast, late checkout or points in a loyalty programme, and some major chains even offer price matching or beating since they won’t have to pay a commission to the comparison site. If you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to ask the hotel directly!
#2 Get cashback for everything
Cashbacks should already be an integral part of your online shopping, but maybe you can’t be bothered to check whether a cashback is available for every site you visit. Browser plugins have made this easier by showing a helpful notification when a discount is available, but when booking hotels, you don’t really need the extra reminder. Why? Because pretty much every major travel site has some form of cashback available.
Take a look at the travel sections of sites like Shopback and CashRewards to see what’s available. The cashback amounts seem to average out to around 5% for hotel bookings, but higher percentages can be found for particular sites or as part of limited-time promotions. 5% might not seem like much, but imagine you’re spending $200 a night for a two-week holiday. That would be $140 back all for an extra click or two while booking.
The cashbacks available for flights are usually much less generous, if not non-existent, but you’ll often be able to get cashbacks for other travel-related bookings like car hire and experiences. Do some research on sites like those mentioned above and see what’s currently available.
#3 Save on a SIM and stay online overseas
Don’t use data roaming unless you know what you’re doing! That’s the golden rule while travelling overseas. If you’re on a plan, international roaming data may be included while travelling to certain countries (check your contract or ask your telco if you’re unsure), but otherwise you might to be hit with an expensive phone bill worthy of a story on A Current Affair.
If you happen to be with Vodafone, their $5 Roaming lets you use your existing data, talk and text inclusions for $5 a day in 80 countries. This is handy for a short trip, but for longer trips or for people with any other telco, the best value-for-money option is to pick up a new SIM specifically for the country or countries that you’re visiting.
You can go to a local telco when you arrive and ask for their recommendations or do some research in advance to find out what is available. Just a simple Google search like “Japan travel SIMs” will deliver a wealth of information that could prove valuable, particularly for long trips where data costs can skyrocket unless you do some pre-planning.
If you don’t speak the main language of the country you’re visiting or if you want to save yourself some hassle, you can pick up a SIM from a site like SimsDirect which offers SIMs for specific countries as well as entire regions. Australia Post and Woolworths offer even simpler solutions that you can pick up in store, but typically with less data included than the other alternatives.
#4 Review your international fees and exchange rates
Everyone has their own methods for paying for things overseas and exchanging money, but it can be worthwhile looking into what options are available and whether you can save some money by changing how you do things.
The first step is to make sure you’re not being charged international transaction fees. These are completely unnecessary considering the dozens of fee-free debit and credit cards available. Just as a small cashback percentage can add up to a nice return, a small fee for everything you buy while travelling can add up to a bit of a nasty sting in the end.
Check out the lists put together by sites like Canstar which look at the fee-free credit and debit cards available. Some standouts at time of publication are:
- ING Orange Everyday debit card with refunded ATM fees worldwide if you deposit your pay of $1,000+ and make five transactions per month
- Citibank Plus debit card with no monthly fees and no withdrawal fees at Citibank ATMs worldwide
- ING Orange One credit card with no monthly fees
- Latitude Finance 28 Degrees credit card with no monthly fees
A debit card is probably your best bet if you just want to apply for one card, as this will allow you to make all your purchases either directly using the card or by withdrawing cash from a local ATM. The downside is that you’re at the mercy of daily currency exchange rate changes but, unless you happen to be a forex trader, it would be difficult to predict whether it is better value to exchange money in advance or ride the exchange rate during your trip.
If you do plan to travel with just a debit card, remember that hotels and car rental companies often place a hold on your card which could freeze up some of your cash for a week or two. No matter what card you’re using, always pay for your transaction in the local currency and do not accept any automatic currency conversions at unfair exchange rates.
#5 Check for travel insurance
The Australian Government’s Smarttraveller website describes travel insurance as being “as important as a passport” but a 2017 survey by Choice found that only 51% of Gen Z and 58% of Gen Y buy travel insurance compared to 91% of Gen X and 96% of baby boomers and pre-boomers.
In this case, just looking for the cheapest price is not the right approach. Finding the best policy that covers the needs of yourself and/or your family is the top priority, and getting a good price comes after. Start by reading the information put together by Smarttraveller and Choice and then see what prices are available by heading back to those reliable comparison sites like Canstar and Finder.
If you have specific requirements such as cover for a pre-existing condition or higher cover for an expensive item like a camera, you should look into the product disclosure statement (PDS) of the policies you’re considering and see how they stack up.
So how does travel insurance save you money? Well, having it in the first place could save you a whole lot if something goes wrong during your trip. But when it comes to actually saving when buying the policy, search to see if there are any discount coupons available and if the insurance provider you’ve chosen is listed on any cashback sites.
You could also save if you hold a credit card that includes travel insurance, but don’t rely on this without checking the PDS to see what is actually covered.