I consistently get really good deals on rental cars and here are my secrets:
- Book early – You don’t need a deposit for rental car reservations so book early as it doesn’t matter if you cancel it.
- Use both a discount and a promotion code when reserving.
- Rent from local or non-airport locations.
- Don’t get the insurance – use the coverage provided by your credit card instead.
The number one thing that will lower the cost is applying the discount codes. It’s simple to get one. Nearly all airlines offer a discount code “CDP” for use with car rental agencies. To find it just google “CDP”, your airline, and rental agency. United’s is ’62455′ for Hertz. Next go to the rental agency’s website and look for their promotion and coupon page for a promotion that fits your rental. Add the Promotional Coupon “PC” to your rental and let the magic unfold!
Car rental agencies are like restaurants in that they don’t make their profit from their core product (restaurants make their profit on drinks not food). Their biggest markup is from insurance, and you’ll find it will typically double the total cost of your rental. If you can, use a credit card which comes with rental car insurance coverage and decline the insurance from the rental agency – and try not to crash.
Lastly think about renting from a non-airport location, particularly when doing one-way rentals. A great example I have is from this summer when I did a one way month-long rental from LAX to Reno, NV. If I had rented the car directly from the airport location the cost was $950. Instead I hopped in a taxi and took it 5 miles to a nearby neighborhood location. The taxi was $25, but the car rental was now $525.
There will be times when, despite being as popular as you are, you will have no connection with someone to put you up for the night. It may also be that you just want to stay in a hotel. Fortunately there are a few ways to stay in 1200 count egyptian cotton sheets for very little!
My number 1 pick is using my Starwood Preferred Guest points (SPG) that I gather by using my SPG American Express credit card. Upon approval you are given 25000 points, enough for two nights at the W hotel anywhere (valued at ~$700). You can also use cash+points to pick up a room for $40-60. More info here (let me know if you apply so I can get the referral bonus though!)
If you don’t have an SPG Amex, then my number 2 choice is an iPhone/Android app called Hotel Tonight. It gives you super deals on curated hotels in most major cities, but the catch is you can only book the hotel that day. The hotels they pick are all carefully chosen and so you won’t go wrong. Use my invite code ‘krobertson7′ and get a $25 credit for your first booking!
There are all sorts of techniques and theories for getting cheap flights. Buy on Tuesdays. Book travel that leaves mid-week. Look for deals via Twitter. The list can go on and on.
My number one trick for getting good deals is simply to know what the average price is and be able to buy when you see something that is good. If I have an upcoming trip I want to take I set up a price alert on Kayak and I simply check the price for the particular flights I want every day. Over the course of time you get to see a general trend on what the average cost of a ticket is, then if there is a sale or suddenly the price drops I’m able to know it is a good deal and I buy it right then and there!
This is also is handy when booking popular routes like NY-SF or LA. Over the years I’ve observed that the average price is around $400 for a direct return flight. If I see a direct flight for the dates I want that is say $300 then I’ll just buy it right then because I know that is about as good as you are going to get.
So in short, know the average price by looking frequently and you’ll know when you see a good deal!
If you’ve ever tried to call up an airline reservation line to make some kind of change to your flight chances are they didn’t do it out of the kindness of their heart, and instead stuck you with some huge change fee. It took me a number of times before I realized that these people suck and can’t help you. Even if you complain, ask for a supervisor, make a big fuss, ask nicely, they still won’t help you – or they’ll charge you. The people in the call centers have no discretionary power, and are a profit center for the airlines. So who can help?
Despite frequently being some of the surliest, most bitter employees of any airline, ground staff at the airport have the power! They can book you on a earlier flight, change your connecting city, book you on another airline, upgrade your seat, even change the city you’re flying to – without charge!
The people who can help you the most are the staff at the actual gate. The check-in staff often have to get permission from a supervisor, or are super-unhelpful because they deal with assholes all day. It depends on the airport and airline though. You can forget about getting help from any New York airport. They have hands down the worst ground-staff across all airlines in the whole country, if not the world. People are nicer and more helpful in smaller airports and in the southern cities.
The best position to adopt with any request is to be nice, extremely polite, and as friendly as possible. They have total discretion about how much to help you, and if you are refreshingly nice from most of the people they deal with all day you’ll find you’ll have a better chance of them going out of their way for you.
Next time you’re at the airport, go ahead and ask if you can get on that earlier flight, or that free
seat upgrade. Be nice and you’ll be surprised at your success rate!
It’s pretty standard practice nowadays for airlines to charge an extra fee for ‘premium
seats’ such as the bulkhead and exit rows. I usually balk at the extra charge which can sometimes be 50% of the cost of the flight segment and so do a lot of other people it seems, which is why they often go empty. Why pay though when you can get it for free?
My technique? I wait at the gate and be the last person boarding the plane. If the exit row is free just sit in it like you own it! 99% of the time the stewards don’t check your boarding pass and the worst possible outcome is they tell you to move.
So this is part flier tip, part tech hack; but you can pay almost half as much for wireless access for your laptop when flying. The trick is that the in-flight internet companies (GoGo etc) have much cheaper pricing for smartphones as they do for laptops. As of posting this smartphones were $7.95, laptops were $14.95. So the trick? Buy the smartphone access from your phone and then just tether it to your laptop. Your laptop will access the internet through the smartphone’s connection, and you will have got it for the reduced price.
Now for those of you with iPhones that are not jail-broken this may not be possible, but for unrestricted Andriod phones it can do this out of the box. Just connect it to your computer via USB or bluetooth and enable tethering!
A reader wrote in an even easier way to do this straight from your laptop. Simply install a browser plugin that enables changing the ‘User Agent’ of your browser. This allows your browser to spoof that it is a mobile browser. One such plugin for Firefox is ‘User Agent Switcher‘.
Heads up – from personal observations you don’t really need to follow that stupid ‘put liquids in a zip lock back and scan it separately thing’. The regulations say you do, but my
experience is that you don’t. I still make sure nothing is over 100ml, but I never bother taking it out of my bag or putting it in a zip-lock bag.
Not all direct flights between New York and the west coast cities are created equal. United runs a special service called ‘p.s.’ (premium service) between LAX and SFO to JFK. It’s a
Boeing 757 in a three-class configuration that only has 110 seats, which is way less than a 757 in a standard configuration. The classes are First, Business, and Premium economy. There is no regular economy, so you get the extra space included in the ticket. Typically the flights cost around the same as their non-PS counterparts, and all of the planes have Wi-fi and standard power outlets. Also given that there are less people on the plane as a whole it’s less of a scrum and a much more pleasant flying experience. So next time you are flying out west (or east) don’t book that similarly priced flight into Newark, book it into JFK and make sure it’s the PS service!
Note that Kayak doesn’t confirm that it is the PS service or not – you need to go through a booking process on United.com and it will tell you which plane it is before you buy. Some flights out of JFK with United are regular 737-800s. Yuck!
Although many airlines and airports are moving towards boarding passes you can show on your smartphone, many still require the paper kind. If and when you can, you should always have this before you go to the airport. Why? Most airport kiosks cut off printing
boarding passes 45-60 minutes before your flight time. In reality if you don’t have any checked luggage you can get to the airport 30 minutes before your flight and still make it to the gate in time. If however you miss the kiosk cut-off, you have to wait in line for an agent and if they do print it out for you (which is not a given), you might not make your flight after you finish waiting in line. It’s happened to me more than once, and there’s nothing more painful than missing your flight because you couldn’t just walk straight up to the security line.
There’s nothing worse than having a flight delayed, canceled, or getting stuck overnight in a connecting city. Next time you book that super cheap flight with a connection, think about the airport and time of year you are flying. In spring and summer thunderstorms can ground flights for a particular region. In winter snowstorms can mess up the whole country. My advice is during times of year where weather can be bad try to buy direct flights, and choose morning flight times. Summer storms usually occur in the afternoon or early evening. Winter storms affect flights at the end of the day the most.