Friday, January 03, 2014

Secrets of a stingy traveller

I used to listen to other people's travel tales with wonder and more than a little envy. I mean, travel is so expensive and, like everyone - well, maybe not Gina Rinehart, but pretty much everyone else - there are so many other demands on our family budget that an overseas holiday seemed like an unattainable dream.

Oh yes, this is happening!

We don't expect luxury, but we're too old for grungy backpacker hostels and we're definitely not interested in camping. Ugh. Then you have to factor in the cost of airfares, meals, entrance to museums and monuments, travel within your destination cities and all the little extras. Those can really add up.

So I thought I'd share some of the strategies we've used to help pay for our previous overseas trips as well as the one we're planning right now. None of it is rocket science, but maybe there's something here that might help those of you dreaming about a holiday and wondering how to fund it.

I wonder where that plane is heading...?

1. Budget airlines. A lot of people I've spoken to seem to be afraid of any airline other than the big names like Qantas, Singapore and so on. But seriously, there are some bargains to be had without compromising safety at all - you just have to be prepared to do without the little extras. I won't consider some of the super-cheap Chinese or eastern European airlines with dubious safety records and who-knows-what kind of financial status, but there are plenty of reputable names to choose from.

We've used both Jetstar and Air Asia for overseas jaunts in the past. Jetstar regularly has super-special deals, you just need to sign up to their email list to find out about them. We've picked up Melbourne to Hobart fares for $59 and Number One Son recently holidayed in Japan, flying Melbourne to Tokyo with Jetstar for a reasonable price, but here's the kicker: the return airfare only cost $1. Flying with Jetstar also allows you to use Qantas lounges if you're a member.

Air Asia doesn't come with a lounge membership, but it most definitely is cheap. The two of us flew in and out of Kuala Lumpur on our last trip for the grand sum of $535. We also travelled from KL to Penang for $30. I know! Crazy. Both airlines have frequent flyer schemes too: Jetstar's is linked to the Qantas program, while Air Asia runs its own BIG points scheme.

Of course there are many other budget airlines as well - keep an eye on fare comparison websites such as Skyscanner or Zuji for the best deals and then check out on line reviews to help you decide whether the rock-bottom cheapest airline is actually worthwhile.

The downside of budget airlines is that you get nothing but a seat for your money. Checked luggage is extra, meals are extra, choosing your seat is extra... They also cram more seats into their planes so you have slightly less leg room than with a full-priced economy airline. We don't care. For an 8-9 hour flight, we can cope. We pay for checked luggage, but nothing else. Our carry-on bags contain our iPads and noise-cancelling headphones, some bottled water, a snack or two, and an airline "comfort pack" we got for free on a previous flight: blanket, socks, inflatable neck pillow and so on.

For long-haul flights though, you're probably better to either break your journey or to wait for the big airlines to advertise their super-specials. 20+ hours in a budget airline seat is more than even my stingy little soul can stand.

2. Online hotel booking sites. For Asia, you can't usually beat Agoda, but there are heaps of others to choose from., Expedia and are just a few. Sign up for email notification of additional member-only discounts.

One of the things I like about Agoda is that you accrue points for your bookings, and also for reviewing hotels that you stay at. You can then turn those points into discounts off your future bookings. On our last trip, our points allowed us to spend a night at the posh Ritz-Carlton in KL and one at the swanky Furama resort in DaNang, for the same cost as a basic 3-star hotel. Then I used the leftover points for our anniversary weekend at the Sofitel here in Melbourne.

Most of the sites include guest reviews and photos, so you can be pretty confident about what you're booking. It's also a good idea to do a quick search on Trip Advisor, as there are generally a lot more reviews available there. I've not once been disappointed in a hotel we've booked this way.

3. Free travel insurance. Travel insurance can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for a basic policy, but some credit cards offer free cover if you pay for your trip (or part of it, with a minimum spend) with your card. Of course, you need to check the policy carefully to see that it covers everything you need, but the major credit card providers these days offer good cover.

If your card has an interest-free period, make sure you clear the balance before that runs out, to avoid paying interest. If you don't have an interest-free period? No problem - pay with your card and transfer the funds in immediately. You still get the insurance cover, but no hefty interest charge.

4. Museum and transport passes. Entrance to all the tourist attractions you'd like to see can be quite expensive, but there's usually a way to make considerable savings. Some cities have free entry to many museums and galleries on certain days, so if you can time your visit right, you can go nuts. In Paris, for example, there is free entry to many attractions on the first Sunday of the month. There are other free times for young folks under 26 and/or for teachers.

For the rest of us, there are deals. A Paris Museum Pass can be purchased for 2, 4 or 6 days at a relatively small cost and will let you into 60 museums and attractions without further cost and without queuing. In the UK, you can buy a Heritage Pass for $42 that gives you entrance over nine days to more than a hundred attractions.

Other cities and countries have similar deals. You can often buy your passes online and pick them up from a tourist office when you arrive to save on delivery costs.

Many major cities also have hop-on/hop-off public transport available, by bus, ferry or tram. Some are free, like Melbourne's City Circle tram; others have a small cost, but you can get on or off as often as you like over the period of your ticket, which is a big saving on multiple fares. We plan to use the Batobus in Paris, and London has a bus service.

It's well worth spending some time researching cost-saving options before you go.

5. Loyalty points - as good as cash. If you happen to have a loyalty scheme attached to your credit card, or Coles FlyBuys, Woolworths Everyday Rewards etc, make use of them. Woollies cards give you the option to convert your points to Qantas Frequent Flyer points, so you can use those to directly pay for airfares or hotels via Qantas.

I prefer the Coles scheme, because FlyBuys can be converted to cash (the Woollies scheme might allow this too, but I haven't checked). We turn our points into FlyBuys dollars when we've accrued a couple of hundred dollars worth and spend those on groceries. The "real" money saved then gets banked into our travel fund. You can also boost your points balance by doing Coles online surveys. allows you to do one Coles supermarket survey per month - and you can do the same for Liquorland. Each survey gives you 1,000 bonus points, which converts to about $5. Two surveys per month over a year gives you $120 you didn't have before. Not a huge amount, but there's a night's accommodation paid for (or even two nights in some parts of Asia), just for five minutes of your time a couple of times per month.

There are other bonus FlyBuys offers too, which give you anywhere from 100 to 5,000 points for buying certain items - but don't get sucked into buying stuff you don't need just for the points. I read my email each week and note what the current offers are, and IF it's something we buy anyway, I pick it up on my next shopping trip to boost our points balance.

We also get points on our credit card, so that baby gets used to pay for groceries and all sorts of other regular expenses. On pay day, cash to cover those expenses is put aside and on the due date for payment (and not a day before), the credit card balance is cleared. Maximum points, no interest, no charges. Then those points can also be converted into cash, freeing up more of our own money for savings.

Altogether, we can accrue around $1,000 a year through loyalty schemes without much effort on our part at all.

6. Saving. Yes, I know - saving isn't sexy, and it takes so loooong. But here are some of the ways I make our savings grow a little more quickly:

Budget for a regular savings amount. Whether you get paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly, set a pay day savings amount and make it non-negotiable. Open a separate, high-interest account and set up an automatic transfer via your online banking so the money is gone before you even get to the ATM. Even better, if your bank or credit union offers a Christmas Club account, open one: you can deposit all year, but can usually only withdraw funds between November and January. I use mine to save for Christmas and the kids' birthdays, but I added extra last year to help pay for our holiday. Christmas and birthdays are all done, and the surplus funds are now in the travel fund account.

Stop buying lunch/coffee/magazines or whatever your daily indulgence may be. Even my super-cheap $2.50 takeaway coffee adds up to a whopping $500+ per year. So I bring lunch from home, take my kindle to work for lunchtime reading and keep a box of tea bags in my desk drawer. All up, that's more than $2,000 saved over a year. Do I miss those things? Now and then. But I think about my savings goal and I quickly get over it.

Empty the change out of your purse each day and put it in a money box. Those $1 and $2 coins really add up, but even silver accrues into a nice little sum over a few weeks. I trot into the bank once every three or four weeks or so and toss anywhere from $30 to $80 into the coin counting machine. Sure, I end up with a lot less cash to spend, but then - what do I really need to buy? Petrol and parking are budgeted for separately and everything else I'd usually pay cash for is just discretionary spending. If it means more travel, I can probably live without that extra pair of shoes/gym top/gadget.

Sell your unwanted crap. I go through fits of selling stuff on eBay. I prowl through the house, looking for anything we don't use and assessing whether anyone else is likely to want it. Furniture, books, clothing, knick-knacks...people will buy pretty much anything. Last year I raised around $500 from sales of stuff I no longer wanted.

Take on extra work. If you're really keen and can spare the time, look out for opportunities such as elections, the census (only every five years, unfortunately) or paid surveys. I worked at the federal election last year, which is a long, brutal day, but it added a neat $500 to the kitty. There are lots of other easy ways to make some extra cash, depending on your talents and available time - take in ironing, tutor high school students, mow lawns...

There are millions of ways to save money and I'm not about to try to cover them all here, but you get the idea.

Like I said, not rocket science.

If it really is your dream to travel, make it happen. Life passes by in the blink of an eye, so don't waste a moment of it. It may take time to achieve your goal, but it's never too early to start planning. Set a goal, make a plan and start working on it. Before you know it, your dream holiday that you began planning and saving for a year and a half ago will be only five months away... Holy crap, where did that time go?

See what I mean? :)



Kathryn said...

#1 tip for travel savings - get your kids to leave home. It's like having a huge slab of money handed to you on a platter :)

Have you checked out AirBNB? I am so much a convert after my last trip to Japan. We got a 2 bdrm apartment in Tokyo for not much more than we'd have paid for 2 beds in a backpackers and in a really good location (with free snack foods thrown in). Also got a great place in Sapporo. I have a referral code if you want to use them, btw :)

HCR said...

Some great points in here Kerryn.

kexkez said...

kek don't forget you can look at places like aribnb and stayz for accommodation. I know friends recently used stayz or airbnb( think this one) for accom in paris.

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