1. Use Google Trips
If there’s one travel app you’re going to install on your smartphone this year, it should be Google Trips. The app gathers all your travel reservations (flights, hotels, rental cars, …) from your gmail inbox, organises them trip by trip and stores all details on your phone so you can still access your travel reservations while you’re offline. But the app does a lot more than that. It uses your travel plans to generate of number of handy list for your destination: “Things to do”, “Food & Drink”, “Getting around”, “Need to Know”, … it even creates Day Plans using Google Maps so you don’t need to plan anything in advance. And what’s really great, all this information is available when you’re offline! Have a look at the video below for a nice overview of the features of Google Trips.
2. Keep track of Flight Deals
Checking flight deals should become a daily routine if you want to score the best travel deals. In my opinion, the most efficient way to keep track of deals is Twitter notifications. I get most of my deal notifications via:
If you are overwhelmed by the number of notifications, you can also limited the notifications to flight deals from Belgium via the pushapp of Fly4Free. In case you are looking for a particular flight deal, you can set an email alert via Google Flights to keep track of flights for your destination & dates. Don’t forget to also check your flights via Momondo, as they tend to regularly find cheaper or alternative fares.
3. Keep track of Hotels Deals
Once you have your flights booked, you want to score a good hotel deal. My 5 tricks to get the best hotel deals should help you out. Additionally, you’ll want to sign-up for the free Extreme Hotel Deals email and twitter alerts. Don’t expect daily deals, but a few times a month a really good hotel deal will land in your inbox. In many cases these will be ‘mistake’ rates which might not always be honoured by the hotel. Still, I had my fair share of extremely cheap hotel stays thanks to EHD, so it definitely worth the effort.
4. Earn money with your hotel bookings
In 2017, I earned more than 1000 EUR (!) with one simple trick: cashback sites. Every time I book a hotel, I check my favourite cashback sites to earn up to 20% back of the money spend on hotel bookings. Here’s how it works:
- Create a cashback account
- Use cashback search function to find booking site (e.g. Hotels.com)
- Click on the link and book your hotel
- After your stay, you’ll receive the money in your cashback account
- Wire the cashback money to your PayPal account
There’s no difference with booking directly on the hotel booking site or going via a cashback site, except you (instead of the deals sites) earn a nice cashback! 😉
The cashback sites I use:
Quidco (cashback in GBP via PayPal) booking sites
Mr Rebates (cashback in USD via PayPal) booking sites
5. Be fast & flexible
If you want to score the best travel deals, you’ll need to be fast & flexible. When an amazing flight or hotel deal is published, you won’t have the time to check if all the stars are aligned. Here’s 4 action items to avoid missing out on the best travel deals of the year:
- Make a list of dates on which you can take vacation and save it on your smartphone. (check with your boss / colleagues at work, your partner, family members, travel buddies etc…)
- Make a list of destinations than are an option for your travel partners.
- Always carry your credit cards, bank authentication device and passport details of your travel buddies. You might need them for the online booking.
- Activate email & social media alerts for updates of your favourite travel deals sites.
6. Avoid currency exchange fees
Some reminders to avoid common currency ‘scams’ when withdrawing money or paying bills abroad.
- Always pay in the local currency. Hotels, restaurants, shops and even ATM’s will ask you if you wish to pay in your home country currency. This is a SCAM. If you agree, the terminal will convert the foreign currency to your home country currency and apply a nice markup fee for the business owner. Don’t fall for it and ALWAYS insist to pay in the local currency.
- Get a credit card with no conversion & ATM fees. Most debit cards and credit cards charge fees when you make payments in a foreign currencies (conversion fee) or when you withdraw money from an ATM. There are a few exceptions. One of them is Revolut, a debit MasterCard. The Revolut card can be requested by installing the Revolut app from the Apple or Android store. Cost: €7 to ship you the physical MasterCard. (*ATM: Free up to €200 or currency equivalent per calendar month, foreign currency payments: no fees up to €5000 per calendar month, more details here) If you have multiple credit & debit cards in your wallet and wonder which one is the best to use in a certain situation, have a look at the Belgian app WhatCard (Android or Apple)
- Find an ATM with no or low fees. On top of the fees charged by your credit card issuer, many ATM’s charge an additional fee to withdraw money. e.g. in Bangkok all ATM’s now charge a 220 THB fee. For other destinations it might help to google in advance to figure our which banks provide ATM’s with no fee or at least the lowest fee.
7. Invest in your travel gear
Several years ago, a fellow economy class passenger introduced me to the Bose noise cancelling headphones. He handed over the headphones and said, “give it a try”. I’ve been hooked ever since. If there’s one piece of travel gear I can recommend to make your flights more enjoyable: noice cancelling headphones! You’ll be surprised how different the inflight experience is when you’re wearing noise cancelling headphones. The good ones aren’t cheap, but you’ll be convinced they were worth the investment after your first flight. I currently use the Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones II.
As most airlines now charge additional fees for checked luggage on short haul flights, it’s important to have a good carry-on suitcase. I’ve been using Samsonite luggage for the past couple of years and had the opportunity to test a number of models. Some of them I hated e.g. the expensive Lite-Cube Spinner. The wheels under this thing are so noisy… an embarrassment to walk through the airport with it! Luckily Samsonite has some really good products too. My favourite hand-luggage is the Samsonite Neopulse Spinner 55cm. It manages to cope with my weekly travels and offer maximum storage capacity. Check my video review below for more details.
8. Know your rights: Passenger Rights app
Be prepared for when things go wrong. Install the EU Commission Passenger Rights app. It provides you will all possible transportation scenarios where things can go wrong (air, rail, ship or bus) and what your rights are.
9. Get the best seats on the plane
Not all airline seats are created equal, in fact you can have a complete different inflight experience by selecting the right seat! Most people don’t do much research when selecting their seat, which is an advantage for you. If you have the opportunity to select your seat at the time of booking, make sure to do it. In case you need to wait until online check-in is open, set a reminder in your agenda to be one of the first to check-in online. You can use tools like Seatguru to determine what are the good seats or by googling something like “name of the airline + type of aircraft + best seats” e.g. “British Airways A380 Best Business Class seats”. You might end up one a frequent flyer blog like mine where I indicate the best business class seat on the British Airways A380 is 53K as it has its own private aisle access. Looking for the best window seat? Check this video:
10. Maximize the value of your hotel points
Hopefully you’ve already collected some valuable hotels points with your travels. If not, sign-up for your favourite hotel loyalty programs now and track your accounts via AwardWallet. Once you’ve collected some points, you probably wonder where you can use them and how to get maximum value out of them. You could login to each hotel loyalty program and search for free hotel night awards. But what if you could search all loyalty programs at once? You can! Both Pointimize and Hotel Hustle let you search for hotel award availability for the dates and location you provided. They also compare the ‘revenue’ (cash price) of your hotel night versus the number of points required. That way you know if you get good value for your points or not. Need inspiration on where you can stay with your hotel points? Try Awardmapper.
Your Tips & Tricks for better travel in 2018?
I hope you appreciate my tips & tricks to improve your travel experiences in 2018. Questions, remarks or additional travel advice? Please share them in the comments below. Happy travels in 2018! 🙂
Hi Bart – Thanks for your great tips, I’ve been a follower for quite some time, always looking for an ‘angle’ 🙂 I now had a question on the booking of an award ticket via miles and bonus (Aegean airlines). I would like to book an intercontinental business class ticket but their website doesn’t allow to search for award tickets and I really want to make sure that I book the right type of ticket – any tips because they’re not really responsive… thanks!
Hi Marijke. An easy way to search for Star Alliance Award tickets is via the United.com website. Just select ‘Award Travel’ on the main page when you search for a flight. United will then show you all award availability, ignore the number of miles required. After that it should be possible to book the desired award on the site of Aegean (see https://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2017/12/08/redeem-aegean-miles-for-star-alliance-awards-online/ )
Hey Bart! You have compiled a very nice list here! I’ve been looking for the perfect city trip backpack but I don’t really get out of it… I’m currently using a Forclaz 22-AIR from Decathlon. What do you recommend?
Hi JDG, if you want a stylish backpack, check the brand new Samsonite Zenith. I love it and lot’s of people ask me about it during my trips. https://www.rollingluggage.com/samsonite-zenith-laptop-backpack-black/87470-1041.html
Thanks for this awesome posting Bart! I consider myself somewhat savvy as it relates to travel, and am gearing up for my birthday trip to Europe (London-Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam), where I used SPG points to book all of my hotels for two weeks for my wife and I. Saved $4200!!! Anyway the cashback sites are new to me, so I will have to check them out. As always you leave me armed with some new travel tools to add to my arsenal. Happy Travels man!
Thank you so much for sharing your succes story with SPG points Dre! I wish you & your wife a fantastic birthday trip to Europe!
Hi Bart, thanks for the post. My question to you about booking hotels via cash back sites or other deals-websites is that, the hotel don’t give you their loyalty points for booking via third-party. So could you please explain how do you manage to get so many loyalty points?
Hi Dave, thank for your feedback and question. Most hotel chains (e.g IHG with Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, InterContinental…) can be booked directly via cashback sites. So you’ll be earning both points and get cashback! On top of that you’re Elite level amenities will be honoured.
Thank you for your feedback Sam!