It’s easier than ever to pay less for amazing travel experiences. But that doesn’t mean you can always take what sounds like a great savings opportunity at face value. If you’re not careful, some “savings” tricks—like these six—can end up costing you more.
1. Travel Hacking
Using rewards credit cards to accumulate points and miles to redeem for free (or really cheap) trips can yield huge savings. Or it can land you deep in the hole, negating any benefits, if you don’t watch your budget and pay your balance in full each month.
Take this cautionary tale: “One of my friends started applying for cards, and, in his hurry to meet the spending requirements to earn bonus points, he [overspent],” says budget travel blogger Lee Huffman. “It took him almost a year to pay off $20,000 at almost 20-percent interest.”
2. Assuming You’ll Always Pay Less on Budget Airlines
You might score deep discounts on budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier, but you’ll also pay for “extras”—including everything from printing a boarding pass to stowing a carry-on bag in the overhead bins—that are included with regular economy fares on other carriers. You don’t have to count these airlines out; just do the math first.
3. Buying a Timeshare
Timeshares—when many people own the right to spend time at a shared property—sound like a sweet deal: You’re securing nice accommodations for future vacations without buying and maintaining a second home.
In reality, they can easily become money pits. Initial prices average $16,000, and you can pay hundreds in annual maintenance fees. They’re also notoriously difficult to sell. Salespeople know this and use persuasive tactics, like offering free vacations for sitting through sales presentations, to attract buyers.
Taking them up on these prizes can be a legit savings trick, say bloggers Peter Prokaj and Ruby Escalona, who’ve visited Cancun and Los Cabos on such free trips—but only if you can easily say no to the pitch. “Don’t go if you are easily sold on 'deals,’” Ruby says.
4. Booking Off-Hour Flights
It might be cheaper to book an overnight flight or one leaving at the crack of dawn, but off-hours transportation can be tricky. Depending on when you’re traveling, airport shuttles, buses and trains may be suspended or running slower. It’s also worth considering the tradeoffs: If you travel overnight and end up sleeping through the next day, you’ve essentially blown a vacation day.
Then, of course, there’s actually making the flight: “The only time I have ever missed a flight was a super early, low-cost one,” says money blogger Paula Paquin. “I woke up late, paid a fortune to get a taxi to the airport, then had to go home and book another one the next day.”
5. Booking Discounted Fares From Non-Local Airports
“We once booked a 'cheap' flight from Vegas to Paris and back. It was only $350 per person,” versus the more typical $575, says Denver-based travel and early retirement blogger Amy Rutherford. What she didn’t factor in, however, was the flight to Vegas—plus the cost of a hotel and food there—which erased her savings.
A real savings solution? Look for alternative airports that require far less travel time to your destination. For example, if you’re heading to New York, look at fares into Westchester and Newark in addition to JFK and LaGuardia.
6. Not Accounting for Cruise ‘Extras’
A weeklong vacation for under $700 sounds like a no-brainer. But these prices aren’t really all-inclusive. Once you’re on the boat, you’ll get upsold for alcohol, shore excursions and certain food options, says money blogger Jim Powell. “Another big thing I’ve naively overlooked is that rates are per person. That seems obvious, but when you book a hotel room, that covers at least two people.”
Also watch out for hidden fees and vague terms. For example, the fine print for a Carnival cruise offer states that taxes, fees and port expenses can range anywhere from $56.90 to $359.73 per guest. Powell’s also been hit with a $15 per person, per day room cleaning charge.