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5 ways to cut holiday travel expenses

Use these apps and services to save money on your next trip.

Most folks love to travel, but it's an expensive hobby -- especially if you venture outside the country. The airfares, the hotels, even just staying connected... it all adds up quickly. At this time of year, it adds up even more.

Fortunately, you can save a few dollars here and there -- sometimes even more than a few -- by taking advantage of various mobile apps and services. Starting with a simple one...

Use multiple airfare-tracking tools

The Hopper app can alert you to airfare changes and let you know the best time to buy.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

True story: My wife and I had been keeping an eye on holiday airfares to France. Because I'd recently written about Google Flights, I was relying on that to inform me of price drops. Prior to that, however, I'd also set up app-based airfare-tracker Hopper to monitor the same trip.

One fateful morning, Hopper popped up an alert: Flights to Paris for close to one-fourth the usual price. Because I was at my computer, I quickly checked Google Flights -- but it was still showing the higher fares. Thanks to Hopper, though, I was able to go directly to the airline's site and score the cheap deal. Had I relied solely on Google, I'd have missed out.

Moral of the story: Use multiple airfare trackers, because one might catch what another misses. In addition to the two I've discussed here, Airfarewatchdog, Kayak and Yapta all offer flight monitoring and notifications.

Buy in-flight Wi-Fi in advance

Whenever I get on a Delta flight, I'm fairly appalled by the charges for in-flight Wi-Fi. It varies, of course, from airline to airline and route to route, but one thing I've learned is that it's almost always cheaper if you buy in advance.

For example, right now Delta sells a 24-hour Wi-Fi pass for $16. I've seen that same pass for twice the price when purchased in-flight. (Some airlines charge even more.)

Again, depending on the airline, you might also get a deal by purchasing your pass from Gogo proper: An all-day pass now runs $19 there (until recently it was $16 -- sigh), and it's good on any Gogo-equipped flight and airline. If you fly a lot, Gogo's Monthly Plan -- $49.95 per month for one device or $59.95 for two -- quickly pays for itself.

Bottom line: Whenever possible, buy Wi-Fi in advance. Chances are good you'll save at least a few bucks.

Drive for less

Need a car? Depending on where you're going and when, a traditional rental might cost you a small fortune, especially if there's high demand.

Fortunately, just as Airbnb can help you find inexpensive lodging, Turo lets you rent cars from individuals -- often for significantly less money than you'd pay a rental service. Just choose your dates and location to see what's available and for how much.

Another nice perk: You know exactly what kind of car you're getting, rather than the vague "midsize sedan" kind of description you get with typical rentals. Of course, as with Airbnb, you'll want to check the lender's ratings first, and also investigate insurance options. (Don't assume your credit card will cover you.)

I used Turo once for a family vacation to Florida. We needed a minivan, and the best rental deal I could find was around $450 for the week. The Turo van I rented ended up costing around $200 -- and the owner met us right outside baggage claim for both pickup and drop-off. Your move, Avis!

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Double-down on hotel savings

Most travelers know a few tricks of the hotel-booking trade. For example, if it's a small or independent chain and you call for a reservation, you might be able to score a better rate than you would from a booking site.

That said, I typically use for reservations, in part because I get a free night after every 10 nights I book through the service, and in part because I can almost always find extra discounts and savings -- usually by leveraging a cashback service.

Sign up for Ebates or Topcashback, for example, and then head to through either portal. You'll get a rebate of 3 percent or 7 percent, respectively, for whatever reservation you book. (Both services corral various special offers as well, meaning you're likely to snag additional savings at the time of booking.)

So if you're spending, say, $600 for three nights, and you book via Topcashback, you'll get a $42 rebate -- nothing to sneeze at.

Get a SIM card before you leave the country

Traveling abroad? Slap a KnowRoaming sticker on your SIM card and it'll automatically connect to a local network once you arrive.


Using a phone outside the US poses all kinds of challenges -- most of them financial. If you stick with your US carrier, you'll pay the kind of global roaming rates that make grown adults cry.

The conventional wisdom says to buy a local SIM card once you arrive at your destination, but do you really want to start your vacation with a shopping trip? And what if it doesn't work? If there's a language barrier, how can you be sure you're getting decent rates?

Borrow a page from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared. Get a global SIM card before you go and make sure it works in your phone. That starts by making sure you have an unlocked GSM phone. (CDMA models, namely the kind used on Sprint and Verizon networks, work in few countries outside the US.)

I recommend KnowRoaming, which actually offers two options: a sticker (yes, sticker!) that affixes to your current SIM card and a straight-up SIM replacement. Both offer low calling rates and unlimited-data packages for worldwide travel.

For example, you can get unlimited data in over 90 countries for just $7.99 per day. KnowRoaming also offers free WhatsApp usage wherever data is available. And the SIM card works even if you have a CDMA phone! That's a huge plus.

Have you discovered any other money-saving travel hacks? Tell us about them in the comments!