Smart spending: top tips for travel bookers

Jill Starley-Grainger

Travel journalist and editor

Is there anything worse than chatting to someone on your travels – only to discover they paid half of what you did for the same trip? Make sure this doesn’t happen to you by using these value-for-money tips from savvy traveller Jill Starley-Grainger

Travel sales

Smart spending top tips for travel bookers

The annual travel-industry blow-out sales are in January and over the ‘Black Friday’ weekend after American Thanksgiving at the end of November. Most of the major airlines, cruise lines and travel agents slash prices during these periods. Last year, I nabbed a 30% discount on a London to Cape Town fly-drive during the Black Friday sales. Other sales occur throughout the year, but more sporadically. Our advice? Treat yourself to that bucket-list holiday instead of electronics this Black Friday.


Long gone are the days of the last-minute flight deal. Booking as early as possible tends to get you the best price. Long-haul flights are usually released a year ahead, while for short-haul, it varies from six months to a year, depending on the airline.

But if you’re flexible, these tips can secure you the lowest fare:

  • Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. This frequently gets you the cheapest seats and the emptiest planes – a win-win that means you’re getting a bargain and are more likely to have an empty seat next to you. Happy flying!
  • Travel in early December or any time in January. Airlines struggle to fill planes during these times of year, so prices tend to plummet. Do your best to avoid 15-24 December, however, when most fares skyrocket to their highest of the year.


Smart spending Hotel Vernet Paris France

Give yourself a virtual upgrade by nabbing the best room in your category. Call reservations or the front desk a few days before your arrival and ask for a quiet room on a high floor and far from the elevators. This often gets you great views, and keeps you away from busy lobby areas. Or enquire about the largest available room in your room category. This should ensure you don’t end up in a broom closet, but still keeps you in your room-cost comfort zone. Another win-win!

Always tell your hotel if you’re having a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion. Some hotels will surprise you with complimentary treats like wine or chocolates if they know this in advance. Who wouldn’t appreciate a little extra spoiling on a special occasion? Go on, it’s deserved!

Car hire

Never pre-pay for a full fuel tank at the car rental desk. Even if the company claims that its rates beat the local petrol station’s, you will lose out for one simple reason – it is very difficult to return a car with a completely empty tank. That means you will have pre-paid for fuel you didn’t need! Save yourself some spending money and say, ‘no thanks’, to this extra cost.

Arrange your own insurance so you can avoid the car rental company’s pricey ‘top-up’ insurance. They might call this Supercover or Excess Insurance, meant to reduce the ‘excess’ you’d pay on an insurance claim to zero. However, it’s often as much as the car rental itself! If you own your own car, check with your insurer to see if you’re already covered for this. If not, look online for insurers who offer this same type of insurance at rock-bottom prices. I always take out a ‘car-hire excess insurance’ policy, which is instantly more cost-effective compared to the usual price offered by rental companies.


Never exchange money at the airport without pre-booking. Instead, use a currency comparison tool to find the best exchange rate and get cash before you go.

When using debit or credit cards at your destination, always pay in the local currency, not your own. Many foreign shops, hotels and restaurants now offer to let you pay in your own currency, but this is nearly always a raw deal. Known as dynamic currency conversion, it means you’ll likely pay far more this way than if you paid in the local currency.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance

Even on short weekend breaks, an emergency visit to the hospital or a stolen suitcase could see you with sky-high bills. Travel insurance covers a wide range of potential problems, and it’s a false economy to go without it. But if you travel more than a couple of times a year, you’ll usually save a bundle by purchasing annual travel insurance, so don’t just take a single-trip policy without thinking realistically about the trips you’ll likely take in the year ahead.

American Express offers several policies to suit your travel needs – whether you’re travelling with your family or planning a backpacking holiday – flexible Travel Insurance provides the savvy safety net needed for your next adventure.

With your new arsenal of travel knowledge, plan with confidence and find your flights, car hire and hotels. 

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