My tried and tested travel hacks that will make your next trip planning much smoother
With the busiest travel season of the year upon us – you want to ensure a stress-free holiday. There are a few things you can plan ahead – a godsend for those who love trip planning and not so hard for those who do not. And whilst some of my travel hacks are very very obvious – others are not so much.
Here are 5 travel hacks to ensure a stress-free holiday for your upcoming trips, assuming you are not booking with a travel advisor, in which case, they will be taking care of all these for you (or so they should!).
1. Book your flights directly with the airline
This travel hack may seem obvious, but it isn’t for many. Use Google Flights to check fares and, if the difference isn’t crazy, book your flights direct. Why? Because you will be a direct customer and the airline will be able to speak directly to you (and vice versa) in case you need to make any changes.
As a rule of thumb, before departure, if you book with a third party, all dealings have to take place with such company, which may add complexity, namely when things go wrong. Also, many airlines for some bizarre reason do not let you check-in online if you do not book direct.
All my upcoming travel is with British Airways and I know whatever I need, they are just a tweet away – I use Twitter’s Direct Message for 90% of my dealings with BA and also have my British Airways Executive Club Gold Sales Advisor, available on email. It makes for a much more personal relationship and saves a lot of time as you can now get 24 hour service.
If you are looking for another travel hack to qualify quicker for BA Executive Club Silver or Gold membership, you may want to travel to one of these magical ‘medium haul’ destinations.
If you plan to book your trip with Avios, I recommend setting up an account with Reward Flight Finder or Seat Spy, which enables you to set up alerts so you know first hand when reward seats are released. I have a paid subscription to Reward Flight Finder which is worth every penny – the paid service means it searches for availability every hour (which is crucial as you are competing with other passengers for the same seat). Recently we have managed to upgrade to Business during the Christmas period, which would be unheard of.
Also, you may want to consider departing from a nearby city – read about the ultimate business class travel hack.
2. Rent your car wisely
Renting a car is still very much a hit or miss experience – namely in Europe. Things can go well, or things can go very very wrong. We tend to make all our bookings with Avis (sometimes with Hertz) but we use the UK website (which is handy no matter where you are in the world). The prices are more transparent and they include all the insurance you need.
The other advantage is that Avis and Hertz lets you cancel your booking up to 48/24 hours before without penalty if you choose the ‘pay later’ option, so you can shop around. If the difference of ‘paying now and paying at counter’ isn’t crazy, I will ‘pay later’, if not, they will refund the amount on your credit card quite quickly. Trip planning 101.
And as a little travel hack, if you are a BA Executive Club Member, use these AWD codes on the Avis website when booking: Gold N744400; Silver N744300; Bronze N284300; Blue N744100.
And for the love of God, join Avis Preferred before you make your booking – it will save you hours of queuing at your holiday destination. Yes, you will jump the queue or, if they are a proper Avis location, your key and documents will be ready for you in the car and you will find it on a board: e.g. OREILLY D22 means, we go to D22 and get in our car there and then. When it works…
One final note, with regards to petrol – we always take the tank full to be returned full, with the exception of the USA where you can pre-pay (at the station) for a full tank and it actually works out at the same price. BUT ONLY if you specifically have it in your contract – check the prices locally. In 99% of other places, it isn’t worth it (in my opinion – and as you can imagine, all I can offer is my opinion and experience).
If you are an American Express Platinum Cardholder, use as your discount code 211762. You will be given status on Hertz’ own Gold Plus Rewards programme.
3. Excess Insurance
The whole topic of car hire insurance is almost mind-blowing – and whereas I still maintain that Avis is pretty decent, there is always the issue of the ‘extras’ and the ‘excess’ and it just drives me crazy.
We were proud owners of excess insurance now for a few years and it is the best £52 we have spent – and probably the most under the radar travel hack from this list. There are lots of policies around – some cover just Europe, others cover Worldwide and I recommend Direct Car Hire Excess Insurance by AIG.
If something ‘happens’ to your hired car, you will pay the car hire company but then file a claim with the insurance company.
On 2 different recent trips with friends (one to Portugal and one to Italy) we were booking cars and I suggested Avis Preferred and the Excess Insurance to save us time – guess what happened? None of them got it and a) we were done in 15 mins getting the car and had to wait a good 45 minutes for them and b) sadly, one couple had damage to the under part of their car (you can tell I am really good at ‘speaking car’) caused by the hotel valet and the other had a problem with the windscreen. Moral of the story: 750 Euros excess each, which could have been preventable. I did suggest to both during the trip planning stages of our trips, but was ignored. I did not say ‘I told you so’, but I did want to.
American Express Platinum gives you this cover free of charge.
4. Pre-book transfers
If hiring a car isn’t ideal (if you are going to a city or if you just don’t fancy driving), don’t just bank on getting a taxi at the airport. You and 200 of your closest friends with luggage trolleys, children and the lot will be queuing for one.
One of my favourite travel hacks is pre-booking a transfer and Blacklane is pretty good and has great cars.
I like knowing it is sorted when I am in the trip planning stages and it is a very relaxing way to arrive at a destination.
5. Shop around for your hotel
Although I am quite organised with my trips (I was not a last minute booker, but sometimes it happens), I like to know I have flexibility – if my plans change last minute, or if hotel prices change significantly. Because it does happen.
I book most hotels now with a travel agent due to the perks such as upgrades, breakfast etc. But if it is something very short and sweet, I use Booking.com and I have to say, I am quite impressed. They have a wide selection of room types (you know what you are booking – and you won’t be getting the one by the kitchen) and I really like the ‘Pay at the Property’ options with free cancellation 3 days before the trip. I think it is fair and I found myself changing hotels a couple of days before because the prices have changed too.
I also like how they now have a ‘Luxury‘ landing page so the hotel search results are much more targeted – and worry not, all the top hotels are actually there.
What other travel hacks would you suggest we add to this list? Let me know and we will turn this into a top 10!