Everyone enjoys getting a deal, but people really love getting a good deal on travel. Maybe it's because vacations are such a big investment and prices are so variable, but there's a whole industry based on squeezing every last bit of value out of your travel dollar.
It's great to save money, of course. But trying too hard to save money can backfire, especially when it comes to travel, where you can end up wasting lots of time and cash if you're not careful and potentially end up stranded in unpleasant situations far from home.
Here are some of the ways traveling cheap can hurt you.
Watch out for add-on fees, said Mark Murphy, founder of TravelPulse.com, a travel news website. Murphy said relatives of his tried to save on a trip from Connecticut to Cancun by driving to Maryland and flying from there with a connection in Florida.
"They ended up spending more than everybody who flew non-stop because they got hit with baggage fees," Murphy said.
Then, on the way home, they missed a connecting flight and had to book a hotel room, he said.
Airline and price-comparison websites often lead with the lowest fare. This price doesn't always equate to the actual cost because of add-on fees, Murphy said.
Some people try to book "hacker fares," said Molly Fergus, general manager of TripSavvy, a travel advice website. This is when a passenger books a flight that connects through their destination but has a final destination elsewhere.
"This can be a huge savings for flyers, but it comes with substantial risk," Fergus said.
If airlines catch you doing this, they have the right to deny the ticket and return fare, Fergus said. They may also strip away frequent flyer miles.
It's almost always worthwhile to spend a little extra to book a nonstop flight, Fergus said.
"Connections are when itineraries quickly disintegrate," Fergus said. "Sitting on the runway at JFK before takeoff for an hour can leave you sprinting for your connection at Heathrow or missing it altogether."
Missing a flight can force you to spend on overnight accommodations, meals, transportation and other expenses that could outweigh the extra cost of a nonstop flight. A nonstop ticket also buys you more time on vacation and less time in airports, Fergus said.
Also watch for hidden fees with hotels, Murphy said. Sometimes hotels charge low rates but tack on that cost nearly as much as a night's stay via resort or amenity fees. He recommends talking to a travel agent who can explain your overall cost. (For a list of travel fees you should avoid paying, head here.)
Booking through an third-party site like Expedia can also cost you, Murphy said. While you may pay less, hotels often reserve their least desirable rooms for these sites because they make less money from the bookings.
"They're going to give folks paying the least amount to that hotel the worst selection in the hotel," Murphy said.
Be careful booking Airbnb as well, Murphy said. Lodging through Airbnb is often a great deal, but you don't always know what you're going to get until you arrive, as you might with a brand-name hotel. User reviews can help, but go deeper, Murphy said, and dig into where else reviewers have stayed. Get a sense of their standards and whether they match yours.
You may also want to talk to the host if you're unsure about an Airbnb listing, Murphy said. Ask them to Facetime so you can get a better sense of the space. This can also ensure the owner is who they say they are, since there have been cases of fraudsters posting fake listings on Airbnb. (The short-term rental marketplace did not respond to immediately request for comment on avoiding fake listings.)
"The same goes for vacation packages and all-inclusive resorts," Fergus said. "If you're going on a cruise because you want to pay one price and be done with it, make sure to investigate what your fare really includes."
On cruise ships, for example, excursions, alcoholic beverages and sometimes even soft drinks may not be included in the price, Fergus said.
What's worth the extra cash?
If going cheap isn't always the best option, what should you splurge on? It all depends on your priorities for a trip. If you go to Hawaii on vacation, you may want to spend extra on a room with an ocean view rather than a hotel far from the coast, Murphy said.
But if you're traveling for business and don't plan to spend much time in your hotel, you don't need the nicest accommodations. Even if you're traveling for pleasure, you may value experiences like museum visits or restaurants more than your lodging. Your spending should reflect that, Murphy said.
You may also want to invest in a travel rewards credit card, Fergus said. Many come with annual fees, but also provide rewards that you can use to reduce the price of airline fares or hotel stays. Buying a travel insurance policy can also provide a safety net for the money you've spent in case your trip is delayed or canceled. It can also provide valuable medical coverage if you get sick or need to be evacuated while overseas.
Looking for smart ways to save on travel? Here are 15 of our favorite tips.