shopping for cheap travel: 2013 edition

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past month searching for travel deals. That’s not a complaint, because it really just means that there’s a lot of travel coming up around the corner! And it just points to all signs that I won’t settle for just booking something and letting that be…

Four whole years ago, I wrote a post about my process of finding online travel deals, and I thought I would update it here to share what small little things have changed…


#1 : Metasearch engines are your best friend… but you might need to use a few to get good answers

#2 : Patience and planning can pay off in the end … but you need to be vigilant in your research

#3 : Price out the “high-average” cost of the trip before booking anything, and know that if your total comes in under that, celebrate your deal-sleuthing skills!





Websites frequently used: : The reason to use hipmunk first is simple… the “agony” metric. It’s exactly what you’re looking for when planning a flight. What’s the most reasonable fare I can get that won’t make me tear my hair out? It does a pretty good job mapping out all of the possibilities it can for you, and also allows you to sort by price, duration, departure, arrival, airlines, airports & stops, and lays out the options in a great graphical way. It’s the perfect way to see what’s out there and what possible flights you’re looking for. You can also set a “fare alert” with your email to get updates on that search. (this is where your patience can pay off!) : Kayak is still great to use for clicking “on/off” your choices and eliminating the options, and I love the +/- 3 day matrix for trips where you can be a bit more selective in your days of travel. If you NEED to make sure that you’ve checked ALL THE SITES, then this spot is your best friend. BookingBuddy opens up a mini-browser experience that opens and suggests all of the tabs you need to search for your trip. And it pre-loads your trip data into those windows. Sure, other sites do this, but usually by opening extra windows on your computer. Here, it’s all tucked into one site. Southwest doesn’t operate on any metaseach engines so you’ll have to visit the site on its own to compare fares. But there’s little fluctuation in pricing and you can rebook your tickets for the cost savings for a later trip AT ANY TIME! Check out what the fares are, book if it works for you, then wait for every Tuesday – Thursday, sign in and see if the current fare sale applies to your trip for a cheaper fare!


Many of us book travel with different priorities and needs. If you ever happen upon a flight that fits your perfect time/location/fare needs, don’t hesitate to buy it. It’s simple economics to know that you’re happy if your needs are met at the price you’re willing to pay. But if those items are out of line, then this is where patience moves in.

Subscribe to price alerts from any of the websites above, subscribe to airline deal emails from the airlines you prefer to travel on out of your home airport (i.e. Virgin America from SF/LA, United, Delta, etc.). Certain airlines have coupon codes, run frequent promotions, and knowing these patterns or what to search for can help a lot! For example, VA usually has 20% coupons floating around on their FB page for contests… which are always to sign up for and keep and use to book tickets during a fare sale!

Check your metasearch engines daily at one specific time to see if any prices lowered and be ready to book the ticket at a moment’s notice if the perfect fare is there! It’s happened to me before… where I’ve lost a fare having to text/call/email to confirm plans with others and seen amazing fare sale fares disappear!


The most frustration I’ve had lately in booking travel is hotel room pricing fluctuation. In booking a room for a SF wedding, I seriously searched daily for over a month and saw prices on hotel rooms fluctuate $200+/night. One night a room was $179, the next it was $349, and then a week before our trip it was at $159. What’s incredibly annoying about this is that the new “hidden costs” in hotel bookings are the room taxes… which obviously go more as the prices increase… no linear pricing for you! If you can, narrow down your hotel choices early on in the game so that you’re only looking at a few options rather than EVERY SINGLE HOTEL IN AN AREA every time you check prices… because you will go crazy. But, that said, with my patience and persistence, my recent bookings nabbed 2 nights in Union Square in SF for Memorial Day weekend for $255 total (compared to avg room rate of $189/night + taxes), and 3 nights in Anaheim in August for $279 total (compared to avg room rate of $139/night + taxes).

Websites frequently used: (for ALL the hotel sites), (for AAA/Senior/Govt rate quotes), (find out what hotels are available when you’re bidding on Priceline/Hotwire),, (shows you if it’s an actual DEAL based on historic prices)


Just as with flights, do a search to know what the “price to beat” is ahead of time… and make that reservation RIGHT THEN. You know, the fully cancellable up to 24 hours ahead of time reservation on whatever site you want. That way, you’re not missing out on a trip because you waited, and you don’t lose out if the prices happen to increase.

Then sit back with a list of other possible hotels, and do your searches as often as you’d like. If you find a better deal, then you book it and cancel the previous one. Rinse and repeat as often as you’d like. If you find an amazing deal that is non-refundable, then book it if everything else is set! And… if you’re comfortable with trying Priceline, then bid silly low prices (using the instructions for rebids on and see if you nab anything!

Also be on the lookout for coupons/rebates to use on travel sites for booking!


I’ve booked lots of rental car deals for Mr. M on his work trips, and I’m always amazed with the variation in prices that will come up. I’ve gotten him a car on priceline for $8/day one week, and then struggled to find a rate under $30 on the next trip for the same car/airport/etc. Yet, this is another travel expense that I’ve worked into a “deal” system.

Websites frequently used: & & Once I’ve done my research on and on the lowest prices for each car category, I go to priceline to start the car bidding process. Cars are really easy on priceline, because you get 3-4 bidding chances each day, one for each class of car you’re after. If you can settle for a compact, start there with your lowest bid price and move up, and as long as you can beat hotwire’s price you’ve usually gotten a deal! I usually start around $13 and bid up by $2 until I hit mid-size… then try again the next day at $14.

For some people, all of this is incredibly frustrating and they just want a car the first time around or need to go through a certain company, so there’s always this discount code list for reference and coupon sites as well!

So…. phew… was that enough of the explanation of the crazy trip planning that I do? Yeah… insane right?

Do you have any tips to share or incorporate into this madness?


    • Kim

      Of course!!! HotelTonight is completely my “oh hey! Where could I magically stay tonight” app! :)

  • HamiHarri/AshleyHami

    Excellent tips! Thank you! Do you mind sharing what week in August you are heading to Anaheim and where you found your deal? We’ll be there for a few days the last week of August…we want a specific hotel and booked it directly to “hold” it while we worked on finding a better deal. So far no luck! I’ll try some of the sites you posted though…many are new to me.

    • Kim

      We booked the early August trip at, and I booked our 2nd trip over Labor Day on Anaheim is hard for me because I never want to spend over $100/night total for a room just because it really is “just a room” for us when we visit.

  • Wena Lee (@HelloWenaLee)

    This was my secret to finding anything! Right now, am using it to find advice on raising a teenager. But I digress… I agree that metasearch engines are full of helpful (and less helpful) information. It’s like going to a thrift store and finding a name brand for 3.99! You just have to take the time to dig.