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My best money-saving tips for the frugal traveler

My best money-saving tips for the frugal traveler
© Robert Kneschke | Dreamstime.com

Airlines make a lot of money online. So do hotels. After all, customers can book their flights on a whim. They can book a room from their phones while sitting in the hotel's lobby. Travel companies make billions in revenue, which should make everyone happy, right?

But for hotels and airlines, digital booking services are a double-edged sword. Travelers can also use several tricks to save money on trips, much to these companies' chagrin. You can skip extra expenses and add-ons that used to be required. You can even decide whether certain services are worth the dough.

Here are several cost-saving measures that the airline and hospitality industry don't want you to know about.

1. Use the Secret Formula

Airlines will try to make as much money as they can. It doesn't matter how much the flight is actually worth; they're trying to milk you for every penny, especially on busy routes.

So how do you know whether a flight is worth the money? How do you know if you're about to pay too much? There's a simple formula for that: Just multiply the round-trip miles (airport to airport) by $.032, and add $230 to get the average price.

Sound too simple? It's amazingly effective, and there's another formula you can use for international flights. In an emergency, people will pay whatever they have to, but if your plans are somewhat flexible and you're worried about getting fleeced, these formulae will keep that from happening.

Click here for more about the secret airline formula.

2. Book through Google Flights

Google Flights has become the reigning champion of online booking, surpassing a lot of other great services like Kayak (see below). This is partly because Google is the master of global information, incorporating nearly every bit of data in existence and making it searchable, so why wouldn't flights be part of that database?

But Google Flights is also handy because of all the nifty things you can do with it: You can monitor airfare prices, filter for a number of stops and total hours, and easily find the cheapest days to fly.

Click here for a list of Google Flight secrets.

3. Use Kayak Explore

Wouldn't it be great if you could just say, "Computer, show me all the cheapest flights from my hometown. Doesn't matter where. Doesn't matter when. Just show me everything."

That's basically what Kayak Explore is: a digital map plastered in locations and prices. You probably never thought to look up flights to Crete or Estonia, but if you have some vacation time coming and you're really flexible about your dates and destinations, Kayak Explore is an incredible tool for getting the ideas flowing.

Google Flights has a similar service, enabling you to type "Europe" or "Japan" into your search. But Kayak Explore is still fun, easy to use, and offers innumerable great deals.

4. Hide Your Browser

Many booking whizzes agree: If you browse for flights, you take an hour to think about your options, and then you browse for the same flights again, the price will jump up. Experts believe that the websites remember your IP address, and they amp up the prices because they know you're interested.

Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. But there's no harm in beating the system: You can use "incognito mode" on your Chrome device or use a "private" tab on your Android or Apple device to prevent web-fare companies from knowing who's booking.

Click here for specific instructions on how to browse privately.

5. Browse FourSquare for Wi-Fi Passwords

This is borderline inappropriate, but it's really handy when you're waiting at an airport and really need to use Wi-Fi, or you're bumming around a hotel lobby waiting to check in, and the desk clerk refuses to reveal the password. Need to log in? Check out FourSquare.

Most people use Yelp and other services to post reviews, and that's it. But FourSquare users are notorious for posting Wi-Fi passwords as well. Just find your location, sift through user content, and you're very likely to find the handy code that will unlock the internet.

6. TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry

In an era of rampant terrorism, it's hard to believe that this TSA program exists. But it's a fact: Low-risk passengers can apply for "Global Entry," which entitles them to skip regular lines and security checkpoints. In airports where Global Entry is recognized, this expedited clearance usually pushes passengers through the checkpoint in about five minutes.

Why would airlines hate that? Because passengers can arrive later at the airport, meaning less time sitting around the airport mall and buying snacks and bottles of water. There's an application fee, but if you're accustomed to flying coach, this small luxury can feel like first class treatment.

7. Sign Up for Every Free Rewards Program

Airlines and hotels love it when you sign up for their rewards programs. They assume that you will build a relationship with, say, Hilton Hotels or Delta Airlines. When they want to encourage flights to certain destinations, or they want to fill rooms in certain cities, they'll notify you of an upcoming deal.

What they don't expect is for travelers to sign up for every rewards program. This way, you'll receive an endless river of deals from companies around the globe. Every time you fly a certain airline or stay in a certain hotel, check and see whether they have a rewards program.

In order to truly cut this corner, though, you should only sign up for a program that's free. Also, this doesn't mean signing up for credit cards, especially cards with annual fees and high APRs. Rewards programs are basically advertisements for specials and discounts, which should cost you no more than a membership card at your local supermarket.

8. Use Award Wallet App

So what do you do with all those deals? Download the Award Wallet App and collect them into a single database. This app was designed to keep track of different deals, especially the ones that are about to expire. This way, you'll only receive the information you want, and you can easily take advantage of discounted flights and hotel rooms while they're still valid.

9. Use Uber or Lyft

Here's my favorite example: Pittsburgh International Airport has no train service into the city. The only public transportation is a cumbersome little bus called the 28X, and it takes nearly an hour to reach downtown Pittsburgh. A taxi costs about $50, and there's no comprehensive shuttle service; each hotel has its own separate vehicles.

But Pittsburgh has set up a special taxi stand for Uber and Lyft drivers. You can step off your plane, grab your luggage, and order a ride. These mobile services drive airports and hotels crazy because it drastically cuts down on their income from specialized taxis and shuttles. But using Uber and Lyft often costs you a fraction of a Yellow Cab fare, and you're more likely to meet a friendly driver with local flare and recommendations.

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