It's not uncommon for my husband, Leif, and I to spend more than 200 days a year travelling for work. We bounce from airports to rental car terminals to hotels and back home on a regular basis, and along the way we've discovered a few tips to stretching our travel budget—enjoying better hotels, rental cars, and amenities for a fraction of the cost.
Need an example? We recently stayed in a Westin Hotel for $52.00 per night and rented a mid-size car for $12.00 a day.
Whether you're attending a leadership conference, engaging in educational enrichment, or organizing a much-needed staff getaway, how can you make your travel budget go further than it ever has before?
Here are four ways to save money on your next ministry trip.
1. Know the secret to bidding on your next hotel. Our favorite way to find great lodging at low prices is through Priceline.com, where we always bid for unknown hotels—but we never do it blindly.
Our secret weapon?
A wonderful site known as BiddingforTravel.com. This independent site is designed specifically to help give those using Priceline a bidding strategy. Message boards contain information on all the hotels in any star-rating in a given area, recently accepted bids, counteroffers, and free-rebids.
I recommend staying away from Hotwire.com. They base their hotel ratings on customer reviews, not actual hotel standards. We've bid on 4-star hotels from this site and stayed in some real dives.
2. Consider renting an apartment, condo, or house. One of the disadvantages of hotels is that many of them don't offer a full kitchen—which can save you money and extra weight gain when you're traveling. If you're traveling with a group, you may want to consider renting a house together and sharing the cost, or consider other ways of finding an unused timeshare. One helpful site is Tug1.com. Under classified ads, you can find a listing of available timeshares to rent or buy at a fraction of the cost.
Another great site that shouldn't be missed is SkyAuction.com. The website allows you to bid on travel packages as well as individual airline tickets, hotels and rental cars. You need to read the find print as to any extra charges including the $15 fee the website tags onto the cost, but you can find some incredible deals here—particularly if you're next ministry event is in Florida or a popular destination city. SkyAuction allows bidders to compete for unsold timeshare rentals, airline tickets, and cruises at sometimes ridiculously low prices.
The newest site that we've fallen in love with is Airbnb.com. You can rent anything on this site—a full apartment, a condo, a bedroom in someone's house, a couch, a tree house, an igloo. For wild, wacky, and wonderful, check it out.
3. Remember that rental car rates are always in flux—so book early! Rental car rates are moody and often have wild swings. Always make a rental car reservation as soon as you book your airline, but check back a few days before your trip—the price could drop anywhere between 25 and 50 percent.
We recommend starting the search for the best car rental rate through a general website, like Orbitz.com, that will display every rental car option. Then select the brand that offers the best price (remember it's often better to pay a little extra for at-airport locations). Next, Google the words "coupon code" and the name of that rental car company. The Internet is chock-full of coupon codes for rental cars. Go directly to that rental car company's website, add in the coupon code, and save extra on the rate. This simple method will allow you to find bigger, better cars for less money. In addition, Priceline.com sometimes offers some amazing biddable rates for vehicles.
4. Grab your airline tickets early. Many people like to wait to buy airline tickets, believing the price will go down. While some low-fare airlines like Frontier and Southwest offer great last-minute prices, the majority of airlines raise fares as the date gets closer. When calculating ticket prices, don't forget to add in extra charges for luggage, desirable seat assignments, and more. Sometimes the lowest-cost ticket isn't really the lowest cost.
If you're tired of being crunched in a middle seat for a four hour cross-country flight, visit Seatexpert.com and Seatguru.com. These sites help you identify the most comfortable seats on an aircraft.
And before you get to the airport, you'll want to make sure your luggage doesn't tip the scales past 50 pounds. If you think it might, try weighing it on your bathroom scale before you fly. If you have an awkward-size bag, simply weigh yourself, then step on the scale holding the bag and subtract the difference. If you think you may be coming home with some large or heavy souvenirs, pack an extra duffel inside your suitcase. This little addition can save you extra fees for all those catalogs, flyers, and freebies you pick up at the ministry conference.