With Miriam Cross, Staff Writer, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance
With summer officially here, there are ways to snag five-star hotels, roomy airline seats, and private tours for a lot less. To find out how, Steve speaks with Miriam Cross, Staff Writer for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and author of “21 Ways to Get Luxury Travel For Less.”
Experience Luxury Accommodations For Much Less
To experience five-star luxury, consider non-core destinations. A five-star hotel in New York City typically costs more than $500 a night. But in Thailand or Malaysia, you can stay at stunning five-star hotels for as little as $110 to $150 per night.
To save on luxurious resorts with great amenities, take their cheapest rooms. You’ll likely spend more time at the resort’s facilities than in your room, so don’t pay extra for the ocean-front suite. Any other room will give you equal access to the resort.
Don’t Count Out Hostels
If you’re on a tight budget, don’t rule out hostels. Many hostels offer private rooms with en-suite bathrooms and free amenities, such as a breakfast buffet, Wi-Fi, and more, at palatable prices in prime locations.
Book Through A Travel Agent
Travel agents often have personal relationships with hotels and preferred travel programs. Booking through an agent can get you perks such as free breakfast, upgrades, and lower rates.
Love Cruises? Get An Upgrade
As travel dates near, cruise lines offer deals on upscale rooms. If you receive an upgrade offer, make sure you’re getting bumped up to a better level. For example, a balcony room for the price of an exterior cabin, rather than a better room in the same tier.
Kick Back On A Private Island
If your cruise stops at a private island, consider renting your own cabana for a few hundred dollars and splitting the cost with your friends. You’ll get perks such as dedicated service, free snacks and beverages, exclusive beach access, and more.
Book The Best Ships At A Bargain Rate
If you love cruises, Miriam suggests looking at “repositioning” cruises. These cruises move ships from one destination to another, such as from the Caribbean, in hurricane season, to the Mediterranean. Repositioning cruises offer greatly reduced rates. While you’ll miss out on some ports of call, you’ll get to spend more time on the ship, in nicer accommodations, and you’ll pay a lot less.
Get A River Cruise Bundle
River cruises may appear more expensive but typically include a lot more than ocean cruises do. Freebies include wine and beer, shore excursions, and other benefits that mainstream cruises charge extra for.
You’ll also dock in the heart of town and share space with fewer passengers.
Air Travel: Jump On An Upscale Sale
Over the holidays, economy airfare gets a lot more expensive. At such times, business travel drops and business class seats go on sale. Some airlines also allow passengers to bid on upgraded seats before departure, giving you the chance to fly upper class for only a few hundred dollars more.
Kill Time Between Flights In An Airport Lounge
Airport lounges aren’t just for highfliers. Economy class passengers can access airport lounges through premium credit cards or by buying a pass for $25 to $50 through sites such as Lounge Buddy.
Spend Your Layover In A Hotel
If you have a long layover, check out dayuse.com for hotels that offer short-term stays. Day stays are cheaper than overnight bookings and still offer access to all the hotel’s amenities.
Tours And Packages: Get A Private Tour
Traveling privately isn’t always more expensive. Speak to a luxury tour operator to customize your trip for less by leaving out some activities and hiring local guides rather than a 24-7 escort.
Use Social Media To Find Deals
Finally, sign-up with promoters such as Travelzoo and follow luxury brands on social media to get exclusive discounts and deluxe upgrades.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: Summer is here and most of us are getting out of town and hopefully, traveling to far-away places. So how do we get to these places and experience luxury travel for less? Miriam Cross for Kiplinger magazine is covering that question right now in her recent article, “21 Ways to Get Luxury Travel for Less,” and she joins me right now.
Hey, Miriam, welcome!
Miriam Cross: Hi, thank you.
Steve Pomeranz: So, you say there are a slew of ways to snag five-star hotels, roomy airline seats, and private tours for a lot less than you’d expect. And you’ve organized them into three categories: accommodations, cruises, and air travel. So let’s take a highlight from a few of each.
Let’s start with accommodations. How do I start to get better hotels, luxury hotels, luxury living quarters, and do it in a smart money way?
Miriam Cross: So, if you want to stay at a luxury hotel, save those splurges for countries where five-star hotels are a lot cheaper. In New York City, a five-star hotel could easily cost more than $500 a night.
But, in Thailand, in Malaysia, you’ll spend in the hundreds range. Even in Berlin, you’ll spend an average $215 per night to stay at a five-star hotel. Okay, so if the accommodations matter and the place is somewhat secondary, look for those places that they have great hotels that don’t cost quite so much.
Steve Pomeranz: Good advice, what else?
Miriam Cross: But on the flip side, if you are eyeing a resort that seems really luxurious and has great amenities and you probably won’t be spending much time in your room anyway, you should go for the cheapest room. And that could be hundreds of dollars cheaper than staying at an oceanfront suite, but you still get the same amenities that anyone else at the resort does.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, you also mentioned, don’t avoid or not consider hostels. I think a lot of people would be aghast at that idea.
Miriam Cross: I’ve stayed at lots of nice hostels and most of them do have private rooms with ensuite bathrooms. So you can get lots of really nice amenities like pools, fitness centers, free breakfast, free wifi, things you don’t get in upscale hotels, and you’ll still get your privacy.
Steve Pomeranz: All right, also with accommodations, you say book through a travel agent. That’s an unusual statement these days. Why is that better?
Miriam Cross: So travel agents are still doing good business. You’re just more likely to work with one over the phone or online. But they have relationships with hotels and resorts, so if you book through them, they can get you perks and amenities such as free breakfast, resort credit, upgrades, and sometimes, lower rates as well.
Steve Pomeranz: Good ideas. All right, let’s talk about cruises. Get an upgrade on a cruise, how do you do that?
Miriam Cross: So you might receive an offer, sometimes within about 90 days of the cruise. And if it costs money to upgrade, check to make sure that your upgrade is actually to a different tier, rather than the same tier, but better room.
Steve Pomeranz: What do you mean?
Miriam Cross: So, for example, if they offer you a balcony instead of an exterior cabin, that would be a bump up in category level rather than just a better room, like a better exterior cabin. Okay.
Steve Pomeranz: So a tier means you would go from an exterior room with a window to a balcony, that would be jumping a tier.
Miriam Cross: Right, exactly, or like a non-windowed stateroom to a room with a window.
Steve Pomeranz: I have a friend who recently took his grandchildren on a Disney cruise, and they spent a lot of time on a private island there with their own little cabana and the like. That’s one of the things on your list.
Tell us about that.
Miriam Cross: Yeah, that’s another thing we can do. A lot of cruise lines stop at private islands in the Caribbean. So if you have a group of people, you can rent one of these private cabanas and you get waiter service, you get air conditioning, sometimes your own private beach area, swim floats, things like that. And that’ll cost a few hundred dollars, but you’ll typically be able to stay for the duration of the day that you’re at the private island. And if you split it with six people, it’s actually not so much.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, right. Some of these seem to be this kind of bump-up idea. Pay the $25 for the extra leg room. Spend a little bit more to participate in a private island. So, you’re not spending a lot of money, but you’re spending a little bit extra money to get much better accommodations or services.
Miriam Cross: Exactly, that’s the idea.
Steve Pomeranz: So, now let’s say that you love a certain cruise ship and it’s got everything you need, you can zip line across the top of it, you can mountain climb, you can do all these things, but you don’t want to pay for that. Is there a way to get those kinds of cruises, your favorite cruises at bargain rates?
Miriam Cross: Well, if you love the cruise experience, in particular, then you want to look at repositioning cruises. Those are cruises moving from one country to another or even one part of the same country to another.
It is a one way and you don’t spend a lot more time at sea. But because the ship needs to move itself from one location to another, they will take passengers with them at a greatly reduced rate. And you’ll miss out on some of the port of calls, but you’ll get much more time on the ship and you’ll pay a lot less.
Steve Pomeranz: So you can pretend that you’re traveling in the early 20th century and you’re taking the Queen Mary across. It takes a long time to get over there. So you try to make most of your trip, your experiences on the ship itself.
Miriam Cross: Exactly.
Steve Pomeranz: What about river cruises, those are very popular now?
Miriam Cross: Yeah, and those may look more expensive just based on the sticker price but they typically include a lot more than ocean cruises do.
Steve Pomeranz: Like what?
Miriam Cross: So, wine and beer, short excursions, maybe Wi-Fi. Things you might be tempted to pay for on an ocean cruise, but they’re included in a river cruise. And also, river cruises—I mean depending on what kind of cruise that you are—they can be nicer for some people. You have a much smaller group of passengers. You go right through town, that kind of thing.
Steve Pomeranz: Sounds a little boring to me. But that’s…I don’t know.
I haven’t taken one yet, so I really shouldn’t talk. I know a lot of people love them. All right, let’s talk about air travel. Jump on an upscale sale. What’s that?
Miriam Cross: The times of year where traveling in economy class is very expensive, such as the winter holidays and peak summer, that’s actually when business class seats are on sale because there aren’t a lot of business class passengers. So you should look around those times to find sales in business class. And if you’re lucky, you could find the rates that are only a few hundred dollars more than the economy price, but you get a much nicer experience.
Steve Pomeranz: Again, this bump-up idea and part of this is looking offseason versus in season. The repositioning of the crews is this similar thing. In other words, looking at the broad landscape and seeing where the opportunities are for you to travel in the way that you want to, particular to what makes you enjoy your trip even more and grabbing those and going kind of against the common thinking of what the crowd is doing.
Miriam Cross: Right, I mean, airplanes still need to fill the business class seats. But when there are fewer business class passengers, they just need to look elsewhere and sometimes discount those seats.
Steve Pomeranz: If I’m traveling by air and I want to stay in the lounge, that would be a nice upgrade. How do I do that without actually having 50 gazillion points?
Miriam Cross: Well, if you have a premium credit card or even the free [inaudible] rewards American Express card, which doesn’t have a fee, they will either reimburse you for a priority pass membership or reimburse you for a lounge entry.
Steve Pomeranz: So some credit cards offer these kinds of services.
Miriam Cross: Yes, or you can buy one off lounge entries and that could be as little as $25.
Steve Pomeranz: What do you mean? Tell us about that.
Miriam Cross: So LoungeBuddy is one website and app that sells lounge passes. So it could either be a package, such as three or four hours or it could be for the whole day. And for about 25 to $50, you can hang out in the lounge for a few hours, grab food, grab drinks, sometimes have a shower, work.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay, good. What is the name of that site again? Say it slowly.
Miriam Cross: Lounge Buddy.
Steve Pomeranz: Lounge Betty. B-E-T-T-Y?
Miriam Cross: Buddy. B-U-D-D-Y.
Steve Pomeranz: B-U-D-D-Y, okay, I guess I’m hard of hearing today. Okay, so what about staying over, let’s say your flight requires you to stay over a night, is there something you can do with that?
Miriam Cross: So one thing you can do actually if you’re staying over for a day, if you have a long layover in the city and you want to get some work done or you’re tired, you can actually book a hotel room for the day not even overnight and it will be much cheaper than booking it overnight and you’ll still get access to the same amenities such as the pool, and the fitness center, and the computer room.
Steve Pomeranz: Can you bid for an upgrade? I read this in your article that sometimes they’ll put business class seats up for sale, and people will bid on them. How does that work?
Miriam Cross: Yeah, first or business class seats. And I think Hawaiian Airlines is the only US airline that’s doing it right now, but a lot of international airlines do that.
So you may get an email before your departure offering you to bid on an upgraded seat. If you try and you don’t get it, you don’t pay anything, but otherwise…I think a colleague, she flew in first class for an extra $200 or $300.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay. And finally, let’s talk about tours and packages.
Get a private tour. That is a less expensive way to do it than other ways?
Miriam Cross: Less expensive than you might think. Because even if you don’t have the group buying power, when you’re taking your group tour you can also customize it, and maybe leave out some of the activities in a packaged group tour or only have guides for each city, rather than 24-7.
And it’s always worth asking with your tour operator how much of a premium they charge for private tours because sometimes it’s not as much as you think.
Steve Pomeranz: Interesting. And finally, using social media to find deals, now we all hear that’s kind of a cliche. But what are some specific ideas you can give us with that?
Miriam Cross: So that works with luxury brands because they don’t like to advertise when they have deals because they think it gives off the impression that there’s a discount on the brand. So they want to start with people who are already loyal followers, such as their social media followers or people who subscribe to their email newsletters and those people will get notices of sales first.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay, so make sure you sign up for those that you’re interested in, tour guides or whatever it may be. Very good advice. My guest is Miriam Cross. She writes for Kiplinger magazine. We’ve been talking about the “21 Ways to Get Luxury Travel for Less.” And to hear this again, to get all the websites mentioned here and listen to the full show or just get a summary of everything we spoke in here, don’t forget to go to stevepomeranz.com.
And while you’re there, sign up for our weekly update where we will send you important, or at least the weekly show in a compact email fashion, and you can go right to the segment that you might want to listen to. That’s StevePomeranz.com. Miriam, thanks for joining us.
Miriam Cross: Thank you for having me.