Save big on your next holiday by planning ahead
It's never too early to plan your overseas holiday. In fact the earlier you get in, the more money you are likely to save on accommodation, airfares and car hire, particularly if you're travelling during the high season.
Yes, you might snaffle some last minute bargains here and there but you are also running the risk of paying a premium if demand is high. My family and I started planning a holiday in January for a June departure to the US.
We've literally saved thousands by planning, researching and booking ahead.
These examples are based on planning a holiday to America (the third most popular destination for Australians in 2015, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics).
However, you can apply these strategies to holiday planning anywhere in the world.
Airfares (particularly international) can change on a daily basis so as soon as you know your travel dates start scouring the internet and sign up for airline sale alerts. I signed up for Virgin, Qantas, Delta, American and United Airlines sale alerts.
If non-direct flights to the US mainland don't bother you, it's also worth considering Air New Zealand, Fiji Airways and Hawaiian Airlines for competitive fares to America.
Sure enough, a Virgin Australia promotion landed in my inbox and once I compared fares with the competition, there was a difference of approximately $2500.
In the end, the return airfare for an adult on Virgin to Los Angeles was $1200 and $750 for a child during the Australian winter school holidays. I checked the same Virgin flights the following day and had we waited we would have paid an additional $1000 in total.
We were also looking to book internal flights within the US, so once again, I found out which airlines serviced the routes we wanted to travel on and signed up for sale alerts.
We secured sale fares through Southwest airlines (who offers an extensive network in the US) and saved $US400 in total on one route and $US240 in total on another. With the currency exchange, this amount equates to just over $A900 (at Feb 17, 2016).
If you're booking well ahead of time, it's also worth considering using your frequent flyer points to upgrade - possibly the best use of your points.
Some airlines impose conditions, for example Virgin only allows Gold and Platinum members to upgrade on international long haul flights. Also look into using frequent flyer points for overseas internal flights on partner airlines.
Start with TripAdvisor for pricing to compare third party agents such as agoda, Wotif, expedia, booking.com and lastminute.com.au.
But don't stop there.
Try other booking agents like kayak.com.au or HotelsCombined.com. Through HotelsCombined.com, I stumbled on skoosh.com and found the hotel I wanted to book in Las Vegas (Vdara) for 25% cheaper than anywhere else online, including the hotel directly. Cancellations and amendments are free of charge up until two days before arrival.
Being a little sceptical, I called skoosh.com and asked why their rate was so cheap? Should I be worried?
They advised because I was booking so far in advance, they were able to offer the cheaper rates, particularly in Las Vegas. I went ahead with the booking and for peace of mind, contacted the hotel directly a few days later to confirm our reservation. It was all kosher.
Some hotels offer advance purchase rates which can reduce the rate significantly. We booked a 60-day advance purchase rate (non-refundable) directly through a hotel which saved us $US50 a night compared to their next best online rate (which was also non-refundable).
If travelling with a large family, AirBnB is a fantastic money saving option.
Using AirBnB in four cities saved us almost $3000 on accommodation costs over a three-week period. Again, it's a case of first in, best dressed.
Properties that are hosted by "super-hosts" or have five-star ratings are in high demand, particularly during the high season. Unlike a hotel with hundreds of rooms, there is only the one property.
Rentalcars.com is a fantastic sites to start your search.
Booking a car well in advance saved us close to $1000.
Out of curiosity, I went back to check the rates several weeks later and found the rates had almost doubled in some states, particularly California. If you scour the internet, you may find promotion codes for car hire companies that can reduce your rate when hiring for a certain number of days.
Skyscanner is another site that not only searches for car hire deals, but also accommodation and flights.