In a recent article, the NY Times talked about comparing foreign websites of your favorite travel companies in order to obtain bargains targeted at the “home” market. This means looking at Expedia.co.uk as well as Expedia.com if you’re considering hotels in Scotland, or Hertz.ie in addition to Hertz.com when planning a car rental in Ireland. Pointed out to me by my faithful readers (thanks Courtney and Ann), it appears that a tip well-known to me really isn’t well known by the general population. Here’s how to make use of it to your advantage.
First, the pitfalls to look out for.
+ Companies intentionally or unintentionally restrict purchases by allowing payment not by credit card, but by a local electronic form of payment such as ec-card (much of Europe), Switch card (UK) or Bancontact (Belgium).
+ Companies intentionally or unintentionally restrict discounting or purchases by requiring tickets/cards/what have you be mailed to an address within the country.
+ If you’re traveling to a country where the language isn’t English, you’ll be doing your booking in a foreign language. You may not, therefore, understand all the conditions of the offer, etc.
The article recommends “working around” these problems either by having the friends you’re visiting take care of the purchases for you in advance or by working with a travel agency and paying their fee to take advantage of savings. Assuming you didn’t need your tickets or reservations immediately, you could also have them sent to your first hotel to be held for you till your arrival.
That said, it never hurts to shop around for lower prices on all your major expenses.
+ First, plane tickets. Check both versions of Kayak or Orbitz (or whatever booking engine you prefer), compare with the U.S. and foreign carrier of your preferred airline alliance (ex. check both American Airlines and British Airways, partners in the oneworld Alliance, for a trip to Europe). If you’re a student traveler, compare one-way tickets with STA or Student Advantage from the U.S. with one-way returns from abroad through STA’s worldwide offices (usually each office has the best negotiated prices for departures from their country). For low-cost flights within Europe, check out Which Budget and Skyscanner.
+ Second, hotels. The article makes the point that the major hotel chains usually have centralized booking (even internationally), so you’re unlikely to find a bargain on their website. The tip here is to use the central website to navigate to the hotel’s individual website where you may find a package or weekend special that is a true bargain (within the last year, I’ve used this tip in the Netherlands and in Denmark). By joining a hotel chain’s rewards club (free), you will often receive free perks and may qualify for discounted rates. Other hotel booking websites I’ve found useful include Hotel Club and Hotels Central. Both have multiple websites for different countries. Again, it may be wise to use these sites to pinpoint interesting hotels and then navigate to (or google for) the hotels’ local websites.
+ Third, trains. Compare Eurail rates with point-to-point tickets discounted by train card schemes. Trenitalia has the free Cartaviaggio, which under three schemes (at additional cost) could save you money. Germany has different BahnCards which can pay for themselves in no time. NB: you should likely register for your train card at least one month prior to travel, to allow for its arrival at your mailing address.
+ Fourth, car rentals. A smart renter always shops around between companies anyway, now you’re simply adding in the foreign websites as well. Don’t forget European agencies such as Europcar and Sixt, too.
While this advice will likely save you money, you might save even more by delving further into the “home” market and looking on the travel discounter websites most popular in each country. Expect a post on this topic soon. Suggestions for your favorite sites can be left as comments or sent as email.