Save On Planes, Trains And Automobiles

By Amy Fontinelle AAA

Getting to your destination is often one of the most expensive aspects of any trip. Whether you're traveling by airplane, car or train, use these tips to free up some funds so you don't have to pinch pennies at your destination.

Airfare Savings
Airfare prices vary by so much and change so frequently that you can find new deals everyday. There are many ways to save, but you probably already know most of them. Here are four unconventional ideas that you might not have considered.

Fly to a City Near Your Destination
If it's expensive to fly directly to your destination, see if you can save money by flying into a nearby city and taking another method of transportation to your real destination. For example, if you want to fly from Los Angeles to Jackson, Wyo. (to visit Yellowstone National Park), the cheapest ticket might be $400 with a stop in Denver.

However, if you fly to Salt Lake City, rent a car, and drive the remaining 275 miles, you could save $200 on airfare. Because you're traveling on a budget, we'll assume you're renting the economy car that gets 30 miles per gallon on the highway. The gas for the round-trip drive will cost you $80 (at $4/gallon). If one person is making the trip, you'll only save $40, which probably isn't worth it. If you have a family of four, you'll save around $500. This, of course, assumes that you were planning to rent a car in Jackson, Wyo. anyway and that cost was already part of your trip.

Because Jackson is such a popular tourist destination, rental cars are incredibly expensive there. If you rented that car at Salt Lake CityInternationalAirport, you could save $400 over renting an identical car in Jackson, Wyo. Just make sure the rental agreement gives you unlimited mileage in bordering states (most do). Now you're looking at a savings of close to $1,000 for a family of four. Considering the layover you would have had in Denver, you're not even sacrificing much vacation time to make the drive.

Sandwich Round Trips to Avoid One-Way Flights
Combining two trips into one may seem like a good way to save money, and it can be, but not if you buy one-way plane tickets. One-way tickets often cost just as much as, and sometimes more than, round-trip tickets. Let's say you live in Washington,D.C. and want to visit both Nashville and Miami. Don't buy a one-way ticket from Washington, D.C. to Nashville, a one-way ticket from Nashville to Miami and a one-way ticket from Miami back to Washington, D.C.

Instead, buy two round-trip tickets. To use this technique, you could leave Washington, D.C. on the first on a round-trip ticket to Nashville, then leave Nashville on the fifth with a round-trip ticket to Miami. Return to Nashville on the tenth, then depart Nashville for Washington, D.C. any time after that. By sandwiching one round-trip within another, you can buy two round-trip tickets instead of three one-way tickets and save money.

Compare the price of this strategy with an open-jaw ticket, which allows you to fly into one city and fly back from a different city. This works well if you can travel by land between two of your destinations. Sometimes an open-jaw ticket will save you more money than buying two round-trip tickets, and it can also save you time.

Consider Around-the-World, Circle or Continent Fares
An around-the-world pass can give you a fair amount of flexibility and cost savings if you want to visit multiple international destinations and can do so by continually traveling in one direction. The rules and restrictions of these tickets can be tricky to understand, but the company offering the ticket or a good travel agent should be able to help you make sense of them.

Circle fares and continent fares are like around-the-world fares on a smaller scale. For example, a circle Asia fare would involve travel to the three major regions of Asia: southeast, north and southwest. Your travel would start and end in the same country, but you would travel in one circular direction around the continent. If you live in the United States, travel from the U.S. to Asia will probably not be included in the circle fare. The circle fare will only include Asian countries. Make sure that all the countries and cities you want to visit are included in one of these special tickets before making a purchase.

Accrue Frequent Flyer Miles Without Flying
Many credit cards offer generous sign-up bonuses to new cardholders. Often, being a "new" cardholder simply means that you aren't a current cardholder. If you had the same card in the past and closed the account, you can open another account for the same card and get the sign-up bonus.

Many airline-sponsored frequent flyer cards come with an annual fee. Sometimes the annual fee is waived for the first year, making these cards and their sign-up bonuses a great deal as long as you cancel before the year is up. With others, there's no way to avoid the fee, but the fee may actually be a good "price" for the number of miles you'll receive. Sometimes you can get additional bonus miles by adding a second cardholder to your account.

You'll generally earn one mile per dollar spent with these cards, which isn't the best deal as far as rewards cards go, but this feature does make topping off your miles simple and painless. You can also accrue miles by clicking through special shopping links on the airline's website (listed in the site's frequent flyer section) and through special promotions such as signing up for the airline's email list.

Some airline credit cards feature more promotional miles from time to time, so it pays to follow online frequent flyer discussion boards. There is also an increasing number of non-airline-specific cards offering "miles" that can be redeemed on any airline. Once you learn the tricks of this trade, you may be surprised by how few airline tickets you end up actually paying for.

Train Travel Savings
Train travel isn't terribly popular in the United States - it can be slow, prone to long delays and it's not as cheap as you'd hope. Taking the scenic train from San Francisco to Los Angeles, for example, might only save you $50 (round trip) over the costs of flying or driving (which are similar for a single traveler), but the journey takes four hours longer than driving and about six hours longer than flying.

That said, train travel does offer several advantages over air travel, such as more space and legroom, no stuffy airplane air, the ability to get up and move around whenever you want, super-fast check in, minimal lines and security checks, and the opportunity to view the changing landscape between your starting point and your destination. Also, there are often multiple train stations in the same city and you can get on or off at whichever one you choose for the same ticket price. This can allow you to depart from a station that might be closer to your home than the nearest airport and arrive closer to your destination as well, saving you money on transportation to and from the airport as well as airport parking.

Also, unlike flying, you won't pay a penalty for buying a one-way train ticket. For one-way travel, trains can be a real bargain. What's more, prices don't fluctuate multiple times a day and tickets are less prone to selling out, so you can feel more relaxed when shopping for and deciding on a ticket.

Now that you know how to use train travel to your advantage, here are some ways to reduce the price of a ticket:

Buy a National or Regional Rail Pass
These passes are valid for a certain number of days of travel (such as 15 or 30 days) within a specified region (such as the entire eastern half of the U.S.). Passes may be more expensive during peak times, but the price variation is not as significant as what you'd encounter with a plane ticket. Even though your journey will be slower, a national or regional pass can save you hundreds of dollars over completing the same itinerary by car or by plane.

Buy a Multi-Ride Ticket
The multi-ride ticket is the short-distance equivalent of the national or regional pass. It also offers what is essentially a bulk discount for purchasing many trips all at once. These tickets are good for trips such as Chicago to Detroit or Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas. Be aware that some routes, even though they are short, may not be included in these deals (especially if they are express routes).

Buy Online
Similar to airlines, the best prices and special sales for train tickets may only be available online. When looking for a deal online, note that you may have to book through a special deals section of the website to obtain the deal price. A search through the regular reservations page may not reveal the cheapest tickets available.

Seek out Discounts
If you are a senior, student, veteran, active military person, AAA member or NARP member, there's a good chance you will qualify for a discount of around 10-15%. Tickets for children also tend to be discounted (and not just for those under age two). Make sure you are aware of any restrictions that come with the discount, such as having to make your purchase a certain number of days in advance.

The Bottom Line
Transportation to your destination doesn't have to be the most expensive part of your trip. Take the time to learn the tricks of the trade, then use them to your advantage.

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