When I book my trips, everyone invariably asks me "Who did you use?"
As in, what travel agent or booking company did you use?
My answer is usually: "ME!"
Sure, I've used travel agents in the past and I've called booking companies and airlines. But mostly, I do things myself and work until I hit walls, or am required to book through an agent.
Take my next big trip (or NBT): I looked online for flights until I couldn't go any further. Then I called the airline, presented them with my options and they set me up. Normally, I would have just booked online, but because I wanted to book with miles this time, and there weren't any easily found flights, I made a phone call.
So here are the steps laid out for your travel hacking (loving Chris Guillebeau for coining that phrase) pleasure:
1. Decide what you want to do. The world is your oyster, it's true. But you won't get anywhere unless you start somewhere.
2. Pick the most important thing to you and then plan everything else around it.
IE: For me, the hinge of this trip was the tour I'll be taking. It was only available certain dates, and I wanted time before and after the tour to visit various places on my own. So I picked my tour start date, then picked dates for my longhaul flights that fit my timeframe.
3. Use the Internet!
For heaven's sake, please do your research.
When looking for hotels I start with TripAdvisor.com
Look up your destination and read the reviews about various destinations, hotels and activities. You will learn a TON about the places you're headed to, what to expect and what to avoid. Trip advisor can make the difference between going to a new place blind, or going prepared. Be a smart traveler!
Flight tips for Europe:
If you're a US traveler, you're probably not familiar with how easy and inexpensive it is to travel across Europe. Flights are usually very cheap. There are a ton of "budget" airlines similar to Southwest and Jetblue that run in Europe. If you need a quick, one-way flight to a European destination, look it up on Expedia or Cheapfares before you book, just to get an idea of what airlines are out there. Then go directly to that airline's website and book. I've usually found cost savings of between $20-70 by doing this.
European Airlines: (That may or may not show up in fare query sites like expedia or cheapfares)
RyanAir (Irish) (Flies all over Western Europe, but hub is in UK/Ireland - sometimes offers fares of 1PENCE! [that's a penny in the UK] but be prepared to be crammed into your seat like you've never been crammed into a seat before. I prefer to fly EasyJet)
BMI (UK Based, good prices when booked in advance)
AegeanAir (Greek), Cyprus, hub in Athens)
EgyptianAir (Cairo based. I flew them to Cairo, Jordan and from Cairo to Malta. Great service. Clean Planes)
Tour companies that I like:
3. Start booking with available resources. Airline mileage, credit card mileage, budget available, friends you've got that you can crash with. Pull out all the stops and call in favors. This is the time for it. You'll save yourself ridiculous amounts of money.
For this trip, I had a free longhaul flight from one mileage credit card AND I managed to book FOUR free nights in hotels with another mileage accrual. (Be sure to valuate your spend, or compare cost to the money you'd spend on the same thing if you were paying cash. Is it worth using your miles? My longhaul flight, had I paid cash would have cost $3500, but I only paid $500 in taxes. = GOOD DEAL.
The hotels were a great find. I only had enough miles for $200 worth of flight credits. But trading those same miles for hotel nights worked out to nearly $400 worth of hotel credit.
5. Don't be afraid to change things.
I try to only book hotels that will allow me to cancel (usually up to 24 hours in advance) with no penalties. That way, if I find something I like better, I can simply cancel one booking and hop to the better one.
Sure, it can be time consuming. But for me, it's part and parcel of the thrill of travel. In the end, I come away doing exactly what I want to do, and not what a travel agent our tour guide is pushing that day.