The Dangers of Travel Hacking – Forbes Advisor
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For frequent travelers, travel “hacking” is second nature. Looking for the best deals, comparing prize redemptions and knowing every detail of a program allows hackers to travel cheaper and more often. Except when it doesn’t. Over-optimization can backfire in either wasted time or wasted money – or both.
While the travel experts on our team usually score great trips at a fraction of the price the average traveler pays, we’ve all made mistakes. Here’s a look at some lessons we’ve learned the hard way.
Rebooking for a lower (higher) price
After committing to a trip to Colorado Springs, I was in sticker shock about the plane tickets — something I should have checked before making my plans. Feeling stuck, I booked a flight to lock in a fare before it got any worse. I then dutifully continued to track prices after ordering.
Most US-based airlines no longer charge change or rebooking fees (as long as you avoid basic economy), meaning I could rebook at a lower price if one showed up and claim the price difference as a voucher for future travel. As a frequent traveler, I knew I would use the credit.
Eventually I found a cheaper rate and snapped it up quickly – only to later realize I had searched and rebooked on a completely different date.
The cost of undoing my mistake? Another $120. After all, my lower price didn’t save me any money. Now I triple check all reservations to make sure I have the correct date and route.
SoFi Checking and savings account
45,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 6 months of card membership
By Becky Pokora, Staff Writer
The certificate expires unused after an attempt to come out ahead with 500 points
The World of Hyatt Credit Card* offers an annual free night hotel certificate valid at Category 1 to 4 Hyatt properties (and it is possible to earn similar certificates in other ways through Hyatt’s program). A Category 4 Hyatt hotel costs up to 18,000 World of Hyatt points per night on peak dates, so that’s the maximum possible number of points you can save using this certificate.
In the past, when I have had an expiring certificate that I had no good use for, I have contacted Hyatt and been told to wait for the expiration and contact them again. On those occasions they have been able to offer me 10,000 World of Hyatt points for an expired certificate.
My category 1 to 4 certificate was about to expire and I had an upcoming stay where I could have redeemed it. The price was only 9,500 World of Hyatt points (a top tier 2 rate), so instead of using my certificate, I redeemed points. I thought I could get 10,000 points for my expired certificate and get 500 points ahead.
I was wrong. When I contacted Hyatt, I learned that the company would not issue points for my certificate because it was issued by Chase, the credit card issuer, not Hyatt.
Trying to save 500 points (approx $10 value) I instead ended up costing myself 9,500 points (approx $180 value) instead of using my expiring certificate.
By Caroline Lupini, Managing Editor
Select a hotel to use Save Points; Ended up paying a fortune for transport
Sometimes the appeal of a great hotel deal is just too tempting to pass up. And because it’s so great, you lie to yourself about potential red flags—transportation issues in this case—to convince yourself that the points savings outweigh any potential downsides.
My family of six recently visited Paris and this wasn’t our first time either. We are very familiar with the city so I should have known better.
One of the problems we often face in Europe is finding affordable accommodation for all six of us. Each hotel requires us to get at least two rooms. So when the Hyatt Regency Charles de Gaulle showed up with recessionary rates (for stays I needed, as I was working toward globalist status), it was a no-brainer. I knew this property was considerably far from Paris itself, I also knew there was a train station nearby, and I’m super resourceful. How bad can it be?
The first problem was that there was no easy way to get from the hotel to the train station. Paris is usually a walkable city, but the area near the airport – not so much. Walking to the station would involve crossing busy streets and keeping to the side of roads without sidewalks. And it would take over 30 minutes, in the cold winter rain. In addition, train ticket prices increase when you multiply them by six. A taxi or Uber that would actually fit us all was also off the table because the cost of traveling to and from Paris every day would have broken the bank.
Long story short, we ended up having to get a rental car – not cheap either. And while driving on the outskirts of Paris isn’t bad, navigating the city isn’t for the faint of heart. Add in paying for parking and my wonderful hotel quickly became not so wonderful. The moral of the story? A good deal isn’t a good deal if you end up losing money elsewhere.
By Toni Perkins, Deputy Editor
Booked with an off-airport car rental company to get a discount; Paid dearly in money and trouble
A couple of years ago, our family took a vacation to Arizona. We planned to do quite a bit of driving on this trip, so I knew we were going to need a rental car. Although there were several rental companies available at the airport terminal, I chose a local branch nearby because the daily rates were significantly cheaper.
Now, to be fair, I had used this hack several times before and it had always worked because I had been careful to choose a place that offered airport transportation. On this trip, it was clearly stated on the website of the rental car company that there was a shuttle bus available at this particular department. However, my fatal mistake was not actually calling the branch before booking to confirm this was accurate. Instead, I took the website information at face value and ordered my car at a low price.
When I arrived at the airport, I immediately called the branch and asked for a shuttle bus to pick us up. To my dismay, an employee informed me that there was no shuttle service. I argued a bit about how the website said otherwise, but my plea was futile. The agent said that we simply had to use a driving app or taxi to get to the rental counter.
While annoyed, I told myself I would probably come out ahead, so I ordered an Uber. But when we tried to load our family into the car, the driver stopped me and said he couldn’t take my older son because we didn’t have a car seat for him (we had one for our younger son). When I explained that he was too old to need a car seat in Florida, the driver reminded me, “Well, sir, we’re in Arizona.” Ugh.
Then a minute later I was paying Ubers cancellation fee and wondering how on earth I was going to get my family to our rental car. After doing some research, we ended up going with Arizona based VIP Taxi who can provide car seats. Of course we had to do the same to get back to the airport at the end of the trip.
All in all, most of my savings ended up being washed away. In addition, I started the trip with massive anxiety and a lot of wasted time. I will verify the shuttle service on all my off-site rental car bookings. And if a shuttle bus isn’t offered, but the rental price is too good to pass up, you can bet I’ll be checking my state’s car seat laws.
By Clint Proctor, Editor-in-Chief
Made 24 reservations for 5 night hotel stay, maxing out credits and wasting time
Travel hackers are always trying to milk every penny out of our credits and benefits. Last year I had $200 Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) credit, a Hilton free night and $250 Hilton resort credit close to expiration. Never letting a credit go to waste, I immediately began looking for ways to use them all at once.
Seasoned travelers know that Vegas is the place to go if you want to maximize your FHR benefits, as you can often find rooms at MGM casinos for around $100 weeknights in the off-season. With $100 food and beverage credit and $60 breakfast credit included with FHR bookings, there are times when it feels like you’re getting paid to stay – as long as you can resist the casino. I also had MGM Gold status through Hyatt to bypass those pesky resort fees.
The other thing FHR-stans knows is that if you really want to squeeze the juice out of the program you want to have as many nights as possible as the benefits reset with each property you visit.
So with cheap tickets in hand I started playing “How much can I get?” game. For the Hilton free night I wanted the most expensive property I could find, but for the resort credit I wanted the cheapest property that could qualify as a resort. So I booked an expensive weekend night with the certificate, followed by two separate FHR weeknights at two different MGM properties and finished with a two week cheap Hilton resort stay.
For five nights, I planned to stay in four separate hotels—which probably sounds strange to all but the most hackneyed of travel hackers. I should have stopped there, but I just kept looking. And every other day one of the hotels would drop $3 in price or another option would be cheaper than the one I booked and I would cancel and rebook the reservation. Rinse and repeat.
It wasn’t until I went to check into my first hotel and had to sift through all the emails that I realized what a mess of a paper trail I had created. Some 24 reservation and cancellation emails later, I finally figured out which four were actually relevant to my stay. I may have saved an extra $30 on my rebooking spree, but I also spent at least 20 hours manically searching for hotel rates when I had already booked an amazing value.
By Dia Adams, Editor-in-Chief
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The bottom line
There is a difference between looking for a good price and obsessing over the details. Knowing where to draw the line can determine whether you end up with a bargain at all. While mistakes are only human, consider this a friendly reminder that sometimes it’s OK to stop while you’re ahead.