Financially Savvy Travel

Freedom to travel is one of the well-earned rewards of smart financial planning. But as someone who’s reaped the benefits of thoughtful guidance and thorough preparation, you know better than to rely on chance to get you to your destination.

Below are some tips to help you minimize both the expense and the risks that travelers face, while maximizing your satisfaction and peace of mind.

Plan ahead to control costs
Whether you’re booking online or over the phone, it pays to shop around. AARP continues to offer transportation and hotel discounts, as well as an online newsletter about the best travel deals.

Check out special vacation packages and all-inclusive rates, too. Although most travel agencies now charge a small fee, they may be a more convenient route to cost-saving options. For many popular vacation spots, off-season travel affords freedom from hordes of tourists and peak rates. By using a credit card to accrue airline miles and other travel rewards, you can also start paving the way for future trips.

  • Airfare: A little flexibility can go a long way toward cutting costs. Calendar-based tools on websites like and can help you find the cheapest travel dates for your destination.

    Also, keep in mind:

    • The window for discounted international tickets usually opens about 60 days out, and about 45 days in advance for domestic flights.
    • You’ll typically find the best prices midweek, with lowest fares available just after midnight on Tuesday.
    • Red-eye flights for coast-to-coast and international trips, Saturday stays, and flying between noon on Monday through noon on Thursday can also cost a lot less.

    To get a sense of price trends for particular airfares, check out

  • Hotels: Prices tend to plummet during the off-season. Holiday stays in upscale urban hotels are generally available at bargain rates and often include discounts on shopping or theater tickets. Although the savings are less substantial than in the past, many hotel chains still offer senior discounts. Staying in an outlying town rather than a major city can also save money. For longer stays, a vacation rental with a kitchen may be more cost-effective.

  • Other transportation: Road trips remain a great way to see the country, but with soaring fuel prices, car travel is no longer the bargain it once was. Train travel has also become more expensive. Search for special promotions on car rentals and rail tickets early—and often. Their availability tends to shift drastically as demand fluctuates.

    For traveling around Europe, rail passes can save you a bundle, but be sure to check out the usage restrictions. The UK’s National Rail website lists the latest promotions at
Travel insurance: how to avoid going overboard
Before investing in travel insurance, review your existing insurance, as well as your credit card coverage, to avoid redundancy. Above all, read the fine print on all your policies.
  • Accident liability: Your driver’s, automobile club, or homeowner’s policies may already provide adequate coverage. A credit card that offers primary collision insurance or premium car rental protection can help you avoid the steep price of a collision/loss damage waiver from an agency, while reducing your liability risk. AARP members can also use the organization’s car rental discount code at select companies to cap their total exposure.

  • Medical coverage: Since Medicare typically doesn’t cover medical costs outside the U.S. and its territories, it’s essential to have primary major medical insurance that covers preexisting conditions and emergency medical evacuations for trips overseas. If your vacation plans include high-risk activities or extreme sports, you may need additional coverage.

  • Trip cancellation: Some travel insurance excludes events such as terrorism and natural disasters. While true travel insurance reimburses you in cash for forfeited deposits and prepayments, waivers merely protect you from cancellation fees or provide travel vouchers. To ensure that you get a good price, consult price-comparison sites such as and
Currency: getting your money’s worth
To get the most favorable rates, wait to exchange your currency until you arrive at your destination. You’ll likely get the best exchange rates using a debit card at an ATM affiliated with a major bank. Before you leave, check with your bank to make sure your card will work in foreign ATMs and let the bank know you’ll be withdrawing money abroad.

Above all, avoid the following “tourist traps”:
  • Currency exchanges: Bypass the unfavorable rates and high fees at airport currency exchanges and local money exchange companies.
  • Sky-high bank transaction fees: Compare your bank’s fee schedule with other financial institutions’ to ensure that you’re getting a fair deal.
  • The hidden costs of credit cards: Remember that extra transaction fees apply abroad, and beware of friendly merchants who offer to spare you the trouble of translating foreign prices into dollars and cents—it’s never worth the additional costs.
The value of security
When traveling outside the U.S., your best insurance against unexpected hazards is to register with the State Department online at before your departure. The State Department and U.S. Embassies and Consulates provide help in emergency situations; they also offer a wide range of useful online information:
  • News and facts about local conditions, culture, and laws, including emergency announcements
  • Ways to protect yourself from financial scams and other crimes
  • Emergency financial assistance if unforeseen circumstances leave you temporarily without funds
Additional information on travel emergencies is available at

Like a secure and happy retirement, a fulfilling and carefree vacation depends on strategic planning and a steady focus on your long-term happiness and security.

© 2008 Commonwealth Financial Network