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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, May 30, 2014

The #1 Rule of Cheap Travel

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By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


I love to travel. Over the years, I've used a strategy that has allowed me to visit all around the globe without spending a lot of money. And I'm going to tell you my secret!

Intrigued by cheap travel? Follow this advice...

It's really pretty simple: I don't pick a destination that I have to go to. I wait for a deal somewhere, buy the deal, and then figure out why I want to go there!

By following that simple rule, I've been able to visit every continent except Antarctica and every state except North Dakota. And I've done it all on a dime.

While I would recommend this strategy to anyone, it's particularly great for honeymooners. When you're getting married, you already probably have a date in mind. There's not much flexibility there. But if you can be flexible on destination, you can save big bucks.

So how do you figure out where the deals are? There's a service called Kayak Explore that lets you find great airfare deals on your budget.

You simply select how much you're willing to pay, and then available destinations in your price range pop up on a world map. You can drill down further by season and month of travel. Or simply use the "any time" option that I love.

Remember, my #1 rule of travel is buy the deal first and then figure out why you want to go there!

If, on the other hand, you do have a specific destination you have to go to, there are number of tools to use to find the best deal.

Among them are Hipmunk and Mobissimo for international travel.

Here are some other pointers to initiate you into the budget travel lifestyle:

Avoid baggage fees by not checking a bag

Only two discount airlines — JetBlue and Southwest — allow you to check a bag without paying a fee. Your first bag is free on JetBlue. Southwest, meanwhile, allows up to two checked bags absolutely free.

Of course, not everyone lives in a market served by JetBlue or Southwest. So there's still one other way to avoid baggage fees no matter which carrier you're flying: Don't check a bag! I travel only with what an airline permits free as a single carry-on — usually a 22x14x8 piece of luggage. Another plus is I never worry about the airline losing my baggage.

Track fares online and get a refund if the price drops

Have you heard of airfare envy? That's when you buy a ticket and find the same itinerary for less money afterward. The good news is that there are a handful of airlines that will give you a voucher for the difference if you ask. These include Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and others.

But unless you religiously follow airfares after you've made your purchase, you may not even know that you overpaid. That's where Yapta.com comes in handy. After completing the free registration, Yapta will e-mail you when your flight goes down in price and help you get a refund for the difference.

One caveat here. Some airlines will charge big fees if you want to do this kind of thing. United and US Air both charge a whopping $150. So make sure it's worth your while before you get involved.

If you're traveling abroad, be sure to check out my International Travel Tips page with advice on money exchange, mobile & wifi use, and affordable accommodations while overseas.

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