How to save money on rental cars, planes and trains

Finding the cheapest modes of travel.

Looking to jet around the world (or around the country)? When it comes to traveling, the cost of transportation can make a big dent in any vacation budget. Luckily, there are a lot of tips and tricks out there that can help you find some of the best deals. Take a look at a few of the top savings strategies to help you learn how to save money on rental cars, planes and trains.

Start with your search strategy

It seems like one of the most expensive parts of any journey is getting there. And when it comes to the cheapest modes of travel, it’s best to start with the basics: searching for your cars, planes and trains. Your search strategy is essential to finding the best prices on transportation.

Before you start, open a private or incognito tab or window. Travel sites keep track of what tickets and cars you’ve searched for in the past and will hike up the price when you look again to put pressure on you to seal the deal. They’re betting that you’ll buy before the price goes up more. Opening a private window means they can’t track your searches, and you should see the lowest price.1

The second search tip is to look at multiple travel sites and compare them. Google Flights is a solid place to start for flights, but they don’t list every airline and every deal on the web. Get a baseline price here first, then head out to other sites, such as Priceline, Expedia or even airlines’ sites to make sure you’re getting the best price.2 Plus, if you also book rental cars or train tickets on these discount sites, you’re likely to get a deal for bundling different bookings. You can take that money you saved and put it in a savings account to help pay for other travel expenses or even start planning for your next trip.

Hit the road with car rental tips and tricks

Next, it’s time to talk about how to get rental car discounts. The most important tip is to avoid prepaying for anything, especially the rental fee and gas. If you wait to pay when you pick your rental, you can always cancel the reservation and book a new one if a lower rate pops up. It’s also a good idea to pump your own gas. It’s likely to be cheaper than letting the rental company do it for you. Bonus tip? Fill up within 10 miles of the car rental location and save the receipt to avoid a refueling fee.3

Also opt for car rental locations that aren’t at the airport. It may mean skipping out on convenient pickup, but you’ll avoid higher rates and airport fees that can really make the cost of your rental car add up.4

Fly the friendly skies for less

Now that you have your search strategy set, there are a few tips that will help you make sure a plane ticket doesn’t keep you from traveling on a budget. Timing is key in more ways than one. First, you’ll want to be conscious of when you’re booking your flight. Domestic flights can be cheapest anywhere from 3 weeks to 3.5 months out from departure, but this calculator can help you pick the best time to buy based on your destination. For international flights, the cheapest ticket to buy ahead of departure could be anywhere from 2 to 8 months depending on your destination. The rule of thumb for buying an international plane ticket is typically to purchase sooner rather than later.5

The day of the week you travel will also help you stick to your travel budget. Sunday tends to be the cheapest day to travel with around 5 percent savings for domestic flights and nearly 10 percent savings for international flights.6

The final timing tip to keep in mind is avoiding the busiest travel time of the year—summer and the holidays. Plane ticket prices tend to be cheaper January through mid-May and September through early December. Also think about what’s going on in the area. For example, flights to Dublin are going to be expensive around St. Patrick’s Day, so consider flying into a nearby area and making it to your final destination through another mode of transportation.2 Often, a plane ticket can be the largest travel expense. If you find ways to cut back on ticket costs, you'll have more money to set aside for expenses on the trip, like tours, food and souvenirs.

Stop at the savings station

Speaking of other modes of transportation, saving on trains can also help you travel on a budget. For trains in the United States, planning ahead will help you get a cheaper fare. Unlike airlines, the formula is simple–book at least 2 weeks in advance to get the lowest fare.7

If you’re headed to Europe, chances are you’ll be hopping on quite a few trains, and the rules of getting a cheap ticket are a little different across the pond. Here, you’ll want to book at least 10–12 weeks in advance to get the cheapest fare.8 You can also check out this app to help you predict when European train ticket prices will be at their lowest.

If you’re planning on taking a lot of trains on your European adventure, consider purchasing a rail pass. You select the country or countries you want to visit, first or second class and how many days you want to travel. After that, a flat fee covers any train you want to take during that time. To see if your itinerary is right for a rail pass, check out this guide that can help you pick between a pass and tickets to help you stick to your travel budget.

You’re probably ready to hit the road with money in your pocket and these tips on how to save money on rental cars, planes and trains. With all those discounts, you can even put away that extra cash in a savings account to start planning your next big trip. So pick your destination and pack your bags with confidence, knowing you’re getting a great deal on your grand adventure.

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