This story was originally published on The Points Guy. Sign up for the TPG daily newsletter and wake up to unbeatable flight deals, travel industry news, and credit card bonuses that let you travel first-class to some of the world’s most incredible destinations at a fraction of the price.
For some people, May means baseball and graduation, but as the smell of lilacs wafts through my backyard, I think about gardening. I don’t mean planting tomatoes (although I do that too). But just as spring isn’t just for cleaning, May is a great time to “garden” your summer travel plans.
“Gardening” travel means tending to your itinerary from time to time to make sure it still makes sense and that you are getting the best value for your money. Prices change constantly in travel and deals may arise that allow you to rebook your reservations. Or, new options may make more sense than the plans you made months ago. All of these situations and more can be “tended” with careful “gardening.” I’ll share some of my favorite techniques.
Mommy Points recently saved more than $400 on her summer Disney World trip. By keeping an eye on hotel rates, she jumped onto a promotional offer when it came her way, In less than five minutes, she saved more than enough for a character meal or two.
It doesn’t have to just be promotions, however. Sometimes, rates just decrease as the travel date approaches if the hotel has more unsold rooms than expected. Simply modify your existing reservation to a new rate or cancel and rebook to save anywhere from a few bucks to a few hundred dollars.
Promotions can also come via your credit cards, such as American Express Offers. I just had a case where the Hilton Barcelona, which I had booked for a July trip, became eligible for an offer of $50 off a $250 purchase via Amex Offers. I originally had the stay charged to my Chase Sapphire Reserve because of the 3x points on travel (including hotel spend) and the insurance benefits. However, with the American Express promo, it made sense to switch payment methods. Pro Tip: If you have an American Express offer that expires before your hotel stay, call the hotel directly and have them charge you upfront. I just saved an extra $50 on a July stay, even though my American Express offer expires in May. (Find out more about Amex Offers and similar programs.)
Sometimes a property’s rate changes enough to make the cash/points scale tip decidedly one way or the other in a way it didn’t when you booked. Perhaps the hotel changed category or maybe you got a free-night certificate that’s now about to expire. Make sure to double-check your math to see that you’re using your points in the best way possible based on the available points and cash rates are your stay approaches.
Most of us book reservations we can cancel or chance, especially if we’re planning for a trip that’s months or a year away. As the trip draws nearer, your plans become firmer and it may make sense to take advantage of an advance purchase rate. Many advance purchase rates are available as few as three days before your trip.
I recently took advantage of this technique for my Camp Mom trip next month. I needed one night in Cordoba, Spain, in order to catch an early-morning train. I had originally booked a room at the AC Cordoba on a refundable rate of 58 euro. A couple of weeks ago, Marriott had a sale but rates were nonrefundable. Since we’re so close to travel, I rebooked the reservation at the sale rate of 46 euro. I did make sure to put the charge on my Chase Sapphire Reserve for the travel insurance benefit in case of delay or other problem en route.
When clicking through a cashback/points-earning site, such as Ebates/Rakuten, you not only earn points by booking direct with the hotel, you also get cash or even more points through the portal. Last week Ebates/Rakuten offered 15x Membership Rewards on car-rental bookings through Orbitz. I made a new reservation for our European vacation, by first clicking through Ebates/Rakuten, and then canceled my old one. By doing so, I’ll earn an extra 10,500 Membership Rewards points on my $700 reservation. By TPG valuations, that is more than $200 in points earned. (Don’t forget you can earn 1,500 Membership Rewards by signing up for a new Ebates account and designating Membership Rewards for your payments.)
Don’t let your travel plans become set in stone until the day you leave for vacation. By gardening your reservations, you just might find opportunities to save some hard earned cash and points for your next trip.