Cheap travel becomes more challenging in major cities. Real estate is expensive, so hotel costs are high. Labor and transportation costs make for higher restaurant prices, and getting around can be time consuming and expensive. Here are ten money saving tips for visiting a major city. Try a few on your next trip.
Even in a city where rooms are expensive, there are bargains to be found. Bid for a room on an online auction such as Priceline.com. It's a strategy that won't work well when a lot of visitors or major events are in town, but at other times, you're bound to find large hotels with rooms they want to rent at a discount. On weekends, business travelers who occupy downtown hotels are usually gone, meaning deals can be had on these centrally located properties. In big cities, Priceline offers many zones on which to bid, meaning you can rebid when your original price is rejected. Be careful: don't get stuck with a room on a rebid that's too far from where you want to spend your time.
If you'll be spending a long time in one city, consider the idea of a home exchange. Some people swap homes simultaneously, while others prefer to host a guest and then be hosted at a later date. Either way, there are plenty of advantages: inside information from your hosts, a lodging experience that's bound to be more memorable than a sterile hotel room and best of all, no big hotel bills. If a home exchange won't work, find out if people are renting out spare bedrooms or even rooms in convents. Look for a creative solution to the problem of high priced big city accommodations.
It's often very convenient to rent a car at the airport, but keep in mind that you'll pay (sometimes dearly) for the privilege. If you're on a business trip, many times you can rent a car from your downtown hotel. If you can conveniently arrange a hotel shuttle or public transportation from airport to front desk, chances are good you'll save money taking delivery off the airport grounds. Another alternative gaining popularity these days is car sharing, which involves paying lower by-the-hour rates when you only need the car for a short time.
In places such as Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., it is possible to purchase low-cost mass transit passes that allow you unlimited access for specific periods of time. In fact, almost every major city in the world offers such a pass. In some, it might take an Internet search before you leave home to locate the details, but the time you spend doing such homework will be rewarded handsomely.
How many times have you snagged a great hotel rate only to find an outrageous parking bill is waiting just around the corner? It's not unusual for big city hotels to charge $30-$50 USD/night just to park your vehicle. If you are quoted such a price, it pays to spend a few minutes checking into city parking garages in the area. In Chicago, for example, the city garages are often about one-third the cost of what private hotel garages will charge. It's not a complete comparison, because a valet service is often included at the higher prices. Do you need someone to pull up your car if it's going to cost three times as much? Often a short walk or cab ride will take you to a much cheaper government-run facility.
Not many travelers think about pre-paying for meals, but it's actually possible -- often at a great discount -- with Restaurant.com. You simply visit their front page, enter the zip codes for the places you'll visit, and then survey the available eateries. Often, $25 certificates are available for purchase for $10 or less. Some are franchise restaurants, while others are locally owned. It won't always work out with your location, but it usually pays to at least check out what's offered for your destination city.
Want to find nice budget restaurants and perhaps even a low-cost room for the night in an unfamiliar city? Chances are good the search will be shorter if you focus on university areas. It makes a lot of sense: college students are always looking for cheap food and lodging. During the summer months, London's universities rent out empty dormitory rooms. You won't find plush comfort, but you will get central locations and reasonable prices for basic accommodations. If your budget is very tight, a college cafeteria can provide simple but reasonably priced meals.
There are many sources for city passes that save you time and money. Do you really want to spend part of your limited visit standing in lines for admissions? With cards such as Go Card USA, you can buy admission to a host of attractions for one price. The costs of these cards will vary by the length of time in which they are valid. City passes are also available for New York, Philadelphia, Hollywood, San Diego, London and Paris, among others. One warning: be sure many of the attractions offered are those you would be likely to visit anyway.
This strategy works best when you'll be visiting a major metropolitan area for a number of days. Entertainment coupon books are primarily marketed to people who live in a given city, but travelers sometimes find that with only one or two redemptions, they've paid for the $25 book (a price that falls in the winter and spring). Many of these books contain two-for-one dining coupons and discounts for entertainment (as the name implies). Again, be careful to survey the included establishments before purchase to determine if they are opportunities you would pursue without the book.
Is the show or sporting event you want to see a sell-out? Chances are good that a limited number of tickets are still available from a broker such as TicketsNow.com. You won't always be able to find a price that pleases you, but at least you do the shopping and buying from the comfort of your computer rather than trusting what's available on the streets. Ticket brokers will not sell you counterfeit tickets or charge highly inflated prices, but their prices will be higher than what would have been available at the box office. Still, if seeing that game or concert will make your trip, it's worth doing some shopping.