Over the years, I’ve tried to turn myself into a more professional journalist, writing longer and more detailed guides on how to travel on a budget. Blogging may be the cool, new thing, but I think bloggers can still learn a lot from traditional journalists. These articles I write usually turn out to be a big success, but they take a lot of work: I fact-check, talk to people, spend hours running numbers, and even obtain quotes. I’ll usually work on one of these articles for a month before I put it on the site. (A lot of that is because I’m traveling instead of behind my computer, but it still takes a lot of effort to write a 3,000 word research-based article.)
Take, for example, what would have been my latest article on how using airline miles to book hotels is a kickass money-saving deal. I was putting the finishing touches on what I had hoped would become a cornerstone article for my website when I went to update some of the numbers, only to find out that the airlines have changed their rules and now this deal is no longer a deal at all. Instead, it’s a rip-off.
Just like that, hours upon hours of work were wasted. My excitement over sharing this deal was gone, replaced by frustration.
And this story highlights one of the shitty aspects of working in the travel industry.
Trying to keep up with all the deals, loopholes, rewards systems, etc., is a giant pain in my ass. You think you get confused trying to figure it all out? Try doing this for a living. I’ve spent entire nights running calculations, figuring out point values, and determining which websites are the best for this or that. There’s nothing like spending a Friday night comparing 20 different flight search engines.
And just when you think you have it figured out, the rules change and you have to start over again.
I fully understand why casual travelers get so confused and give up looking for deals and just go to Expedia, book a trip, and take the easy road. With so many programs and websites to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated.
Unless you’re a junkie like me, your idea of a fun night is not sitting in front of the computer for six hours trying to find a cheap flight. That’s why you read travel guides and blogs like mine—you want someone who’s spent the time doing the research to cut through that crap and tell you how to save time and money.
It’s like finance. I love it. I find it incredibly interesting, but I don’t really want to spend hours sorting through IRA programs and mutual funds. I defer to the experts like JD Roth and My Money Blog to tell me this stuff.
This frustration is why you see very little “travel hacking” on my website. The rules for reward programs change so frequently that it’s a full-time job keeping up with them (See The Points Guy or Boarding Area for people who devote their time to doing so). Tips on traveling London on the cheap aren’t going to change on the whim of some executive. Airline and hotel pricing do.
The price of a hostel is the price of a hostel. The train or bus? No hidden prices. It costs X, Y or Z depending on your class and time of travel.
Yet I can search for a flight on 11 different websites and get 11 different prices. Same thing goes with hotels. And hotels get even more complicated when you factor in bidding sites like Hotwire and Priceline.
It’s a whole bunch of ridiculousness.
I’m ranting here because I spent so long working on an article and was super excited about sharing this deal, only to see it fizzle away. I guess if I had to turn this rant into some meaningful advice it’s this:
If you feel lost and frustrated over confusing and changing rules and too many booking sites, don’t worry—even the professionals feel like throwing the computer on the ground sometimes. The rules are like a labyrinth designed by one evil, sadistic person.
And when you find a good deal or some great loophole, take advantage of it. Don’t wait. Don’t think. Just do it. Found a super cheap flight to London? Go to London. Has a hotel error turned up a cheap resort in St. Lucia? Go grab the sunscreen and head over! The longer you wait, the less likely that deal will be around.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that travel deals vanish in the blink of an eye.