Getting out more has never been easier thanks to the Internet. Travel has become faster, cheaper and more convenient thanks to online portals for hotels, airlines, and travel destinations; online discussion groups seamlessly disseminate tips and tricks from old hands to travel noobs. To wring out the last bit of savings from your impending trip, here are a few online-related suggestions we hope you take to heart:
Ditch the money-changer, use your debit card. Debit cards are a godsend to the money-conscious international tourist. Most debit cards are linked to international networks (MasterCard runs Cirrus and Maestro; Visa runs the Plus network) that let you withdraw local currencies via ATM as easily as if you were doing the same thing at home. Check the logos printed on your debit card to find out what network it uses, and look for the same logo when looking for an ATM abroad.
To find an ATM in your destination, look up MasterCard's ATM Locator (for Cirrus and Maestro), or Visa’s ATM Locator (for Plus).
Debit-card withdrawals via ATM may compare favorably to money-changers’ exchange rates if you keep your withdrawals to a minimum. At press time, every withdrawal you make using your debit card abroad will cost you a $3.50 fee. (No such fees are charged for shopping with the same card.) So keep this debit-card rule of thumb in mind: make a single withdrawal of local currency on arrival, but use it as often as you like for shopping.
Linking your debit card to your online account amounts to a debit-card power-up: balance inquiry at a foreign ATM will cost you a US$1 fee every time, while doing the same thing on your computer costs nothing. You can also use your online account to transfer funds to your debit card from other accounts, if the need arises.
Watch out for online-only airline seat sales. By far the best airline deals can be found on the airline’s own websites. “Online travel agencies aren’t really doing much to make a compelling case for customers to stick around,” says Susan Stellin, author of How to Travel Practically Anywhere (Houghton Mifflin). “In fact, they’re adding penalties and service fees that make it difficult to recommend buying from them, while the airlines are making it more attractive to shop direct.”
Social media makes it easier track airlines’ sales, which tend to be announced shortly before the sale start date. I deal with Southeast Asia travel, so I subscribe to the Twitter feeds of regional budget airlines like AirAsia, Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia, as well as Philippine-based airlines like Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, ZestAir, AirPhil Express and Seair.
Once you’ve booked your flight, you can also pay for the trip online—airline websites permit travelers to pay via credit, debit card, or via online payment gateways like BancNet Online and DragonPay; the latter can be linked as a third-person transfer account to certain online banking portals.
Load your prepaid phone online. You’re not using your smartphone to its fullest potential if you don’t use it to find awesome restaurants or attractions… but checking out the local sights on Foursquare can be very draining on your cellphone load. For greater convenience, link your cellphone to your online banking profile so reloading can be done in a snap, without having to stop at a sari-sari store.
If you’re traveling abroad, do not use your home line to roam—roaming charges can add up, particularly if you’re using data-driven services. Instead, buy a prepaid line in the destination country, load up, and use that to call or surf to your heart’s content.