I would recommend the Club Carlson credit card. Club Carlson is a hotel chain not as big as the others listed but they are Country Inn and Suites and the Radisson hotels. If you sign up for the credit card you can get as much as 85,000 points, 50k of those for making one purchase the other 35k for spending $2,500 in the first 90 days. The card carries a $75 annual fee but you receive 40,000 points every year plus if you spend $10k during the previous year you receive a free night certificate for any US hotel in the chain. You also get 5 points for each dollar you spend on the card.
The great thing is a decent number of hotels which are only 15k points a night. The hotel across the street from Carowinds for instance. There is a hotel next to Disney World, and one at the Orlando airport both 15k a night (stay at the airport it is a much nicer hotel).
If you visit Orlando I also recommend the Starwood Credit Card. 25,000 points sign up bonus with a $3,000 spend but there are two hotels in Orlando which are only 4k points a night during the week and 3k on weekends so you can get as many as 8 nights with the sign up bonus alone. There are plenty of other lower point hotels but none I can think of close to theme parks.
There are forums and sites devoted to points churning. If you don't know what that is, then probably learn soon.
The most basic advice possible is sometimes best:
-If you are a healthy adult under the age of 50 and living in the United States of America, travel insurance is almost always a waste of money. Period. It is intended to protect you in the instance of cancellation based on a set of criteria that is frankly difficult to meet. If you've never spent real time reviewing contractual language in your life, spend a little before checking off "yes" on any travel site's insurance offer. The reason they love you to buy it is because it is free money and requires an enormous number of hoops to clear in order to see it pay out any sum, if they will at all.
-Stick to a single hotel chain if possible and not churning, and take advantage of promotions that offer free nights. No brainer.
-See if your employer or an organization that you're part of participates with any specific travel partners. I can't tell you how many times I've reaped the benefits of this in rental cars because of my employer's relationship with National and Enterprise. So, so many.
-The absolute cheapest trip you can book is the one you book and research yourself. This isn't for everyone. I know it. I get it. But there's no commission to pay on a trip you book entirely on your own. You can go anywhere anytime and eat anything because you plan it, you book it, and you pay for it. The second you have a tour guide of any kind, YOU WILL PAY A PREMIUM. You may like this a lot! You may not want to plan minutae! Lots of people don't. But if you want the cheapest trip possible, you have to throw yourself into it headlong. No two ways about it.
I am a huge fan of Speedway Gas Stations. I'm always stopping in before/after work for food/drinks and fuel. Overall I find a good chunk of their stations are clean and well stocked. Basically, I'm doing this anyways.
By using their rewards card, I'm able to accumulate about 100k points/year. A $100 fuel card costs 102k points. By cashing in my points I can pay my share of fuel on 2-3 trips/year. It's also nice when I pay with the fuel card and whomever I'm traveling with pays their share in cash.
My wife and I have recently (the last year or so) gotten into doing the whole Credit Card and points game. We got the sign on bonuses for both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards in the last year or so (and really, 2 cards and sign on bonuses is not that much in the credit card circles), and those sign on bonuses alone have covered 3 round trip flights (one to the Middle East and 2 to Spain) with about $500 worth of points left over. Obviously, messing around with credit cards is not for everyone, but if you have good credit and are somewhat financially responsible, the travel perks can be outstanding.
Also, since we're able to book the lions share of our travel through points, we've stopped getting miles for our flights because the tickets are considered discounted, meaning we've had a good amount of airline miles that have become effectively useless unless we started redeeming them - so we've been booking hotels with those, which has been a nice change. It's been well worth it to us to use our airline miles for hotels rather than waiting to rack up enough to get a free flight, which usually comes with a ton of stipulations.
I think budget airlines are great. Even if you start paying for extras, you're still saving boatloads. I book a lot of flights for my job (mostly international), and the best thing you can do is keep flexible dates. If you're booking longer international flights, you can usually lower the prices by booking in multiple legs, especially if you're not near a major international hub. For instance, I live near ATL. Flights from ATL to Southeast Asia are typically pretty expensive, but every once in a while, China Southern Airlines has dirt cheap flights from Chicago to Bangkok. So booking a cheap flight from ATL to Chicago round trip, and then an additional flight from Chicago to Bangkok can potentially save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Look for flights between major hubs, and then tack on shorter legs to smaller or less major destinations and you can usually get some pretty great deals. It's a little more complicated but can be well worth it.
I haven't personally flown WOW, but I know you can get long stopovers in Iceland, which is a nice plus.
^I ended up doing what you did by splitting up flights to save money. I needed to fly from Barcelona to Toronto, but the only available flights were SUPER expensive and usually had 1-2 long layovers. I ended up booking a cheap flight from Barcelona to Paris for about $100 or so on Iberia, then a flight on WOW from Paris to Toronto (with a layover in Iceland) for about $200. Whenever anyone asks me for help with booking airfare, I always tell them to check out multiple airports they wouldn't usually think of. Sometimes the savings is worth it!
As for WOW Air, I have yet to fly them, but I will in September. I have several friends who have flown on it and they love it! As long as you know what to expect beforehand (such as baggage fees, only a free personal item, etc) then you won't have issues. They said the seats were comfy, there were USB ports in their seats to power their electronics, and the service was fine. I've noticed that WOW doesn't usually have cheap fares if you do a basic search. However, they're always running promotions if you subscribe to their email newsletter. Like I said, I paid only $200 one-way, Paris > Toronto. I'm not gonna have too many complaints when the fares are that cheap. It's definitely not for everyone, but for those who wanna see the world but don't have the means to do so, the options are getting better!
i've always booked hotels on Hotwire, Priceline, etc. i do a lot of research on what hotels i most likely will get. so, most of the time, not taking huge risks while still getting a deal much better than direct. isn't always easy though depending on where you're going.
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