We recently took two weeks to explore New Zealand’s North Island. If you haven’t yet checked out what we did, you can read about our first week’s adventures around Taupo and Wellington, then our second week’s doings around Rotorua, Waitomo and Auckland. As we all know, wonderful holidays often aren’t free. This time I will be detailing how we saved (and wasted) money while travelling through New Zealand’s North Island. Hopefully you will be able to learn from our failures, as well as come away with some ideas for saving.
I’m a planner. I like to have lists to tick off, and plenty of time to organise. That wasn’t the case for this holiday. Due to life circumstances, we ended up beginning to plan only about 3 weeks beforehand. For those of you that like to live on the edge, that might seem like tonnes of time! For me, trying to do it on top of daily life that continues to happen, it was not my ideal situation.
This topic could be an entire post on its own. Luckily for me, Miss Money Box has already written one! You can pop across to learn about travel money options in her Foreign Currency Fundamentals post. We decided to take some cash, and use a credit card.
Waste: We didn’t leave ourselves enough time to be able to watch the cash markets and buy under the most favourable conditions. The best I could do was get online and comparison shop our local currency exchange agencies for the rate of the day. Honestly, there wasn’t much between them – about $NZ13 between the best and the worst.
Lesson: As soon as you plan on visiting a country, begin to get a feel for the exchange rates. This will allow you to purchase when the prices become more favourable, or when it looks like they about to rise. Alternatively, you may benefit from the equivalent of dollar cost averaging, if you have the time.
We got rid of all credit cards a few years back, deciding to use debit cards only. However, the fees associated with using cards overseas can really add up. Also, I’m wary of placing my everyday bank account cards in foreign ATMs. There shouldn’t be any higher risk in NZ than in Australia, but it would be a lot more painful to sort out if skimming did occur. Note that these are different to the travel money cards that allow you to pre-purchase a set amount of foreign currency and place it on a card.
Save: I had been seeing advertisements for travel credit cards that promised no foreign transaction fees. I used comparison sites to delve into the particulars (this site gives a detailed breakdown of what to look for), and chose the 28 Degrees Platinum MasterCard. I wanted a card without an annual fee, with an interest-free period. The lack of a rewards program didn’t concern me. The interest rate wasn’t an issue, as the card would be paid off well in advance of interest being charged. It was easy to apply for (too easy?) – just fill in the form. A couple of days later, I received a phone call. Before leaving we put a couple of charges on the card, and paid them off, just to make sure that I understood how everything worked.
Note: This card will only let you make payments every 3 to 5 days. While this wouldn’t normally be an issue, we reached a point where we had put a lot of charges on to the card in a short period, and needed to free up some credit. I couldn’t pay the card off because I’d already made a payment in the last 3 days. This issue could have been avoided by having a greater credit limit than we thought we’d need, which I will do before we take our next holiday. Obviously this is not recommended if you do not pay your credit card off in full each month.
A further bonus of this card is that we can use it at home for all of our online purchases from other countries, including online subscriptions. I used to get so annoyed seeing the small monthly charges tacked on to services.
Lesson: Consider both convenience and cost of taking money overseas. Make sure you have more than one source available, in case something goes wrong!
Waste: Booking so soon before our trip. The circumstances didn’t allow me to compare price changes over time, however flights generally get more expensive closer to the flight date. Also, I couldn’t keep a watch out for airline sales.
Save: The Entertainment Book has 5% off Virgin gift vouchers. They are digital, so I was able to order them, then pay for our flights with the gift voucher. Yes, we probably could have flown with a cheaper budget carrier, but this is not something that either Mr. ETT or I are prepared to do. We were looking for the best savings we could find on the carriers we were willing to travel with.
Save: We didn’t pay for a meal on the plane. It’s only a 3½ hour flight. Instead, I packed our good old Weetbix breakfast biscuits, cashews and raisins. We declared them going through customs, and were allowed to keep them.
Lesson: Leave plenty of time to plan ahead and take advantage of discounted flights or other sales.
Waste: Going to New Zealand in a period that incorporates Easter, ANZAC Day, school holidays, AND the World Masters Games! When we initially booked annual leave from work, we were going to Japan. I’d scoped the cheapest airfares and the Easter weekend fitted the bill nicely. By switching to New Zealand, we were booking accommodation at public holiday prices. Also, a lot of places we were interested in were already booked out, particularly in Auckland with the World Masters Games. We didn’t even realise this was the case until we arrived.
Lesson: Research whether the country you are visiting has holidays, celebrations, or is hosting a large event at the time you are planning to visit.
Save: We broadened our research beyond the traditional car rental companies and discovered there are many offering much cheaper rates than the standard price. Of course we want reliability as well, both in the company and the car we got, so it wasn’t purely about a race to the bottom cost-wise. After due diligence, we decided to rent through Hitch Car Rentals. The price we got was approximately half of that at the larger, well-known companies for the two-week period.
Save: Not paying for a GPS along with car hire. I have an older Garmin GPS for my car. We checked, and found out that they offer maps for New Zealand, at no extra cost. A quick update, and we were good to go.
Waste: Our flight out of Australia was delayed by 2 hours because our plane had a flat tyre. We weren’t worried – we were just beginning our adventure, we didn’t have a connecting flight to miss, nor did we have to be anywhere at a particular time once we got there. When we arrived, we made our way to a phone as instructed, and called the number for a pickup. The answering machine said to leave a message, and they would call us back. They didn’t. We went out to the meet-up point, and watched a hundred other passengers get picked up by at least 10 different car companies. We called again. And again. We looked in their website – nothing. After about an hour, we had to accept the fact they were closed, and make our own way to the hotel.
Save: We approached a taxi to take us. He kindly pointed us to an airport bus that did the rounds of airport hotels, for only $6.50 each.
Waste: To buy a ticket for the airport bus, you had to use a machine. Credit card = surcharge. Cash = exact change only, or the machine keeps the rest. We hadn’t purchased anything yet, so didn’t have any coins. Surcharge it was.
Waste: The next day we looked up where the Hitch pickup point was. It turned out to be less than 1km from our hotel! When the hotel staff heard what we were doing, they offered to keep our cases for us while we walked to get the car. I thought that was really considerate of them, so we took advantage. When we picked up the car, we had been marked as a no-show. We did waste one day’s hire (and stress!), but it was still less than $27, well minimal. Also, if we had looked up the location of Hitch compared to our hotel, we could have arranged to save a day’s hire in the first place.
Save: On our initial booking, we had decided to pay a daily rate to minimise the out-of-pocket excess to $350. This is because with rental cars, you are on the hook for any damage, not just damage caused by you. If a drunken, drug-addled 103 year old has stolen an armoured carrier and happens to dent the car – too bad, you need to cover the excess. This coverage added $9.95 per day, so $140 over the two-week hire period. At the time, we had hired the car before arranging our travel insurance. When I eventually found travel insurance, I realised that the policy we bought covered a hire car excess up to $6,000.
After we finally arrived to pick up the car, on the spur of the moment I renegotiated the daily rate so we would be liable for the full $2,000 excess. While that saved us overall, I’m not sure whether it was worth it. As soon as we sat in the car, we were both anxious about what would happen if we had an accident. We certainly have the $2,000 in our emergency account, but can you imagine the hassle of putting in a claim? And how likely is it to be denied on a technicality? I didn’t stop thinking about the possibility of $2,000 while driving until well into the second week of our holiday. I don’t think I would take this option again. Insurance is meant to be about peace of mind, and I certainly didn’t have that.
Lesson: Search for alternatives to the bigger, established companies. Consider whether you really need all the added extras. Think hard about the amount of excess you are willing to pay in case of damage.
Waste: We hopped in the car to go to the Weta workshop in Wellington… and it wouldn’t start. Nothing. Nada. Barely even a click. We hadn’t driven for a couple of days. I have to confess, our first thought was “this is what we get for hiring a cheap car company”. To their credit, they had explained what happened if we had a breakdown, and the number for the AA was inside the windscreen. We had all the necessary details at hand to give the AA, we were safely parked in a car park, and we had nowhere we needed to be in a rush.
As we were on the phone to the AA woman, assuring her that no lights were left on, or any other reason we could see for a flat battery, Mr. ETT happened to glance up. There it was – the tiny internal light switch in the “on” position. We confessed that it was indeed our fault after all (sorry Hitch!), which at least pretty much confirmed the flat battery theory. A friendly AA man turned up quickly, tested and charged the battery, and had a really good conversation with us, giving us some local tips on where to visit. The downside – we were responsible for the call-out fee of $90. The AA man also told us that the battery had a dead cell, and that we should mention it when we returned the car. He gave us a printout with the details to give to Hitch on our return.
Bonus – because of the flat battery, we needed to take the car for a good, long run to make sure it charged properly. This took us out along the coastline of Wellington, which isn’t somewhere we would have thought about visiting. It was a lovely drive, with the only disadvantage being that we couldn’t stop driving to take a longer look! All up, it was actually a good experience.
Save: When we returned the car, I was hesitant about mentioning the battery, because I was scared it would somehow result in extra charges for us. I waited until everything had been signed off and we were about to leave before I bought it up. It wasn’t quite the case of “ohbythewaythebatteryhasadeadcell” and throwing the report at the customer service officer, but it almost felt that way. Well, shame on me yet again (sorry Hitch!). I was thanked for letting them know, and they refunded the call-out fee that we had paid, because we had saved them from a potential issue when the next person hired the car. Honestly FTW! (And Mrs. ETT needs to change her discriminatory thoughts towards car rental businesses).
Save: A lot of driving means a lot of petrol. And boy can petrol become expensive in New Zealand. Some towns we drove through had it at nearly $2/litre. For reference, our 98 Unleaded has been hovering around $1.14. We did some small grocery shops on holiday, and picked up receipts with vouchers for 6c/L off petrol. No, it’s not a lot, but when we looked around, the petrol stations offering the discount already had the same or even better rates than competitors.
Waste: When booking the holiday, I looked at prices for flights from both Auckland and Wellington. It was more expensive to fly in and out of Wellington, so I chose Auckland for arriving AND departing. Here’s a direct quote from my diary of the trip: “So, after yesterday’s driving, I was over it. Sitting in a car for 3 hours a day is no more fun on holidays than it is commuting. It’s just that you go longer distances because you aren’t sitting in traffic.” By trying to save money on flights, I committed us to travelling up and down the island. It would have been much more valuable from a time, and possibly petrol perspective, to fly in at the top, then meander our way to the bottom.
Waste: Paying for parking at the hotel in Auckland. I tried searching for parking stations nearby, but they all had daily rates that were at least as expensive as the hotel. We did consider returning the car early, then making our way to the airport via public transport, but ultimately decided we would rather have the convenience of a car for three days we were in the city. This one really grated, but these are the costs when staying in the middle of a major city, and based on our decision, I just had to suck it up.
Lesson: Consider the amount of internal travel you will be doing on a holiday. See if there are better options for getting around. Look on a map to view distances between your accommodation and places such as car hire pickup, airport, petrol stations and grocery shops.
Waste: Regular readers will be totally unsurprised to hear that the biggest single expense on our holiday (after accommodation) was food. We pretty much ate out or got takeaway the whole holiday.
Save: The nuts and dates I packed helped us while waiting for our delayed plane, because weren’t tempted to pay airport prices for food. They also came in handy at the other end when we were waiting for a rental car that would never come. Having the snacks available was a lifesaver, as an empty stomach compounds stress.
Save: We only ate a maximum of 2 meals a day. On a couple of days, I only ate one. Fruit and nuts helped to fill in the gaps, but the restaurant meals were so big and rich, we didn’t need too much.
Save: When we did eat out, we looked to see what was available from the Entertainment Book. I bought all three books for the North Island before we left, for a cost of $90. We recouped this within the first week, and ended up saving $147.17 all up, after taking into account the cost of the books. The “Near Me” functionality in the app made it super easy to see what was available locally, and we discovered some excellent places.
Waste: Some areas of New Zealand didn’t have much available in the way of Entertainment Book vouchers, so I stopped checking the book. At one place, it wasn’t until I paid at the register that I saw they were offering the book for sale. That was frustrating.
Lesson: Always carry healthy convenience foods and a bottle of tap water (if it is safe to drink). Consider accommodation that will allow you to cook your own meals occasionally.
Save: The Entertainment Book contained vouchers for a lot of tourist destinations we wanted to attend. Of course, we didn’t limit ourselves to those in the Entertainment Book, but we certainly took advantage if it was something we wanted to do.
Waste: On the night I crawled into bed saying “no more driving!”, I didn’t bother to plan what we were doing the next day. I assumed we would find something local to do in Hamilton. In the morning, Mr. ETT decided that we really didn’t want to miss out on the Glowworm caves at Waitomo. While there were vouchers in the Entertainment Book, unfortunately it was too late. All of the associated tours had already been booked. We ended up paying full price for an available tour, which was totally worth it, but a little planning could have saved us here.
Save: Walking through Auckland airport on arrival, I stopped at a stand that was full of tourist brochures, and picked up an Arrival magazine. Not only did it give us ideas of places to visit and things to do, it contained discount vouchers at the back. You could also download an app that would allow you to redeem the same vouchers. There weren’t many we were interested in, but we managed to at least pick up a free cup of coffee at Orakei Korako for Mr. ETT, and I gave the other voucher to a woman standing in the line. I never use Groupon or those other websites, but I’m beginning to think that may have been an option as well. This is something for me to consider next time.
Lesson: you’re a tourist – take advantage of what’s on offer.
Save: We asked a relative to drive us to and from the airport. Mr. ETT had driven them in previously, so they were more than happy to help. Of course, it’s the worst bloody drive. It ended up taking nearly four hours out of their day each time (insane Sydney) so we bought some duty free alcohol for them as a thank you gift.
Save: When we go away, Frank and Jelly usually board back with the breeder. He knows them, and they are familiar with the surroundings. Unfortunately, he is retiring soon, so we needed to find an alternative. We road-tested a local boarding place, which was NOT a good experience. Searching on the ‘Net, I came across Pawshake. This allows you to find local pet sitters to look after your pets. I made contact with one of several available in our suburb. She came to our house every day to feed and fuss them, for less than we were paying for board! This was totally a win/win. We got cheaper rates. Frank and Jelly got to keep the run of the house, instead of living in cages. Finally, we are supporting a local in their side hustle endeavours.
Save: the Holiday Inn at Auckland airport charges for Internet, but I couldn’t find a price anywhere. When I called down to reception to enquire, I was asked if I was a member of their loyalty program, because interest access is free for members. I said that it wasn’t, and that’s OK – it wasn’t important. The receptionist then just gave me a password for 24 hours access anyway! How good is that? Thank you Holiday Inn!
Just for fun, I wanted to show you what I purchased from my personal spending money. We are trying not to bring too much into the house any more; I think I did relatively well. I wanted to be able to identify the birds we were seeing, so a small guidebook was a helpful companion. The leather bookmark from the Lord of the Rings was impressive, and you can never have too many bookmarks! The rocks are cuttings from New Zealand greenstone, as I like to collect rocks and minerals.
I also picked up two drop-shaped pendants. Some sterling silver earring hooks will be added, then I will have made myself a pair of earrings for about $12, instead of the >$30 they were going for in the shop. I did pick up a couple of pairs of sterling silver studs, in the shape of fern fronds, and the koru, which represents an unfurling fern. Finally, I will use the small bar of rotorua soap, so that’s one less item in the house.
Honestly, I’m sure I could keep writing, but this has turned into an epic post already. I hope that you have gained some ideas on saving (or at least not wasting) money next time you travel.
Have you got any tips for saving money the next time we go travelling overseas? Please share in the comments.