If you’re careful with your money and prone to save, travel may feel like a luxury and an unnecessary splurge. For others, travel feels like a critical aspect of life. Regardless of your perspective it’s possible to save A LOT of money that will make travel far more affordable.
If you’ve been dreaming of a big family vacation, maybe you can make it happen by putting some of these tips into practice. And if you’re a frequent traveler, maybe you can consistently save more for other things by implementing a few of these tips.
Let’s take a look at some of the best, and most practical, ways to save money on travel and make it more affordable.
→ Related reading: 101 Practical and Realistic Ways to Save Money
How to Save Money on Travel
1. Use a Good Travel Rewards Credit Card
One the best ways to save money on travel is to sign up for, and use, a good travel rewards card. You can use one of the leading credit cards for earning travel rewards that are covered in detail on this page. You’ll earn points/miles for every purchase made with these cards, plus you can get a really nice bonus when you sign up.
Cash back credit cards are an alternative to travel rewards cards. For example, there are a few cash rewards cards that give you 2% cash back for all purchases.
Other cards like the Chase Freedom card will give you 1% cash back on all purchases, and 5% cash back on purchases in a particular category (like gas or groceries) that rotates each quarter. Chase is also currently offering a signup bonus with that card.
2. Save Up
When my wife and I were newlyweds, we set up several savings accounts for different purposes. We had an emergency fund and several separate accounts that we used to save up for things like a down payment on a house, car maintenance and future car purchases, and travel.
For us it’s really helpful to have savings that is designated for specific purposes, including vacations and travel. Having an account set aside for travel provides motivation to save since you know it will go towards something fun.
Plus, when the time comes to pay for that vacation it’s not as painful as it would be if you just pull that money out of a savings account that you use for all purposes. Pulling money out of savings can feel depressing, but if you’re only touching money that has been specifically set aside for travel there is something much less painful about it, at least for me.
We keep our money in a savings account at CIT because CIT’s interest rates are always among the leaders in the industry. I’ve been very happy with CIT and if you’re looking for a high yield savings account or money market account I highly recommend them.
3. Be Flexible
One of the biggest factors to saving money on travel is having flexibility. If you are flexible with the dates, days of the week, and times of your travel you will have a much better chance of finding some great deals. Discounted prices are often available for less desirable or less popular days and times. If you’re locked in to a particular date or time of day you will have fewer options and you’re likely to spend more.
Having flexibility in terms of where you’re traveling is also a great way to save. If you don’t have a specific location that you need to go to, you can essentially go where the deals are. Check sites like Travelzoo to see what deals are available and pick something that appeals to you and your family or friends.
For those who are able to be even more flexible, last minute travel can save you a ton of money. Airlines, hotels, resorts, and cruise lines will often discount prices at the last minute if they still have availability. Last minute travel can be difficult depending on your job and your family situation, but when it’s possible, it’s a great way to save. Sites like Travelzoo and Groupon have specific sections for last minute deals.
4. Fly Midweek
Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to have the cheapest fares for domestic flights. Many people take a week of vacation and travel to and from vacation on the weekends. Instead, you could try taking a vacation Wednesday to Tuesday or some other combination that allows you to avoid weekend flights.
5. Join a Frequent Flyer Program
Frequent flyer programs are a great way to save money and earn some rewards. If you travel on the same airline be sure that you join their program to get benefits like discounts and other perks. Nerd Wallet has a helpful article called How to Get Started with Frequent Flyer Programs.
6. Use Rewards Programs
Most hotel chains also have their own rewards program where you can earn a free night after a certain number of nights. If you tend to stay at the same hotel chains this can be a great way to build up some valuable rewards.
If you travel for business you may be able to join a program and earn rewards than can be redeemed for personal use. Several years ago when my wife was still working she traveled occasionally, and we used her rewards for a free room for 3 nights on our vacation in Florida.
Personally, I tend to stay at a lot of different hotel chains based on wherever I can find the best price. I typically book through Hotels.com and they have their own rewards program. You can earn a free night after 10 nights at any hotel booked through Hotels.com. This is an awesome rewards program if you use a lot of different hotels rather than staying at the same chain all the time.
Want More Ways to Save?
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7. Stack Your Rewards
So far I’ve mentioned a few different ways to earn cash back and rewards, and I want to point out that it’s possible to stack those rewards to get 2 or 3 times the benefit. Here is an example scenario for a hotel room:
- Go to Rakuten (create a free Rakuten account if you don’t already have one), and then click through to browse Hotels.com. You can earn 4% cash back from Rakuten (currently, but that amount could change) for purchases you make at Hotels.com.
- Use a good cash back credit card to earn 2% cash back on your purchase.
- Join the Hotels.com rewards program for free and earn a free night for every 1o nights that you stay.
In this scenario you’d get a total of 6% cash back plus earn credit towards a free night in the future. Plus, Hotels.com tends to have low prices to start with. Of course, you can also substitute a good travel rewards credit card instead of the cash rewards card if you prefer.
For a much more detailed look at this topic, please see How to Stack Rewards and Cash Back.