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 make travel 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 like the Capital One Venture Rewards card or the Discover It Miles card.
You’ll earn points/miles for every purchase made with these cards, plus you can get a really nice bonus when you sign up. Right now Capital One is offering 50,000 miles (equal to $500) as a sign up bonus for the Venture Rewards card.
Cash back credit cards are an alternative to travel rewards cards. For example, the Citi Double Cash card will give you 2% cash back for all purchases (1 percent when you buy, 1 percent when you pay the bill).
Other cards like the Discover It Cash Back 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. Discover will also match all of the cash back you earn during your first year, which means you can earn up to 10% cash back on your purchases in the first year!
For more on how to maximize your rewards, please see my article 11 Ways to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards.
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 used to keep all of our savings in a Capital One 360 savings account. Recently we moved the majority of it to a money market account at CIT because the interest rate is significantly better, but we still do have some in savings at Capital One. So far 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. Capital One is also good, but the interest rate is not as high as CIT. If you do want to open up a Capital One savings account use this link and you’ll get a $25 bonus.
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.
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 Ebates (create a free Ebates account if you don’t already have one), and then click through to browse Hotels.com. You can earn 4% cash back from Ebates (currently, but that amount could change) for purchases you make at Hotels.com.
- Use a good cash back credit card like the Citi Double Cash 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 for the Citi Double Cash card if you prefer.
8. Get on Email Lists
I know, none of us want to get more email. But some of the best deals are sent out by email, and if you want to know about them you should sign up for some email lists. This includes airlines, hotels, and booking sites. My favorite email list is the weekly top deals from Travelzoo.
Pick a few sites that you like to use and join their email lists, and be sure to consider your own preferences and habits. If you like to take cruises, be sure to sign up for at least one email list that specializes in cruise deals.
9. Use Social Media
This is similar to the previous point, but in addition to email lists, many travel companies share deals through their social media profiles. Be sure to follow and like them so you will have a better chance of seeing their promotions in the future.
10. Travel Off-Peak or Shoulder Seasons
Prices in the travel industry will vary widely throughout the year. If you are willing to travel at off-peak or should seasons you can save loads of money. Another benefit is you can avoid the worst crowds by traveling at these times.
The specific peak and off-peak dates will vary depending on where you want to go, but in many cases the summer will be peak season because kids are out of school. Shoulder seasons are between peak and off-peak, when the crowds are a little smaller than at peak, but still busier than off-peak.
There will be several factors that you’ll want to consider, like weather and the types of activities that you want to do. Of course, for some activities you’ll need to travel in a specific season or time of year. But when that is not the case, make an effort to find out when the peak season is, and avoid it.
11. Take Advantage of Free Days
Many attractions like museums and national parks have a few days throughout the year where you can get free or deeply discounted admission. Of course, the crowds will be larger on these days, but it may allow you to afford an event that would otherwise be a stretch financially.
Check the events calendars or do a Google search to try to find free or discounted dates at attractions that you are considering visiting. If you’re traveling with the whole family the savings really add up!
12. Rent from Owners
Sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and Home Away make it possible to find savings on accommodations by renting from homeowners. In most cities and at most popular destinations you can find a lot of variety from large houses, to condos, to single rooms. In many cases you can find a better price and stay someplace more comfortable than if you went to a major chain. Renting from an owner is also a great option if you want to have a more authentic stay and experience more of what locals experience.
Paying for accommodations is one of the biggest parts of any travel budget. One of the best ways to save money in this area is to camp. You can rent a campsite very inexpensively at many locations, and some places you can even camp for free.
In addition to saving money, camping can also be a lot of fun. Head to a state park or national park and you’ll have plenty to see and do without spending very much money.
14. Become a House Sitter
Serving as a house sitter is a great way to get a free place to stay. Homeowners who will be out of town may be happy to allow you to stay in their home for safety and security reasons while they are out of town.
You can either talk to friends and family who live in different places and see if they would be interested in having you house sit while they are out of town, or find opportunities at sites like HouseSitter.com and MindMyHouse.
15. Do a Home Exchange
A home exchange is very similar to house sitting. Basically you would be staying at someone else’s house while they stay at yours, and you’d both benefit from free accommodations. Sites like Home Exchange and Love Home Swap make it possible to make these arrangements.
16. Rent a Bike
A car rental can be a big expense when you are traveling. Depending on where you are traveling and who you are with, you may be able to save a lot of money by renting a bike instead of a car. In cities and urban areas bikes are a great way to get around.
17. Take Public Transportation
Public transportation is another great alternative to renting a car. In most cities you can take a train, a subway, a bus, a taxi, or Uber to get anywhere you need to go with no need to rent a car or worry about parking.
18. Take Your Own Food
Food is another big expense for travel and vacations, especially if you’re with the whole family. Eating every meal at restaurants will seriously jack up the total cost of your trip, even if you’re avoiding expensive restaurants.
Instead, bring your own food with you or go to a grocery store once you arrive at your destination. On our family vacations we tend to eat one meal at a restaurant most days, and use our own food for all other meals and snacks.
You can also save money by eating at restaurants for lunch instead of dinner, since many places have specials and lower prices on the lunch menu.
If you’re taking a road trip, take a few minutes and pack lunches before you head out. You’ll save money and most likely save some time as well since your stops will be shorter. With our kids, any time we stop for a meal it turns into a long stop. If we pack lunch we can all eat in the car and then stop only long enough to use the restroom and stretch our legs.
19. Avoid Eating in Touristy Areas
Restaurants in touristy areas are almost always more expensive than other locations. If you’re in a very popular location you can usually walk just a few blocks from the main areas and find food that is considerably cheaper.
20. Find Free Activities and Entertainment
No matter where you are, there is a good chance that you can find some fun activities that are free. I already mentioned free days at places like museums and national parks, but there are plenty of other options for those other 364 days out of the year.
Many free activities are outdoors, which can also be great for exercise and for seeing the sites of the area you’re visiting. Hiking trails, beaches (some of them anyway), and parks are all great options for free, fun activities. Do a little bit or research ahead of your trip and find the best free activities in areas that you’ll be visiting.
Excellent Travel Websites
Now that we’ve looked at the tips for saving money, I want to showcase some of the best websites that will help you to find great deals and save money on your own travel. Of course, there are many other sites than I can cover here, so feel free to leave a comment with a recommendation for other travel-related sites that you use.
Travelzoo – Travelzoo is one of my favorite sites, and has been for years. You can search for deals on travel to specific locations, or just browse their Top 20 to find the best deals. I recommend their email list.
Hotels.com – Hotels.com is my favorite site for booking hotels. They have a great selection, excellent prices, lots of reviews from real users, and a rewards program that allows you to earn rewards (towards a free night) regardless of which hotels you stay at. They also offer great customer service. A few months ago we had reservations for a hotel and when we got there it was so dirty (even after being moved to a 2nd room) that we decided to just leave and stay somewhere else. I called Hotels.com and they refunded the payment even on a reservation that was booked as non-refundable.
Ebates – Ebates isn’t exclusively a travel site, but you can earn cash back from purchases made at many different travel sites, including Hotels.com and Travelzoo. Ebates is so easy, there is really no reason not to use it. Plus, they’ll give you a $10 bonus if you sign up through this link.
Raise – Raise is another site that is not exclusively travel focused, but there are some great opportunities to save on your travel. At Raise you can buy gift cards for less than face value. Other people can list their unwanted gift cards, which is why you can buy them at a discounted rate. But don’t worry, Raise guarantees all gift cards for a full year. You can find gift cards for restaurants, hotels, and even some airlines. The gift cards for many restaurants sell for 5 – 20% below face value, and some even for bigger discounts. I’ve bought many gift cards at Raise and I love the site. If you use this link you can get $5 off your first purchase of $50 or more.
Deal Base – Deal Base is an excellent site for finding cheap prices on flights, hotels, rental cars, and vacation packages. You can search by location, or browse the top deals on the home page.
Couchsurfing – Couchsurfing is a website that helps match travelers with locals. As a traveler you can find hosts that will let you stay with them for free. Not only will you save money, but you’ll get to meet people and an authentic experience of the local culture.
Secret Flying – At Secret Flying you’ll find some of the best deals available on flights. You can search or browse the top deals.
The Flight Deal – The Flight Deal is another site that publishes some of the best deals on flights. Their site also serves as an aggregator for hotels and car rentals.
Rome2rio – Rome2rio is a unique a site that shows you the different options, and prices, for getting from one city to another “by plane, train, bus, ferry and automobile”.
Skiplagged – With the help of Skiplagged you can save money on flights using loopholes in airline pricing. For example, if you want to fly from New York to San Francisco you may find the cheapest flight to be from New York to Seattle, with a layover in San Francisco. Instead of continuing on to Seattle you would exit in San Francisco.
Award Wallet – Rewards, cash back, and frequent flyer programs are great, but tracking all of them can be a challenge. With Award Wallet you can track them from one place.
Price Comparison Sites – There are a lot of different sites that help you to compare prices on flights, hotels, and rental cars so you can find the best deals. There are some differences between these sites, but in general they exist to help you save money, so I won’t write details about each one individually. Here is a list of some of the best comparison sites.
Put it Into Action
Take a few of the tips covered in this article and put them into action to start saving money on your travels. If you don’t already have a good travel rewards or cash back credit card, you can start there.
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