I once vacationed in Hawaii for two weeks and paid almost nothing for the first-class flights and lodging.
I think it’s the best travel bargain I’ve ever managed, but it was not magic. I got the best deal by using multiple travel tricks that are always worth checking out when you’re planning something big. They can often defray your costs significantly.
However, to save money on travel, you need to plan ahead so that you have time to explore the options, adjust your timing if necessary, and apply coupons and rewards.
Here are steps to take that will get you low-cost or no-cost vacations:
1. Snag a credit card with rewards points
You can look through more than a dozen categories, including:
- Travel rewards
- Cash back
- Gas rewards
- No annual fee
- 0 percent APR
When you consider which credit card rewards program makes the most sense to you, don’t forget to factor in the miles you will receive if you are approved for the card and make purchases. I have two credit cards that reward me for purchases with airline miles. Of course, I pay off the cards at the end of each month. That way, I never pay interest.
2. Be flexible on dates
Being flexible with your travel dates can save you money. There are no hard-and-fast rules here. One recent study suggested that booking 70 days out often will get you the best deal. But even that study warns you not to put too much stock in one guesstimate.
Keeping your eyes peeled for deals — and maintaining a schedule flexible enough to take advantage of these bargains — is probably the best approach.
3. Consider different airport options
I generally look at flight options and prices for all three airports in my area. For my Hawaii trip, the best option was to fly out of one airport and return to another.
In some parts of the country, flights that connect you to major air hubs can be disproportionately expensive. So, if you have the time, consider renting a car and driving to and from the larger hub at the start and end of your journey.
4. Book the flight and hotel at the same time
Consider booking your flight and hotel or rental car together. Such package deals save you a bundle.
Are you looking for an affordable adventure for your family? Check out our travel deals page, powered by ShermansTravel.
5. Price shop for hotels
Also, avoid unpleasant surprises by looking at this article: “12 Tips for Avoiding Ridiculous Hotel Fees.”
6. Consider a hostel
Hostel lodging varies. You might book a private room and bath, a shared room and bath, or some combination of those. It might seem like a hassle to figure out how hostels work, but lodging priced from $22 a night makes it worth many people’s time. Scope out options on a site like HostelBookers and Hostelworld.
7. Rent a house, room or apartment
You have plenty of private space, and the prices are often surprisingly low. I’ve rented entire homes for less than half the price of a hotel room. When traveling internationally, you also can often get a richer experience of the culture by renting homes or rooms from individuals rather than going to a large hotel chain.
For many more ideas about lodging deals, check out “10 Ways to Score Free Lodging for Your Next Vacation.”
8. Eat in
Dining is a major expense on any vacation. One of the reasons I enjoy renting a home is because most have full kitchens, so I can eat in and save big. Even if I’m staying in a hotel, though, I try to book a room with a small refrigerator. When I get to town, I go to the local discount store and stock up on groceries.
When I was in Paris, I used to stop by a tiny grocery every night to buy cheese, crackers and other goodies to have for dinner. Those were some of the most relaxing meals I had there.
9. Think twice about souvenirs
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and plunk down a lot of cash for knickknacks that end up in your next garage sale. If you must buy a souvenir, avoid buying them at the airport or shops located right next to major tourist sites. Instead, ask locals for recommendations to get the best prices and most authentic art and collectibles. As for trinkets you see in tourist shops, you might find the same products for less at a neighborhood drugstore.
10. Stay with friends
Staying at someone’s home for even one day can save you hundreds of dollars. Of course, this option tends to be easier for singles or couples. Groups and kids might be too much for a friend or relative to handle.
Check well in advance to see if that standing invitation to stay “anytime” is still valid. And bring a thoughtful gift for your host.
My mother-in-law loves the Washington, D.C., area, where I live. She jumps at the chance to house-sit when we are out of town. She gets free lodging, and we get peace of mind knowing someone is here to keep an eye on the house. Plus, she pet-sits for us, so that saves us cash, too.
Of course, not everyone has a friend or relative who needs house-sitting. That’s where matchmaking services for house-sitters and pet-sitters come in handy. Check out sites like Rover.com and Thumbtack.com.
12. Pack light for flights
Airlines often charge travelers a fee to check luggage, so it may pay to pack light when flying.
For advice from a seasoned light-packing traveler, check out Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson’s tips in “Ask Stacy: How Can You Go to Europe for 10 Days With Just a Carry-On?”
13. Use coupons and discounts
It’s exciting to explore museums, restaurants and nightlife in a new town. But ask the hotel concierge for coupons or specials, or check with locals on ways to save.
I’ve saved 50 percent on everything from dinner theaters to concerts just by cutting coupons out of local newspapers and travel guides. You can also find deals electronically through sites like Restaurant.com and Groupon.
What’s your secret saving tip when you’re traveling? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.