The holidays are upon us, which means that travel — if it is the cards for you — might be expensive. So be it. But there’s no reason to spend more than you have to.
We’ve rounded up 18 of the best tools to help you save on hotels, airfare, car rentals, meals and more. Even if you’re planning to stay at home for the holidays, there are ways to visit local attractions — and show your guests a lovely time — at a deep discount.
Keep reading to find out how to plan a holiday that will leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed rather than stressed about the cost.
Travel rewards credit cards
Whether you’re booking lodging, renting a car or buying a suitcase for your trip, use a travel rewards credit card to pay for it — making sure to pay off the balance each month — to get more for your money. Two of our favorite cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Capital One Venture. Both let you accumulate points to be redeemed for lodging, flights and travel upgrades without locking you into a specific chain or airline.
For any vacation other than a day trip, you need someplace to stay.
Hotels: For many people, traditional hotel chains with reliable amenities are the most comfortable. If that’s you, here’s how to get more for your money.
- Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors rewards: If you travel a lot and prefer specific hotels, your best bet may be to join a hotel loyalty program such as these which allow you to rack up loads of points for free nights while staying with brands you love.
- Hotels.com: If your choice of lodging is more price-driven, this site is a good option — it allows you to search both chain and independent properties and compare prices. Through the Hotels.com Rewards program, users earn a free night for every 10 nights booked through Hotels.com.
Independent lodging: If you are looking for something unique — and potentially cheaper — consider booking a home, or part of a home through one of these popular home-sharing sites.
- Airbnb: Possibly the most recognizable name in vacation rentals, Airbnb is a website that connects travelers with property owners who are renting out either single rooms or their entire house. In addition to homes of all kinds, you’ll find treehouses, houseboats and other unique options here. Airbnb Plus properties have passed an in-person inspection and are verified to meet certain minimum standards.
- Homestay.com: Operating similarly to Airbnb, Homestay.com provides options for both short-term and long-term stays at properties throughout the world. Whether you’re looking for a vacation rental or need to rent while working or studying abroad, you’ll likely find a place that catches your eye on Homestay.com.
- Vrbo (short for “Vacation Rentals by Owner”): The website of Vrbo — which has been in operation since the 1990s — is also worth a look before booking a vacation rental. Condos, cabins and beach houses can be found here, along with other homes of all kinds. Use Vrbo’s Trip Boards feature to easily choose a rental when traveling with family and friends.
They say getting there is half the fun. Regardless of whether you believe that, you’re undoubtedly going to spend some time and money traveling to your vacation spot.
If you plan to fly, try one of these tools to find the best flight possible:
- CheapOair: CheapOair is the place to go for some of the cheapest airplane tickets to be found online. The site’s simple interface makes it easy to see total travel time and whether it would be cheaper to fly on an alternative date or use a different nearby airport. The site’s Price Match Promise means that if you find the same itinerary for less elsewhere within 24 hours of booking, CheapOair will refund the difference.
- Orbitz: Use Orbitz to quickly compare prices from various airlines. The site also enables you to bundle and compare prices for multiple travel services. For instance, you can search for flights alone or flights plus hotels and/or car rentals. Through Orbitz Rewards, site visitors can earn Orbucks that can be redeemed for hotel stays and other perks.
- Priceline In addition to its Name Your Own Price feature, Priceline now also offers Express Deals. This feature promises deep discounts in exchange for not knowing which airline you’ll be flying prior to booking.
- BookingBuddy: Offered by TripAdvisor, BookingBuddy lets you do one search to see the prices available through multiple travel sites. You can also search for flight and hotel bundles that could save up to 30%. Not ready to book just yet? Enter your email address, and BookingBuddy will notify you when a cheaper fare is available.
No matter which site you use, be sure to check nearby airports and other departure and return dates to find the best deal on flights.
If you plan to drive to your vacation destination, here are two services to try:
- Turo: Forget what you know about car rentals. Turo does it all differently. It connects travelers to individuals willing to rent out their cars. While you’ll find your everyday SUVs, minivans and sedans on the site, there are plenty of more exotic options available as well. Cars can be rented for a daily fee that includes a certain number of miles and insurance coverage. Through Turo you arrange a convenient place to pick up the vehicle from the owner.
- RVshare: RVshare works on the same model as Turo except with RVs instead of cars. It’s the largest RV rental marketplace and has listings for everything from pop-ups to fully loaded motorhomes. Owners set the rates, and RVshare provides insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance.
For both staycations and trips further afield, you’ll want to find activities to fill your time. The following tools offer a way to get deep discounts on local attractions.
- Groupon and LivingSocial: These sites made a name for themselves a decade ago by offering short-lived deals at unbelievably low prices. Today, the companies remain a great way to find discounts on everything from amusement parks to museums. Groupon acquired LivingSocial a few years ago, so the deals are similar on both sites. However, it still pays to visit them both to see what they have to offer.
- CityPASS: If you’re visiting one of the 14 North American cities served by CityPASS, don’t miss out on this opportunity to save. The options in each city will be different, but the concept is the same. For a single price, you get admission to multiple city attractions such as museums, aquariums and zoos. It’s an easy way to save up to 50% on list prices.
- Restaurant.com: Tens of thousands of eateries nationwide offer deeply discounted gift certificates through this website. For instance, you may be able to buy a gift certificate that is worth $25 for only $10. Many of these offers have minimum purchase requirements — for instance, you may have to spend $15 to use a $10 certificate — but they still represent significant overall savings.
Really not feeling up to planning a vacation yourself? Then consider using a company that will package everything together and sell it to you for one low price. For affordable travel packages, this is our favorite company:
- ShermansTravel: You can shop by the best deals, destination or interests. They also have special packages for cruises, families and those looking for luxury. Whether you want to go to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean or spend a week exploring Vietnam, ShermansTravel has options for various budgets and travel styles. Best of all, they take care of all the logistics so you only have to pack your bags. For some of latest offerings, check out our offers for cruises, flights and more on ShermansTravel.
Did your favorite travel tool make the list? Tell us how you save money on vacation in the comments below or on our Facebook page.