9 Tips to Travel More and Spend Less

family of four at the airport looking out a window at a plane. Feature image for 9 Tips to Travel More and Spend Less

In the first few weeks of meeting my husband, he asked me about my screensaver on my phone. I explained that I had taken the picture of that beach nearly 15 years prior, and it had been my screensaver ever since. I told him how much I loved living on the Florida panhandle, and how I wish I could go back and visit. His response? “Sounds like 15 years is long enough; let’s go.” 

But, travel isn’t cheap. How do people afford to travel? Between the cost of getting there, the hotel, the food, and the things to do… you have to be borderline wealthy to travel. Right? Wrong. My husband and I take about 4-6 trips a year. Some with our kids, and some on our own. We once flew (off season) our family of five to New York City—for free.

So, how do we manage to travel more and spend less?

9 Tips to Travel More and Spend Less

1. Play the credit card game.

I know what you are thinking: I don’t need another credit card. I get it. However, if you learn how to play the game, you get all the rewards and none of the penalties.

The first time I did this, I was on a flight and they were advertising a 0% credit card and 50,000 bonus miles when you opened a card. I decided to go for it. I got my card and followed the rules—I had to spend $1,500 in the first three months.

Now, I was not using this to go into debt. So, I opened it up, used it for my monthly spending, and once I hit the $1,500, I immediately made a payment. After I received my bonus, I closed the card, and pocketed those miles for a rainy day. There are limits, of course. For example, if you’ve already had a card in the last two years, you can’t do it again.

So shop around, find a card that gives you the most bang for your buck (and without that pesky yearly fee—if there is a fee, I’m out!). Oh, and both you and your spouse should do this. We routinely rotate so that one of us is always accumulating miles somehow.

Traveling Solo: How and Why You Need to Just Go for It2. Timing is everything.

When we are researching a place to go, we begin with looking at the travel seasons for that particular area. For example, we have a trip scheduled to Costa Rica. When researching the area, we found that the rainy season is deeply discounted. I get it—rainy season doesn’t sound very good. But, as we talked to friends that had visited, they assured us that rainy season isn’t a wash-out. It just means there is some rain each day, much like when I lived in Florida. The advantage is that plane tickets and resort stays are deeply discounted, and there are fewer people. My friend told me that they had the whole place to themselves, which means they got amazing service.

3. Combine those bonuses with your miles—and be open-minded!

So how did we land on Costa Rica? When we decided to book this trip, it was when I was sitting on about 100,000 miles. We know we get antsy in February when it’s cold and we are craving a vacation. So we decided to see where we could go with our miles.

By being open-minded, you can get the most bang for your buck. My current mileage bank was with American, so I googled American Airlines mileage map. From here, you can enter where you want to go and your mileage amount and a date range. As the map populated, I zoomed in on warm areas that we might be interested in. A roundtrip flight to Brazil was 40,000 miles, Hawaii 40,000, and some spots in the Bahamas and Caribbean were about 25,000. Costa Rica? 18,000 miles each. Winner-winner-chicken-dinner! And… I still had about 60,000 miles to spend!

4. Use travel rewards.

We don’t use this one as often, but there are some cash perks to be had on travel cards. For example, we opened one of the bonus cards above just to meet the minimum to get the mileage. However, they were offering a huge cash-back bonus when you use it on travel (be careful here though, it can be very specific!) We had another trip on the books that we are slowly paying for, so my husband decided to use this card to pay a big chunk of it (and then immediately pay it off!) and received about $700 in cash-back upon redemption.

So what did we do? When we booked our hotel in Costa Rica, he used that card, and then immediately applied the bonus. Not only were our flights free, but now our hotel cost was cut in half!

5. Planning.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is plan ahead! Our daughter is graduating high school next year, and the gift we give our kids is a trip of their choice (within reason—my son thinks we are going to the Super Bowl when he graduates. Nope. Not happening! Those ticket prices are nuts).

She wanted to go to some small islands in Greece, but the more I began researching and planning, I knew that these islands were going to require a cruise, and European cruises are not cheap! But by planning and booking the trip a full two years ahead of time, we were able to pay it a bit at a time.

Did the cruise line have a reward card? Yes. Was theirs worth it? No. Our biggest money saver was booking it early. We also set a price alert, because if it drops, you are entitled to that drop. It has not dropped. In fact, it has gone up about $3,000 dollars! Booking early for this trip was key.

6. Book local, and ask for a discount.

Maybe you can’t go in the off-season—after all, it’s pretty hard to go skiing in June! We have learned that we often can find better rates and more comfortable accommodations if we stay at a local VRBO or Airbnb. Not only that, but if it is a place you regularly go, they often will offer a discount when you return to stay with them.

Another benefit to working with locals is they often will offer military, first responder, and student discounts, not to mention amazing service. We are returning to our favorite ski lodge this winter and booking in the “early-off-season,” which means there will be skiing, but likely half of the runs will not be operational yet. We booked early so we snagged the rate before they increased. And they gave us 10% off for rebooking directly with them.

7. Use gift cards.

Simple Guidelines for Traveling with Kids and How to Enjoy It

This is not always an option, but can be a great tool. If you know what restaurants you will eat at (usually needs to be a chain for this to work) you can:

A.) use credit card points and redeem for gift cards
B.) Buy your gift cards from someplace like Sam’s Club, where you can buy them at a discount
C.) Buy gift cards during bonus seasons like Christmas

Bonus season is my favorite. I know I am going to eat there anyway, so why not buy them when they are offering a free $10 with each $50 gift card you buy? Gift cards also work for things like Disney and cruises. You can often buy discounted gift cards through AAA, your insurance company, or AARP! My husband does this for cruising—he buys the cruise gift cards at a 10% discount through AARP. And no, you don’t have to be a member!

8. Travel with friends.

Traveling with a family is expensive. While we love them, sometimes as I plan all I see are $$$ above their pretty little heads. Not all trips need to be with family. Take advantage of super cheap travel when you go with friends. Not to mention that friend time is good for the soul. There is something about traveling with friends that allows you to be a bit more flexible than you normally would be.

That flexibility allows for some pretty nice discounts. I once took a trip to NYC with 6 friends where we drove there, got two hotels rooms, ate family style, and split it all six ways. We bought day-of tickets to Broadway shows because they were cheap—we had to stand in line for 2 hours, which something I would not be willing to do with my family in tow, but with friends taking turns for coffee or a stroll, it was enjoyable!

9. Keep an eye on companion deals.

I won’t say what airline, but when you open up their card and complete the bonus, you’ll have enough miles to reach the companion level. What does that mean? Basically for two calendar years (time this one carefully!) you can book one ticket and take your companion—free! Google this one for all the details!

What Are You Waiting For? Get Ready to Travel More and Spend Less!

So while you can’t travel for free, you certainly can travel at a steep discount. It might require some work, but it can be so worth it. I recently opened up a mileage card, and once I earned the bonus, they offered to double my bonus if I opened a checking account. I opened both temporarily—I made sure to complete the required steps to receive my bonuses—and then promptly closed both accounts. Is it worth it for 100,000 miles? Yes, please! I have a lot of places to visit.

Don’t forget that using and running up credit cards can have negative consequences on your finances and credit score if not used properly. Always make sure it is a good reward return, always immediately pay it off (and if you can’t, don’t do it!), and close them to avoid yearly fees after it has served its purpose.

This writer organized a trip to visit her friends, who are scattered across the country! To plan a similar trip of your own, listen to this podcast episode: How do I Connect with Friends when I Feel Alone? with Katie Cress – 165

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