Traveling is by far one of my favorite things to do, but between flights, hotels, and paying for food and experiences, it can get expensive. Whether you’re on a student budget, are a naturally frugal person, or are saving for other big ticket expenses, here are some of my tried and true budget friendly travel hacks.
1. Use a travel rewards credit card
One of the easiest ways to save money on travel is to use points or rewards from a travel-friendly credit card. The Points Guy has a ton of recommendations about travel rewards credit cards, and we used some of his advice in deciding on our card. We were already American Express cardholders, so we recently upgraded to American Express Platinum cards, which provides 5x points on travel booked through amextravel.com, airport lounge access, Global Entry/TSA credit, as well as up to $200 in airline fees. The card also came with a 60,000 point sign up bonus once we spent $5000, and we applied those points to offset the flight costs for our trip to Japan. Since most travel rewards credit cards come with signup bonuses, I suggest getting one before you make a big purchase, so you can maximize those points!
2. Fly the same airline(s)
After having a travel rewards credit card, the next easiest way to save money on travel is to fly the same airlines and accumulate miles in their rewards programs. If you fly JetBlue regularly, then make sure you sign up for JetBlue’s reward program so you can earn miles towards a free flight. I actually don’t do this well and have miles spread out across a variety of airlines, but I’m super close to redeeming a free flight from American! My go-to domestic airlines are American, JetBlue, and United (I know, I know… but they’re part of Star Alliance which is clutch for international travel!)
3. Hunt for the best flight prices
Did you know that flight prices change all the time? Make sure you’re getting the best deal on flights by using the Hopper app to find the cheapest flights, and get recommendations on the best time to buy. I always check Hopper before booking flights, because sometimes it will suggest waiting a few weeks or days because it knows the prices of those flights will drop. Another benefit of Hopper is that it suggests the best times of the year to fly, so if your travel dates are flexible, you can save hundreds of dollars on a flight by slightly adjusting your travel dates.
If you’re travel dates and destinations are flexible, then keep your eyes out for amazing flight deals from sites like The Flight Deal or Secret Flying. Airlines – especially Virgin and JetBlue – also release last-minute sales, so follow their twitter accounts for up to date sale notices.
4. Get cash back when you book
Ebates is probably the best kept budget shopping secret. All you have to do is install a web browser extension, and it will alert you when you’re eligible to receive cash back when shopping online. I use it when shopping online for everything, but its particularly helpful when booking travel because sites like Expedia and Priceline offer up to 5% cash back. You can think of it as an automatic 5% discount off already discounted hotel prices! Although I typically use amextravel.com to book our flights and hotels to take advantage of the 5x points, if I find a really good deal on Priceline or Expedia, I’ll book and use Ebates to save more.
5. Stay on the outskirts
Speaking of accommodation, consider staying outside of the common touristy areas to save money. All major cities have reliable public transportation, so staying 30 minutes outside can save you tons of money. If I’m traveling by myself or for a long period of time, I usually use AirBnB to find a place to stay versus staying at a hotel. An AirBnB is not only often cheaper, but can also provide you with local recommendations for things to do while you’re on your trip. While in Japan, staying in a less-popular neighborhood saved us $250.
6. Live like the locals
Once you’re on your trip, use every possible opportunity to live like the locals. This is not the time to visit McDonalds to taste if the burgers are different, or to go to a pizza spot (unless you’re in Italy!). Eating food native to the country you’re traveling to is often much cheaper than eating in “western” food establishments, and even fast food joints.
Transportation is another thing that can eat away at your travel budget. Rather than relying on Uber, hop on public transportation and walking to get around. When traveling between cities, consider taking a train versus a flight so you can see the landscape. We’ve taken trains from Tokyo to Niigata and Nairobi to Mombasa, and those experiences both made the trips even more memorable than if we had flown.
7. Take your phone with you
If you travel frequently, save on roaming charges or the need to buy a sim or hotspot with a phone plan that works internationally. We have T-Mobile’s Unlimited One service, which provides unlimited texting and data in most countries. On our recent trips to Japan, France, Kenya, and Egypt, I had solid data 90% of the time. Unfortunately it doesn’t work in Nigeria – so annoying!
8. Splurge on experiences
While I believe in saving money on flights, accommodation, transportation, and food while traveling, I think it’s important to splurge on one or two experiences during your trip. Whether that’s a really nice meal or a one-night stay at a boutique resort with a breathtaking view, use part of the money you saved by scouring flight deals, using reward points, staying a bit further away, and taking public transportation to treat yourself. After all, travel is about the memories, not the destination, so splurge on some memories to take back with you!