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This is about the time of year I start itching to get out of town. I don’t travel during the winter, but about now, we start seeing slightly warmer temperatures, cabin fever has started to set in, and I think about where I could head on spring break or for a weekend get away with maybe a little bit of tax refund money.
It is no secret that travel can get expensive. As many of you know, that is why I started this blog. Friends were asking how I was able to go to Disney for so cheap, and back then, man could I get a deal. But 4 years (wow, it has been 4 whole years!) later, just like good coupons, those deals are now harder and harder to come by. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save money on travel. I am here to share with you 13 ways I save money on travel.
This post contains referral/affiliate links. Details on each link can be found at the bottom of this post.
- Discount Booking. How much is having complete control of your vacation bookings worth to you? $50, $100, or even $350? If you are willing to give up a little bit of control, you could save hundreds of dollars on your hotel, flight, rental car, or all three. How? By using Hotwire’s Hot Rates or Priceline’s Name Your Own Price (or their Express Deal). I have booked hotels for $65 a night and then looked up the hotel’s price and found it was double that. No joke. I have rented mini vans for $175 for 8 days. I have not used it for flights, but have friends that have, and swear by it. (But you must be willing to not sit with your party, have long lay overs, etc) Another secret- you don’t have to go into these deals blindly. You can use the website BetterBidding.com to narrow down which hotel you may be getting before booking. I have known the exact hotel I am getting all except 1 time in the 5 years I have been booking hotels through discount sites.
TIP: Since these booking are final, always purchase the travel insurance offered at the time of booking. We have only ever had to use this once (after I was put on bed rest at the beginning of my twin pregnancy 3 days before our Disneyland trip) but the $50ish you will spend is worth it if something does come up. You will get refunded your money, and it is actually pretty simple to file your claim. You will still save money on travel, even with this extra purchase.
- Discounts Through Work. Check with your employer, or your spouse’s employer to see if they have any discount programs. This is especially common for larger companies, but some smaller companies may have discount programs. Mike’s work offers discounts on hotel stays (not as good as through discount sites though), theme park entrances, museums, and more. Even if the discount is only $5 per person, for a family of 5 or more, that can really add up.
- Drive or Fly? Carefully weigh out the option between driving or flying. We have driven, we have flown, we have even rented a car that we drove down. And those were all trips to Disneyland. Why all the different methods? Because each time I priced out every single option that was viable and figured out what was the most cost effective. A few times, renting a vehicle (using a Priceline deal) and driving was our best option when our car wasn’t big enough and flights were expensive. Another time, flying and even renting a car down there was cheaper than renting up here and driving down (again our car at the time was not big enough for our party size). But the cheapest way has always been if we can take our own car and drive down. Does it take longer, yes. But when we can drive, cheaper than the price of one round trip ticket, it definitely can be what makes the vacation financially possible. Heck, I am even debating about driving to Walt Disney World this fall, though the time and extra hotels to drive may make flying cheaper for that one.
- Eating While On Vacation. As a family of 5 this is probably one of our biggest expenses while traveling. If you consider that even eating on the cheap, a meal at a restaurant for one person can run around $7, than times that by three meals, you spend $21-$25 a day, per person on food while on vacation. With 5 people (okay, yeah the twins aren’t eating like that yet, but we usually have other people with us) that is $125/day for food. And that is eating mostly fast food. But this is somewhere you can find HUGE savings.
Book a hotel that has a free breakfast (both Hotwire Hotrates and Priceline Express Deals will often note if a hotel includes free breakfast in the description). Even if you are just getting cereal and toast, you are getting it for free, but now days many hotels also include waffles, and other hot items.
While you are at it, book a hotel that offers in room fridge and microwave when possible. If your hotel doesn’t automatically offer it, call after booking. Sometimes you can request one for a small fee (we have paid between $10-$20 usually). Then you can stock the fridge up with items like lunch meat, veggies, cheese, and more. Then you can make some lunches and dinners. You could even purchase microwave meals or cups of noodles if you have a microwave available. It is also great for if you do go out and happen to bring left overs back to the hotel.
Finally, if you are hitting up theme parks, zoos, or other area attractions, find out if you are able to bring your own food. Disneyland allows food that can fit in a small soft sided cooler (or in your backpack or diaper bag) in the park. Or you can rent a locker at the picnic tables (which I discussed HERE) for cheaper than a meal for two of hot dogs and chips. Theme park food prices are usually extremely expensive, so bringing your own food could easily save you big bucks.
No matter what, be sure you do allow yourself a treat here and there. A meal, a snack, whatever it is, it is vacation after all.
- Get Money Back After Travel. How often have you gone on vacation and then gotten paid money for your travel after you return? Well, you can. I am a member of SwagBucks (you can sign up through my referral link, and get bonus swagbucks- I will share more on that at the end of this post) and while most people know it as a search engine rewards system, they also reward you for shopping via the web. That includes travel websites. They allow you to earn swagbucks for purchased flights, which after you actually take your trip, will be credited to you. Currently the reward for travel purchases is up to 8 SB per each $1 spent. So let’s say you spend $800 on hotel and $1500 on flights for your family, each earning 4 SB per dollar spent. You have earned 9200 swagbucks. You can then cash in your swagbucks for gift cards (including Amazon gift cards, paypal (which you can then deposit into your bank account), etc). Best part, some of SwagBucks travel rewards are for the discount sites I mentioned above, so you can save on the initial booking, and get money back after the trip. (SwagBucks rewards usually work out so 100 SwagBucks=$1 in rewards)
TIP: Be sure you read any exclusions on the SwagBucks site before booking. Sometimes certain locations, discounts, etc are restricted.
- Cash Vacations. If you are a follower of Dave Ramsey, or another finance guru, you may have heard about the importance of using cash. A lot of people never think of using cash for vacations, but you should. While cash flow vacations will not save you money they will help you budget your money better. Of course, certain items should be (and even must be in some cases) purchased via a credit card/debit card. But, a lot of your vacation can be paid for in cash and it will help keep your spending in cash. Set aside a $ amount for gas in one envelope, food in another envelope, and souvenirs in a third envelope. If you know you will have any other expenses, do the same. Also have either an emergency cash fund and/or debit or credit card available in case of something like a car breaking down, etc. Use only the cash in the designated envelopes when paying for certain items, and it will help you keep your spending in check.
- Travel During Off Season. No matter where you are traveling, there is most like an off (or slow season). Traveling during this time will help you save on everything from hotel, to attractions fees and more. The off season varies depending on where you are going, and of course, off season may not always be a viable option. Hard to take a ski vacation in the middle of August, but you can still research and figure out when the best time to go is. The first week in December (between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks) is often slower for many winter vacation destinations. Cruises have a different off season then theme parks, and so on. Do your research, and look at all different dates.
- Sign Up For Hotel Rewards. No matter what hotel you end up staying at, sign up for their rewards or club program. If you booked through a discount site you may not get rewards for the current stay, but what you will get is a lot of future discount offers for that hotel chain. This is how I have been able to book a gorgeous room at the The Signature Suites at MGM Grand for under $75 a night. These prices will often times beat the discount sites. There have been a few times I have booked a vacation based on an offer from a hotel for being a club member.
- Look up blogs, facebook groups, etc for your destination for more ideas. Depending on your travel destination you may be able to find lots of random ways to save even more on your vacation. If you are going to Disney, did you know that you can save up 5% on your park tickets, or even the entire vacation if you have a Target Red Card? Yep, most Disney bloggers or Disney facebook groups know that if you use your Target Red Card (debit or credit version) you can get 5% off your Disney Gift Card purchase (because they are considered entertainment cards) and then use them to pay for everything from tickets, to souvenirs, and more. But there are other tips out there depending on your destination.
- Look into renting a vacation home instead of a hotel. If you aren’t comfortable giving up control for a discount buy before you know the name hotel deal, or if you have a large group, sometimes your best lodging option is a vacation rental. You can often find 2-3 bedroom vacation homes that can handle 6-12 people for cheaper than booking a hotel room. My personal favorite site is VRBO but you can also check out there parent company- Home Away. Still not finding what you want, hit up time share rental sites to see if you can book an unused room. Though rare, we have been able to book a timeshare just like you would a hotel room, and still received an amazing deal.
- Check out attractions websites for deals or cheaper rates. Some aquariums or zoos have half price days, others discount tickets after a certain time of day. Check out the websites and see what you can find. It also doesn’t hurt to reach out to the attraction by phone to see if there will be any deals coming up.
- Memberships at home can save you money. One thing I love is when I can buy a membership to an attraction in my home town and have it save me money somewhere else. Zoos and Aquariums are a good one for this. If your local zoo or aquarium is part of the association of zoos and aquariums, and you have a membership, it could save you big at other zoos or aquariums across the nation. Some you can get into for free, others for discounted prices. You can check out the reciprocal list HERE to see if your zoo, and the zoo you are visiting are members. There are similar programs for other attractions such as museums, in some areas.
- Discount Packages/Sites Are Awesome. If you have decided that all the extra work is not worth it to you, and that you prefer to just book a package or buy tickets online with your debit card, there are still ways to save. Many travel agents will work extremely hard to get you the best deal, and their services are usually free. AAA and Costco often times have discount packages or attraction tickets for members. Finally, area specific discount sites can save you money. Just make sure they are legit. Our favorite for Southern California is Get Away Today. They have both discount packages for SoCal attractions, but they also can sell you discount tickets. You can check them out here (affiliate link) to see what they are all about. Right now they are offering one free day when you book a package, and they almost always have great hotel deals.
These are the best ways my family has learned to save money on travel. Do you have one to add? Leave it in the comment section below.
SwagBucks- I am a swagbucks influencer. While I do earn a % of swagbucks on my referrals (any person who does SB can earn this actually) being an influencer means if you sign up through my link and use code CrazyAdventure70 you will get 70 SwagBucks just for signing up.
Get Away Today- I am an affiliate of Get Away Today. This means if you book through my link, you get an amazing price, and I earn a little bit of cash. It also means that you can save $10 on your booking by using code LOD2015 when you book.