Whether your seeing the world or just going to visit grandma, travel ain’t cheap! We afford travel by maximizing our rewards and shopping for rock-bottom prices.
The way I see it, your three largest expenses when traveling are flights, accommodations, and sight-seeing. (Food costs could arguably be included as well, but my solution to that is to feed everybody PB & J sandwiches. That’s not a very fun travel tip, I know.)
Save on flights
When you shop for flights, use incognito mode on your browser. When you re-visit a travel site, they will bump the prices up. Shopping incognito means you see the lowest price every time.
I love Flights from Home. They are based out of Salt Lake, but we found a killer deal on a flight from Denver to Paris for our France trip through her!
I’ve heard great things about skyscanner but haven’t used it yet.
The new google flights feature is also an awesome way to find the lowest price for your dates.
I set up price alerts on Kayak for places I want to go, especially for holiday travel to visit family.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – credit card points are the ultimate travel hack. Points are a huge help when you’re wondering how to afford travel. We started with a Delta card because there is no fee the first year.
After moving to Dallas, we opened a Southwest card because Southwest is hubbed here and flights are so cheap. We hunted around for the best sign-on bonus before we opened it, of course! We get points on everything we spend, so we are pretty much putting everything we spend on this card right now so that we can travel more next year. If you’re interested, you can apply for a card here and get 40,000 bonus points.
Even when you use points, make sure you’re getting a good price on your flight! We often take crummy flights – early morning or late night – to save a couple thousand points. I’d rather be a little tired and have points for another trip then wast points on a prime time flight!
When I can, I search with flexible dates and pick the lowest-priced days for flying.
Bail when it’s overbooked
Any time I hear them calling an overbook flight, I get so excited! I usually wait until the 3rd or 4th call, then I’ll go up an offer to give up my seat. Don’t go easily, though! If you need a hotel stay, make sure they include that in your vouchers. I also try to get a meal voucher for the airport if I need one. The real prize, however, is the airline credit they give you. The fuller the flight is, the higher the credit gets, so if you can wait until they call several times, the rewards will get higher as they get more desperate to get people off the flight.
If you can’t afford to travel often, jumping on these opportunities can give you great resources for future travel.
I’ve only been able to do this once, when I was traveling without kids, but I got a free hotel stay, one meal voucher, and a $500 flight credit. Major score! I used that to pay for a whole other trip.
Save on hotels
Skip the hotel
For our upcoming France trip, we have 8 people in our group. It’s significantly cheaper for us to share an airbnb with lots of beds than it would be for us to share a couple of hotel rooms.
We also save on food by staying in places with a kitchen, so we can cook our own meals if we want.
If a hotel really is the best option for you, make sure you’re working the system.
My dad travels for work several times a year. His work always puts them up in a Marriott brand hotel, so he signed up for the Marriott rewards program. He earns tons of points when his work sends him to conferences. When he travels for pleasure, he can turn around and use those points to stay for free!
When I book a hotel, I shop through my Swagbucks link so I earn swagbucks for my purchase. Different travel sites have different rewards rates, so I see which rate is the highest. Swagbucks offers rewards for shopping at sites like Expedia, hotels.com, and Priceline.
Right now, we almost always book through hotels.com because we’ve almost earned a free night. At hotels.com, you earn 1 free night for every 9 you book. It’s not a great reward systems, but a free night is a free night!
When we check out, we put it on a card that gives us 3% back in points on travel purchases. So we’ve earned 5-10% back in swagbucks, plus 3% back on our card, plus another credit towards a free night.
This method doesn’t make that booking any cheaper, but it does make it easier to afford travel the next time around.
Save on sightseeing
We love CityPass! We’ve used it in Seattle and Dallas. The catch here is that a CityPass is not always cost effective for little kids, because many exhibits have reduced admission for younger kids. If your party is over 12, CityPass is a great way to see a city’s main attractions at a discounted rate.
When we start planning a trip with the kids, I pick the exhibits we want to see and scour the web for coupons and deals. I always check groupon to see if any specials are running on the sites I have in mind.
Check your memberships
Since we have kids, zoo’s, aquariums, and science museums are always on the top of our list of things to see in any city. Most zoos have a reciprocity discount, and many science museums participate in the ASTC reciprocity program. We visited science museums in Houston, Albuquerque, and Spokane for free with our pass to our local science museum!
I wrote more about this in my memberships post, so check it out for more details!