You work hard all year and deserve a great vacation. But if you’re already assuming that your financial situation won’t allow for it… WAIT! With a few tweaks and a little bit of know-how when it comes to saving money on travel, you can make it work.
No two people will budget the same. What is important to one traveler might not be important to another. For example, one might spend more lavishly on accommodations or dining, whereas another might economize in these areas to afford more attractions or unique experiences. It all depends on priorities and how you prefer to distribute your money in order to gain the most enjoyment from your vacation. Regardless of how you choose to allocate your funds, transportation and accommodations need to be addressed first, followed by dining, attractions and activities, travel insurance, souvenirs, and hidden expenses. And you can save money in all of these areas if you’re willing to compromise, as well as put in a little time and research.
A tourism board website should be the first thing you look at when planning a vacation, as many of them offer free trip planning brochures and maps, as well as discounts on hotels, attractions, dining, and transportation.
To further optimize your vacation budget, consider the following:
For Flights and Hotels/Resorts:
- travel during the off-season when prices drop
- use Air Miles points (or credit card points) for booking flights
- use bank-specific credit cards for airport lounge access
- opt for a hotel or resort on the outskirts of highly-trafficked touristy areas where rates are a bit less
- look for deals, and if you have the flexibility of travel dates, check for sell-offs
- use hotel-specific credit cards for discounts and perks, such as Marriott Bonvoy American Express, as an example
- use hotel loyalty programs for upgrades and free extra nights – complete list with links below
- if hotels are resorts are too expensive in your chosen destination, check for Airbnb or VRBO rental accommodations.
Hotel Loyalty Programs that offer points and perks:
SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) for Marriott/Starwood. Hotels include Delta, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Four Points, Westin
Wyndham Rewards – Hotels include: Howard Johnson, Days Inn, Ramada, Travelodge
World of Hyatt – The Hyatt Group of Hotels includes: Park Hyatt, Andaz, Alila, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara, AMR Collection, Miraval, and Hyatt
Hilton Honors – Hilton Hotels
IHG Rewards – International Hotel Group of hotels includes: Intercontinental, Kimpton, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza
To optimize your budget for all other aspects of your vacation, take the time to investigate your chosen destination to see where else you can cut costs.
- Many hotels offer a free continental breakfast so if this exists at your chosen hotel, take advantage of it so you can spend your money on other things.
- If your accommodations include a kitchen or kitchenette, visit a nearby grocery store and make some of your own meals. For example, save money by eating breakfast in your room so you can spend later on dinner
- Take advantage of restaurants that offer early-bird dinners at discounted prices.
- Take leftovers back to your room and put them in your mini-fridge so you can nibble later rather than spending extra on snacks or fast food.
- If you decide to splurge on an upscale restaurant, try not to get carried away with unique or extra menu items that will help to run up the bill. Focus on the main course and skip the appetizers or desert – or limit yourself to just one.
- If you’ve chosen to vacation at an all-inclusive resort, stick to the restaurants that are included in your package rather than adding specialty dining or extra a la carte options.
- Eat BEFORE visiting theme parks and other attractions where food and drink is overly expensive, and bring your own snacks if possible.
- If you’re TRULY watching your pennies, take a water bottle wherever you go to save on beverage purchases.
For Attractions and Activities:
- Some hotels offer discounted tickets to local attractions and activities. Some also offer a free shuttle service to nearby attractions so you can save on transportation as well.
- Check Groupon for discounts and deals on attractions and activities.
- Before you purchase ANY tickets, check for discounts for seniors and children. Often, children under the age of 2 are free. Many attractions and museums also offer discounts for students. So don’t overpay on tickets if you don’t have to.
- Many attractions offer discounts if you purchase your tickets online, so be sure to check the website before you go. Or, do a quick Google search for discount coupons or codes.
- A growing number of hotels and resorts contain a time-share program and offer free attraction tickets, spa freebies, and dining vouchers if you attend their sales presentation. If you can withstand the high-pressure sales techniques and can spare an hour or two for the presentation, you can walk away with these perks without spending a dime.
- Several tour providers offer packages for bundled activities, which usually works out to be cheaper than buying the tickets separately. For example, when visiting Cancun, some tour operators will bundle a zipline experience or a cenote swim with a visit to one or more of the Mayan Ruins. Take advantage of these deals so you can do the most while spending the least amount of money.
- If extra costs are starting to add up, try to choose accommodations that are within walking distance to the sights you wish to see.
- Check to see if your hotel offers any transportation services.
- Research local bike or scooter rentals.
- Local transit will be your cheapest option. Before your arrival, research where to purchase tickets or passes.
- If you plan on renting a car, try to avoid renting directly from airport facilities – although convenient, these are always more expensive than opting for a rental outlet outside of the airport.
- If you’ve opted for a cruise or Caribbean destination, find out if airport transers are included in your package before you strike out on your own and unnecessarily pay for a cab, UBER, LYFT, etc.
- If it’s possible to share a ride with another couple or single going to the same destination, splitting the cost is always cheaper than going alone.
- If you’re traveling to Europe and require quick transportation to additional locations, Ryanair offers the cheapest flights.
- Resist impulse buys and everyday purchases at the hotel or resort gift shop, where they charge top dollar. Pack your own sunglasses and phone chargers, and make sure you pack toiletries and simple medications, like Tylenol, Gravol, Polysporin and Bandaids.
- Resist buying novelty items and souvenirs. If you truly desire a souvenir of your vacation, avoid the hotel gift shop and gift shops located at attractions. Instead, try to find a discount souvenir shop or craft market, depending on where you are. At the very least, make sure it’s something you will use or treasure.