Maybe it’s because it has been back-to-back snow days and frigid temperatures here in Minnesota, but I am dreaming of vacation big time. Over the last few years, as we have worked to pay off our debt and save more money, I have become a lot savvier when it comes to finding sneaky ways to save money on vacation while still having an amazing time. Here are some of the best ways I have found to save money, gain discounts and even make money while on vacation! I know, it’s crazy, right?
*This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission on recommendations at no cost to you.
Say YES to the savings!
Occasionally, when you are booking flights or hotels you will see an offer to save $200 (or so) on your purchase when you sign up for a credit card. This is something I used to steer clear of because I had heard so many terrible things about credit cards.
However, I have come to understand that credit cards are only terrible if they are managed terribly.
More and more I have gotten really open about how we “credit card hack” our bills every month. In other words, we pay our bills with a cash-back credit card and get money back every month.
When you pay off your credit card immediately, you incur no interest and this can actually help build your credit to benefit you in the future.
This is not an option to take if you currently struggle to maintain your debt. However, if you trust yourself to pay off a card immediately, you can click here to save $200 with my referral code through Delta. In some cases, this may mean a completely free ticket somewhere!
When you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months (this is ideal if you already had pre-planned spending you were going to be doing anyway), you can earn bonus miles. I originally signed up for this card and was intentional about getting my bonus miles while paying off the card immediately. Doing this I was able to pay for my flight and hotel stay to Washington DC!
Book through rebate sites
I always, always, always check my favorite rebate sites before booking airfare or hotels! Oftentimes these sites have great rebates and/or discounts that can save you a few bucks on your trip!
Here are my favorite go-tos:
- Dosh – When booking through Dosh for the first time, you receive an instant discount on your hotel stay, plus you get $5 just for signing up for the app itself. Get the Dosh app.
- Rakuten – Ebates is awesome because you can book flights, hotels
andrental cars all in one place and get a rebate back! (Usually around 10%!) Get $30 for signing up here!.
- Groupon – Groupon is another great place to find bundled getaways. Under the “Getaways” tab Groupon will show you a huge variety of local and not local vacation packages that you can take advantage of. Make sure to read the fine print as often times packages that include a flight are limited to certain cities. Browse Groupon.
Make your own meals
While I am a big fan of sampling local foods and trying out fun new dishes, it’s no surprise that if you eat out for every meal, you’re going to spend a lot of money pretty quickly.
Eating out at restaurants is probably the easiest way to go over budget when on vacation. That’s why we always try to find hotels with a fridge and microwave, or we just opt for an Airbnb for longer stays. Click here to save $40 on Airbnb.
Often times you can find an Airbnb with a full kitchen for close to the same cost as a hotel. Don’t get me wrong, you can pack a lot of meals into a hotel mini-fridge, but having a full kitchen really opens up your food options and can save you a ton of money by eating in!
If you are more of a hotel person, you’ll probably love this list of 30 healthy(ish) meals you can make in a hotel room.
Negotiate last-minute prices on lodging and hotels
If you are brave enough to venture out on a last-minute trip, you might be in luck. Not only do hotels often drop their prices at the last minute but Airbnb hosts have this option as well.
Even if you do not see a lower price, you can always message an Airbnb host directly and respectfully ask if they’d be willing to lower their rate for your last-minute booking. Considering that they were planning on not making any money at all, this might be an offer they are willing to consider.
Best times to negotiate:
- When a hotel isn’t fully booked
- During the slow seasons
- Calling ahead (or emailing) to negotiate rather than on-the-spot
Bonus tip: become an Airbnb host yourself!
Actually, a lot of times people will host their homes on Airbnb which allows them to travel more! You could be making enough each month to pay the cost of your mortgage (or most) which really allows for a lot of freed up money for travel! See the Airbnb calculator and find out how much you could be earning.
Travel during off seasons
I swear I didn’t plan to have my wedding anniversary in June just so we could save big time on vacation, but I’m sure glad it worked out this way!
Checking the off-season of your desired travel location is always a smart way to save extra money.
In some cases, this may mean your vacation is less than ideal. For example, if you dream of going to Vail for skiing, you probably don’t want to plan a trip there in summer.
However, if you are planning a trip to a tropical location, going during the
Use a travel agent
Did you know you don’t pay a travel agent?
Maybe you knew that, but years ago, I had no idea! I never understood why anyone would pay a travel agent to book their trip. (Although, for certain trips, I would totally be willing to pay someone to plan my trip especially out of the country!) Back then, however, I was all about saving as much money as possible.
The truth is, in most cases, travel agents earn a commission through resorts by referring you with no additional cost to you!
Whenever we book a vacation through our travel agent, I give her a few location ideas and our price range. This helps us stay on budget and takes a lot of the planning off my plate!
When we plan our road trips, however, I always stick to my handy-dandy Travel Planner. Click here to customize your Travel Planner!
Visit people you know
Umm…what a concept, right? Oftentimes people are dying to take a vacation but can’t flip the bill for flight and accommodations. one of the best ways to plan travel and save big time is to plan on visiting people you know that live in a different location than you do. I mean, you could stay at your neighbor’s house, but I don’t think it will have the same effect.
Now, it definitely depends on how well you know this person. Don’t just go around asking Facebook acquaintances if you can crash on their couch. You don’t want to come across as a moocher.
Close friends and family, however, would probably love your company and might jump at the chance to show you around. Plus, maybe someday you could return the favor!
Know where you can crash for free
We used to be really big all-inclusive resort-type people, and have since decided to pivot more to road trips and hiking adventures.
If this is more your style (camping, RV life, all that jazz) then you might be interested to know that there are a lot of places you can park and camp totally for free all around the US.
Some of the most common places to camp free:
- National Forests
- BLM land
- Walmart — yeah, not as pretty as the other options, but if you are making your way across the country, this can be a handy stopping point
Have flexible dates
One of my favorite pastimes is hanging out on Google Flights. When you have flexible date options, you can usually find a cheaper flight.
A first option is to select the “flexible dates” option on Google Flights and select how long you want to stay and what month(s) you’re looking for. When you do this, Google will check out all available flights and give you the best options first.
Another way to do this is by selecting dates and then clicking the “RESET” button. Doing this shows you all the prices for airfare each day so you can get an idea of which travel dates will give you the best discount.
Don’t let travel sites get wise
If you have typed in the same dates for flights or hotels on your phone, after a while these travel sites are going to get wise and raise the price on you. Once you are ready to book, try checking out your dates on a different device.
Even switching from your phone to an iPad or computer can change the prices instantly.
Another good idea is to never enter your actual dates. Instead, see if you can get a feel for the estimated cost of the flight or hotel stay. Once you enter the dates you want, chances are, they will raise the prices on the exact dates you have been seeking out.
Be flexible on where you travel to
You know what? When I have been on the hunt for crazy cheap airfare, I have discovered some pretty cool locations that I would have otherwise never considered traveling to! Like Boston or Chicago.
If you are just in the mood to explore, be willing to keep an eye on discount flights. Some of the best travel often happens when you just allow yourself to be a kid again and totally explore!
Get discounts on going out to eat
When you do decide to eat out on vacation, it can be a good idea to browse local discounts in your area before hand. Not only can this save you money, but sometimes you’ll stumble upon great places to eat that you might not otherwise have considered.
Groupon always has great deals on local places or you can check Restaurant.com. With Restaurant.com you can get major discounts on gift cards to local places to eat. We do this for our own local restaurants but the site can be extra helpful when you are trying to save money on vacation. Click here to get a $25 gift card for $10
Not to brag or anything, but I have gotten exceptionally good at learning how to pack for long trips with only one backpack. In fact, once I even managed to get my 2 kids and me all in one backpack for a weekend trip to Detroit! Minimize Travel Stress with One Bag Packing.
Compare car rentals vs Uber
Depending on how far you are from the airport or how much driving you plan on doing, it’s a good idea to compare the prices of renting a car or taking an Uber.
Maybe an Uber to and from the airport is really all the travel you require for a week-long stay. If so, depending on how far the drive is, an Uber is probably your best way to save money. This is what we did for our trip to Nashville since we knew we would be doing a lot of walking.
If you think a car would be a more practical option, try Car Rental Booking Buddy. Car rentals start at just $8! When you want to save money on vacation but have a lot of sightseeing you want to do, often times opting for a rental car is going to be less expensive
Research free local activities
I think the hype of “excursions” and finding major activities while on vacation is a little overrated and is one of those things that can make a vacation feel not-so-relaxing. Instead, our family tries to take full advantage of the free (or close to free) options available.
Here are some free ideas in some of the top traveled cities:
- New York: Central Park
- LA: Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier (you could spend money, or you can just enjoy the beach, views and people watching.)
- Minneapolis: The Walker Art Museum Sculpture Garden. Get other Minneapolis ideas.
Travel in a pack
If you have a group of friends or family that you don’t need a vacation from, you might want to consider taking them on vacation!
Not only can traveling in a pack help you feel safer and more secure, but chances are you are going to have way more fun and you could save a ton when booking together and splitting the cost of an Airbnb.
See if you qualify for a comped stay
This right here is my favorite perk of blogging. Often times bloggers or other influencers are able to get comped stays at different resorts or hotels in exchange for sharing their experience with their readers.
If you already have a blog, vlog, or a large social media following, do a little research to see how you might be able to get a comped stay just for sharing your experience and some photos!