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How to save money on travel

Travelling on a budget doesn’t always conjure the most enticing experience. Crowded economy flights, cheap hotel rooms, and bad food may be cheaper, but they’re not all that enjoyable.

Fortunately, you don’t have to sacrifice experience to save money on travel. While you might not get the lowest fare out there, making cost-conscious decisions about travel can help you have a great time without breaking the bank. For a more affordable vacation that doesn’t involve any mystery smells, consider these money-saving travel tips.

 

Decide on your travel non-negotiables

When it comes to travel, everyone’s ready to make your experience just a little bit better for just a little more money. A quicker ride, a comfier seat, a prettier view, and a glass of champagne are just a checkbox away.

All these little extras can add up fast, however. And whether they actually enhance your experience enough to justify the expense is a personal choice. By being deliberate about what you will – and won’t – spend money on while traveling, you can keep the right balance between comfort and saving. Consider whether it’s worth spending on things like:

  • Direct flights. How much travel time are you willing to add to save money? Adding a stop can save you 25% or more, but it can also add hours to your travel time.
  • Flight extras. Getting the lowest airfare usually means giving up your right to select your seat, check a bag, and make changes to your itinerary. Ask yourself whether it’s worth the $20 to sit a bit closer to the front.
  • Ground transfers. You can save money when you land by choosing public transportation, but it can also be a big pain. Give some thought to how much you’re willing to spend to save time on the ground.
  • Hotel upgrades. Sometimes the hotel can make or break a vacation, but sometimes it’s just a place to sleep. Think about whether you really need a jacuzzi and ocean view or if you can have just as good a time going without.

Find cheaper ways to stay

Staying off the beaten path – or even right next to it – can be a great way to save and get better value for your money.

Let’s take a look at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida as an example. The cheapest room at a Disney Resort Hotel costs about $1,800 for seven nights. That includes two queen beds, a free shuttle to the parks, and not much else. A family suite with beds for six and a kitchenette costs closer to $5,000 – a steep price for a microwave and minifridge.

A quick search on Airbnb for the same dates shows hundreds of listings in the area with a kitchen, as well as multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, with prices starting from under $900 including taxes and fees. You can rent a car for the week for another $800, giving you the freedom to explore everything Orlando has to offer for less than the lowest price at a Disney Resort Hotel. Many of these nearby Airbnb stays have pools, hot tubs, and other resort-like amenities that are probably a lot less crowded than you’ll find inside the resort.

 

Beat the restaurant bill by making your own snacks and meals

Trying the local cuisine is always a travel highlight, and it can get expensive if you’re eating every meal at a restaurant. You can save money on food and drink by planning to make at least a few meals for yourself.

Fortunately, going to a foreign market can be an adventure in itself. You never know what kind of local produce, meats, and cheeses you’ll find for a fraction of what you’d pay at a restaurant. And there’s bound to be something there to try you’ve never seen before.

If going to the market isn’t your idea of fun, look for more affordable options that can be just as fun and delicious as an expensive meal. Look for deals at small shops and street vendors away from tourist areas to get authentic cuisine for less. If you have to eat it standing up, chances are it’s delicious.

Even if you’re not all that adventurous, you can save a fair bit of money by taking care of your own breakfast and snacks. A bowl of cereal in the morning might not scream “holidays,” but it might free up some cash to try a restaurant you’ve had your eye on.

 

Rethink your itinerary with your budget in mind

Planning a vacation can be almost as much fun as going on a vacation. Having a detailed plan can also help you spot opportunities to save money.

A great way to save money on travel is to just slow down a little. It’s natural to want to see everything all at once, but you might have a better experience by planning to do less. Planning one excursion per day instead of two gives you more time to enjoy the experiences you’re paying for and frees up time for unstructured exploration. 

If you can’t stand having open time in your schedule, look for things to do that are free or cheap. Visit parks, go hiking, visit local festivals, or find a picnic spot for an experience that won’t add to your credit card bill.

 

Go during the off-season

You can save money and get a unique experience by travelling during the off-season. You’ll find different weather, fewer crowds, and better deals on flights, hotels, and experiences.

When tourists flock to Europe in the summer and early fall, you can find great deals on all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. A seven-day all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic costs as little as $825 per person in September, but the best price jumps to $1,055 in November and over $1,100 in January.

When everyone is heading south for an all-inclusive break from the winter weather, you’ll find deals on vacations in Europe. A week in France starts at around $1,800 per person in August, but you can go for closer to $1,400 per person if you’re willing to go in late November.

Check out your credit card rewards

Your credit card may hold the key to better deals on travel. With the right card, you can get discounts on hotels and car rentals, perks like free checked bags and airport lounge access, and travel insurance coverage included.

For example, you can get a free night each year with the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card. You also get complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status, five times the points on Marriott purchases, and excellent travel insurance coverage.

featured

Best for Hotel stays

First year reward
$1,433/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $120 annual fee

Earn rewards

2pts – 5pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

80,000 bonus points (a $936 value)

Annual fee

$120

Or with the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card, you can get six complimentary airport lounge passes, a complimentary Avis Preferred Plus membership for discounts on rental cars, great travel insurance coverage, and no foreign transaction fee when you use your card outside of Canada.

featured

4.0 Ratehub rated

Best for Travel perks

First year reward
$740/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $150 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt – 3pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

30,000 bonus points (a $300 value)

Annual fee

$150 $0 first year waived

And with the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card, you can get free checked bags for yourself and your travelling companions on Air Canada flights, a $100 rebate on your bi-annual NEXUS application, full travel insurance coverage, and a healthy welcome bonus - earn a welcome bonus of 10,000 Aeroplan points when you make your first purchase with your new card; earn 20,000 Aeroplan points when you spend $6,000 within 180 days of Account opening. Conditions apply. Account must be approved by June 3, 2024.

featured

4.0 Ratehub rated

Best for Aeroplan Points

First year reward
$736/yr

based on spending $2,200/mo after $139 annual fee

Earn rewards

1pt – 1.5pts / dollar earn rate

Welcome bonus

30,000 bonus points (a $432 value)

Anniversary bonus

20,000 pts (a $288 value)

Annual fee

$139

All of these cards also let you earn points you can use to get free travel rewards. Depending on which card you choose, you can use points to book travel directly, use them to get a credit on your bill, or both.

 

The bottom line

Saving money on travel is about making smart choices that don’t take away from your experience. Get a better deal on your next trip by being realistic about what you do and don’t need, being practical about flights, accommodations, and food, and choosing the right rewards credit card for your needs.

 

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