Keep more money in your wallet with these travel tips — Photo courtesy of iStock / shironosov
Booking travel can be costly and overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. Luckily, there are a ton of ways to save money on airfare, hotels and transportation before you even get on a plane.
So, the next time you find yourself daydreaming at your desk, wishing you were sunbathing on a tropical island with a Piña Colada in hand, keep in mind these tips that will help you save money before, during and after your next vacation.
1. Take advantage of travel rewards programs
They’re free to sign up and you can earn things like free hotel nights and/or upgrades, airline tickets, car rentals and more. These days, you don’t have to travel far to earn points.
For example, with Delta SkyMiles, you can earn miles through Airbnb bookings, Ticketmaster purchases and even Lyft rides. Hilton Honors also recently announced a partnership with Lyft, so you can earn Hilton Honors points when you ride with Lyft in the U.S. and Canada. All you have to do is sync your Lyft and Hilton Honors account here and you’ll earn 3 points per $1 spent on Lyft rides and 2 points per $1 spent on Lyft shared rides.
And yes, this means you can earn both Delta SkyMiles and Hilton Honors rewards for every Lyft ride you complete.
2. Earn cash back on your travel bookings and everyday purchases
With Rakuten (formerly Ebates), you can earn cash back from online purchases made at almost every major retailer like up to 5% cash back on Amazon. But you can also get up to 6% cash back on Orbitz, 5% at Hertz and even 1% cash back with certain airlines.
You must make your purchases through the Rakuten website or just download the plug-in extension so the purchase will automatically apply to your cashback balance and a check will be mailed to you each quarter with the cash you’ve accumulated.
3. Skip the credit card fees
Most credit cards charge a fee for foreign transactions which can add up when you’re dining out or spending money on hotels, excursions, etc. If you’re a frequent traveler, it may be worth signing up for a credit card that not only waives international fees but actually rewards you for traveling, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
You can earn 2x the points on travel and dining with a Chase Sapphire Preferred and 3x the points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which means you’re not only avoiding fees, but you’re actually earning more points when you’re on vacation. When you’re ready to redeem those points for future travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you also get 25-50% more value than if you booked directly through the airline or hotel.
4. Shop tax-free
Research before you shop to get tax-free deals — Photo courtesy of E+ / momcilog
When you’re shopping outside the country you reside in, you may be entitled to a tax refund. Tax-free shopping is currently available in 55 countries which allows you to claim a tax refund if you spend a minimum amount (varies by country) at participating retailers.
There are several tax refund programs like Global Blue and Planet, but look out for a Tax-Free Shopping sticker visible on the storefront and make sure to carry your passport with you when you’re shopping as you will be required to present this to the retailer at check-out. Familiarize yourself with the process on the tax refund company’s site because there are multiple steps and one small mishap can invalidate your entire submission.
5. Be flexible on dates
While most people schedule their travel for major holiday weekends, the best time to actually get a good deal (and avoid airport crowds) is right after the holidays when prices drop or during off-peak season. Summer and fall, for example, are considered off-season for destinations like Cayman Islands, so hotels tend to offer deeper discounts during this time.
And if you’re able to plan ahead, you can save even further. Popular ski resorts like Mammoth Mountain offer a winter booking deal every season where you can save up to 50% on lift tickets, if purchased a few months in advance. So if you’re an avid skier who hits the slopes every year, it’s worth looking into.
6. Visit the local tourism board for discounted packages
Aside from being the concierge of the city, tourism boards generally partner with local attractions and tours to offer discounts and packages at lower rates. If you’re planning on visiting a number of major attractions in a city, ask the tourism office if they have a bundle card, sometimes called a CityPass.
For example, for about $70, the Jerusalem All Inclusive CityPass provides free public transportation to and from the airport, as well as free public transportation within the city of Jerusalem on bus or light-rail. It also includes entry to 3 major attractions and an additional 20-30% discount on attractions after your freebies are used. The card can be pre-ordered before any trip and picked up at the airport upon arrival.
7. Earn cash back with rideshare companies
Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft also allow you to earn cash back. You can sign up for Uber Rewards for free through their app and earn a point for every dollar you spend on rides and Uber Eats and earn 2x points on UberX and 3x on Uber Black. Each level of points you reach will unlock more rewards.
Lyft’s business rewards program provides riders with $5 in personal ride credit for every 5 business rides you take. Simply put, it’s like frequent flyer miles but for ground transportation.
8. Book two one-way tickets
One-way tickets could save major cash — Photo courtesy of E+ / izusek
Do some research and play around with different options, both on the airline’s website and aggregator sites like CheapFlights.com, which is part of KAYAK’s brand portfolio.
“A little known tip for travelers who are looking to save for their next vacation: they can score some serious discounts by booking two one-way tickets to certain destinations, instead of a round-trip ticket. In fact, CheapFlights.com does the work for you with our Hacker Fares. For example, booking Hacker Fare travel to hot spots like Kona, Martha’s Vineyard or Palm Springs can reward travelers with up to 22% in savings,” says Steve Sintra, Regional Director, North America at KAYAK.
9. Save money by redeeming points for perks
Loyalty points are meant to be redeemed and nowadays, hotel loyalty programs offer a variety of unique perks. Hilton Honors members can redeem their points for the “Ultimate Tuscan Experience,” a package that includes a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage City of San Gimignano and a chance to tee off at La Bagnaia Golf & Spa Resort Siena, Curio Collection by Hilton, one of Italy’s most beautiful golf courses.
Loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy also provide priority access to experiences like the Aloft Homecoming Tour, a series of intimate performances around the world for music fans featuring artists like BANKS at Aloft El Segundo and Dermot Kennedy at Aloft Dublin.
10. Be open to any destination
Scott’s Cheap Flights is a great resource if you’re flexible on destination. Just select your departing airports and keep an eye out in your inbox for alerts on flight deals. But be ready to book fast as the deals can be limited time offers.
If you want to use loyalty rewards points, but aren’t exactly sure how far they can take you, Hilton Honors has the Hilton Points Explorer tool. Just set the number of Hilton Honors points you’ve accumulated and it will populate a list of hotels that are within your point range.