Over the past 22 years of nonstop travel, I’ve repeatedly claimed that such long-term travel does not have to cost a fortune. Sometimes, finding ways to save money on travel is as easy as taking free walking tours, staying in hostels, staying away from major tourist zones and using local buses and trains to get around.
But it’s not always that easy. Depending on our travel style, destinations, length of trips and need for more comfort, some of the above money-saving methods might not be reasonable.
Luckily, life has taught me that there is always a way to save money. Always.
And here are a handful of my favorite tricks, tips and ways to save money on travel that I’ve used during my own global adventures.
Covering expensive travel costs is one reason I use my credit cards to purchase everything. Between my Chase Sapphire Reserve (personal card) and my Chase Business Ink Preferred (business card), all of my life expenses are put on my cards.
The way it works is that I earn points for every purchase I make. Then, I can redeem those points for hotels or flights at an excellent rate.
With the credit cards above, I earn points ranging from 1 point for every dollar I spend to 3 points for every dollar I spend on travel. There are also bonuses that offer additional points for certain purchases. It can be 10 points for every dollar you spend on Uber or at supermarkets or restaurants, for instance. It pays to stay updated with these deals and then take advantage of them. The points can add up quickly, and that leads to free travel.
The two credit cards above are just two of many that offer such points programs. It’s important to do your research on which card is best for you. And this really only works if you are dedicated to paying your credit card bill off every single month.
With my current trip, I’m using points to stay at a hotel for 6 nights in New York City. The cost my accommodation will be $0 and I’ll be at a hotel in the heart of Manhattan. If I paid for this same hotel, it would have cost me $175 per night.
I personally use Booking.com to book most accommodation when I travel. If you book with them enough, you can really enjoy some savings as you become a Level 1 or Level 2 “Genius” member. The higher the level, the more the savings and perks.
Also, before you book with Booking.com, you should always open the Booking.com app on your phone first. With the app, they tend to offer “Mobile-only prices” that are cheaper than what you would find on their website with your laptop. This could easily knock another $20 off the nightly price, making it one of the quickest ways to save money on travel.
This is what I did for my upcoming trip to Istanbul. The cost of the hotel I wanted to stay at was $47 per night on Booking.com, which was the cheapest rate I could find. When I did the search on the app, the rate dropped to $39 per night with its mobile-only price and I booked it. It’s a very quick way to save money.
Last week, I had to transport Matcha (my cat) from Florida to my sister’s house in North Carolina. And I didn’t want to go through the stress of flying with her again. I also wanted to take all of her belongings, so I needed space.
That’s why I decided to drive to North Carolina, an 11 hour drive.
To do so, I rented a car from National Car Rental. It cost me $3 in taxes for the 24-hour, one way rental.
Here’s some rental car advice:
- Sign up for the loyalty program of every rental car company you might use.
- Check your credit card to see if one of the perks is a high-level status for any car rental company. For example, my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card gives me Executive Level status for National and Avis car rental companies. I need to activate it through the credit card website, but then I have that status for as long as I have the credit card. With this status, I can pick any car I want from the lot and get perks such as free one-way rentals.
- Once you have joined the loyalty program, call the customer service phone number specifically for members of the loyalty program. This usually results in better customer service and agents who are more dedicated to helping you find a good deal.
- Ask them for better rates. One of the most underutilized methods of saving money while traveling is simply asking. Don’t be afraid to ask Airbnbs, hotels, activity providers and car rental companies for better rates as there is almost always a way for them to find you a lower price.
- Ask friends/family/your network if anyone has any free days with any car rental company. Many people rent cars often, perhaps for their work, and they accrue free bonus days as a result. These free days usually have an expiration date and can go unused. Ask around and maybe you’ll find someone who has a spare free bonus day to give you. This usually involves them giving you their coupon code for a free day and you applying that at checkout.
- Always look for promo codes and coupons online before booking. For example, do a quick Google search for “Avis promo code” and the chances are high that you’ll find a few websites that display a variety of codes to try. While they might not all work, some will most likely work and you’ll save a good amount of money as a result. The websites I tend to find codes on are Retail Me Not and Groupon but there are many others out there.
Again, my car rental from Florida to North Carolina cost me $3. My car rental from North Carolina to Washington DC cost me $6. Those were the taxes I had to pay after redeeming a free rental day that my mom had accrued through work. And I didn’t have to pay the one-way penalty because of the Executive status I have with National. It all worked out well.
When I was in Las Vegas recently, I rented a car for one week with Alamo car rental. I booked it online but I used a coupon code I found on the website Retail Me Not. It instantly saved me 40% off the total cost.
As far as ways to save money on travel are concerned, finding inexpensive airfare is always a point of concern. Here are the tricks I’ve used…
Trick #1: Hidden leg flights
Let’s say you’re flying from Atlanta to Istanbul (the trick works for any two destinations) and the lowest airfare you find is $1000. Head to Kiwi.com and try the search there. Kiwi.com now has a feature where they will show you “hidden leg flights” that are probably going to be cheaper. With a hidden leg flight, you would book a ticket to another destination, with a flight that goes through the destination you want to reach.
So instead of a direct flight from Atlanta to Istanbul for $1000, you might find a flight that goes from Atlanta to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Vienna, and the price will be much less. You would simply take the flight from Atlanta to Istanbul and then you don’t get on the second leg to Vienna. In the end, you’re on that same original direct flight but for much less money.
I’ve used this trick a few times. It’s not something you want to do over and over again, especially with the same airline, as they might start to notice that you’re booking flights but not showing up for the second leg. But if you use it every now and then, it absolutely works.
The last time I used it was when I flew from Cancun to Dallas, Texas a few months ago. The cost of a one-way ticket to Dallas was about $300 USD at the time. But the cost of a one-way trip to Austin, Texas, with a layover in Dallas, only cost $150 USD, on the exact same airline. So I booked the flight to Austin, took the same direct flight to Dallas that would have cost more money on its own and simply got off in Dallas instead of continuing to Austin. And I saved $150.
One downside is that you might not be able to check luggage if you have a short layover as your luggage would be sent to the final destination (such as Vienna in the example above). However, when I use this trick, I usually try to choose the longest layover possible between the two flights. If your layover is more than 12 hours, I’ve found that the airlines will let you check your luggage to the first destination only since it’s reasonable that you would need it.
Trick #2: Break up the journey
Sometimes, there isn’t one airline, or group of partner airlines, that covers the journey from your starting point to your final destination. As a result, the price for airfare can be very high and finding ways to save money on travel can be challenging.
But if you break up the journey, that can change quickly. This involves booking two trips. Maybe where you live there is only a small airport or there aren’t any major international airlines that fly there. But if you can book a roundtrip ticket from your home airport to a major city in your country or a nearby country, that can change everything.
First, you book a round trip ticket to a nearby major city, then you book a separate round trip ticket from that city to your final destination. And when you do this, the savings can be significant.
You’ll probably have to play around with different destinations to get it right but it’s certainly worth it if you can reduce your airfare by hundreds of dollars.
Trick #3: Add flights to your trip
This is one of my favorite tricks. It might seem counterintuitive but it works. The last time I used this is the perfect example.
I needed to book a flight from Miami, Florida to Valencia, Spain. The cost was approximately $650 USD for the one-way journey with TAP Portugal airlines.
However, I also knew that I needed to fly to Casablanca, Morocco a couple of months later to run one of my Morocco tours. And I knew that I would then need to fly back to Valencia after the tour was over.
So, I went to Kayak.com and did a “Multi-city” search, adding in all 3 of the flights above. In the end, I found that I could book all 3 flights together (Miami to Valencia to Casablanca to Valencia) for $680 on Royal Air Maroc, which is naturally a much better deal.
The way it works is that if you are flying to several destinations and there is one airline that covers all of those destinations, there is a good chance that the price for the bundled airfare will be much cheaper than buying the flights separately.
One time I did this, it was nuts. I needed to fly from NYC to Bucharest, Romania and the cost was $595 one-way. But then I added on a flight from Bucharest to Delhi, India and the total cost for the two flights together was $530. That’s why I love this trick!
*Note: No matter which search engine you use to find your flights, I always recommend booking directly with the airline once you find the best airfare. The main reason is that you’ll still get the same price and it is much easier to make changes, cancellation or deal with things like delays if you book directly with the airline itself. If you book through a third-party website, that always makes things more complicated when you need to change something.
Other Ways to Save Money on Travel
- Always look for a discount. Finding discount codes and deals is not limited to car rentals. If there’s any activity you want to do, search for a discount. While in Las Vegas, we wanted to take a helicopter ride. Georgiana searched for ‘Las Vegas helicopter ride discount‘ and before we knew it, we booked two spots, using Groupon. It was a highly-rated sunset helicopter trip over the city and Red Rock Canyon National Park. And it cost $40 less than the normal advertised price. That’s $80 in savings for two people.
- Provide useful feedback. Recently, I had a lot of issues with American Airlines. Between two cancelled flights, messing up my reservation, creating an unnecessary challenge when I was flying with Matcha and providing almost no customer service, it was frustrating. So I did a quick online search for an email address for the CEOs office. Then I wrote them a short email outlining my experience. My goal was not to get angry or demand anything at all. My goal was simple – to explain what I went through and show them, from a customer’s perspective, what might need improvements. They replied two days later and began a conversation with me (that went on for 5 emails). At the end, they gave 10,000 airline points as a thank you. Again, the idea is not to argue or be angry. But providing genuinely useful feedback to all kinds of travel-related companies is often rewarded with points, perks, upgrades and sometimes money.
I hope the above provided some ways to save money on travel that you’ll be able to take advantage of! And if you have any questions, just let me know!
Wow… the hidden leg trick is interesting. So to confirm, do you intentionally skip the flight to the “final destination”? What about the visas and departing paperwork?
Hello Tamz – That is correct. You would skip that second flight. In order for it to work though, you would need to have your paperwork in order for the official destination as well or else they won’t let you check in. So you would want to make sure you have the necessary visas/documents for both countries.
Nice tips Derek, always top notch!
That was a great article. I’m used to open jaw flights, but not going about it, the way you do. Awesome tips. Can’t wait to use them.
Hey Margaret – The open jaw tickets work well too and I’ve certainly used that. Thanks for sharing as that will be useful for many as well!
Fabulous advices and tricks
Thank you Earl have a good trip
I love Istanbul
Thanks for reading Chantal and I appreciate the good wishes!!
Hmmmmm about hidden legs. How does it work with current restrictions? Lets say in your example that you buy the ticket to Vienna, but want to continue only until Istanbul. At check-in they’ll check the paperwork for you to travel to Austria, not Turkey (tests and other covid-related requirements).
I haven’t dared yet to try it, and even less with the current situation.
Hey Martin – You could do the paperwork for both. It works if you make sure you have a long layover in between the flights because it’s not illegal to go outside of the airport during a layover. So if you have a 5 hour layover, you could always be meeting a friend in Istanbul for a tea before your next flight. That way, you would need the paperwork for both destinations and you’d be all set. Of course, if the requirements are very different, that could be a pain (if Austria requires a test but Turkey only requires a vaccination card for example) but that would just mean you would need a test as well to make it work.