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Some Tried and True Vacation Savings Advice

vacation bargains advice

We just passed the time of year when seemingly every media outlet is publishing predictions, “what’s hot,” “where to go this year,” and other round-ups that are generally useless and silly. That’s because though most editors hate to admit it, things don’t change that much in travel in the space of one year. You could go look at one of these “where to go this year” articles from five years ago and it’ll likely have the same destinations as someone else’s this year.

What will be different this year? Gas prices will be lower than last year, hotels will be a little more full, and the dollar will be stronger. Safari vacations will be discounted because of the scare over the Ebola virus thousands of miles away. That’s about it really. The rest is noise.

So I was thrilled to be interviewed in this LearnVest article called “9 Ways to Spend Less on Your Winter Vacation.” It got syndicated to Forbes, The Week and others. As with my Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune book, the advice is evergreen. You can be landing on that article three years from now and it will hold up just fine.

Here are a few pieces of advice I touched on there that I’ve handed out before and am sure to hand out again. Because they save you money you can spend on things you’ll enjoy. Not trendy, right now, or hot. Just profitable.

vacation rental

All ours for $60 a night

More space often costs less money

I like hotels. I’ve probably stayed in 1,000 of them or more. I even own a website that reviews hotels almost every weekday. If you’re going to stay somewhere for a while though or you’re a family, a house or apartment is almost always a better bet. You get more space, you’ll spend less, and you’re not going to be charged for Wi-Fi. You get a kitchen so you don’t have to eat out all the time, which saves you even more.

That lovely little casita above in Ajijic, Mexico cost us $60 a night via AirBnB and included breakfast. A cramped hotel room in a less convenient location would have been significantly more.

Debit fees and foreign transaction fees really add up

I’ve got a few credit cards that charge a 3% foreign transaction fee and a few others that charge 0%. Which ones do you think I’m going to use in a foreign country?

My Regions Bank debit card socks me with a $5 fee, while my Fidelity one charges zero and even reimburses the local bank charge. If I make three withdrawals from the latter instead of from the former, that’s a savings of $19.50 to $24 depending on the local bank. In some of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, that’s an entire day’s  expenses for a backpacker. Or a week’s worth of something enjoyable, like beer.

Groupon deals

Get in a promotion grabbing mindset

There are a zillion ways to score discounts in your travels and if you’re constantly paying list price, you’re overpaying. In that article I mention taking advantage of Groupon, Living Social, or the local equivalents where you’re traveling. But there are also discounted or free museum days, two-for-one movie deals, happy hours, slow day specials, and on and on. Get in the habit of looking for and using these. Often it’s just a matter of checking the local tourism board website and keeping an eye on the local print rags after you touch down in a destination. This is especially useful for high-priced entrances like ski resorts and amusement parks.

Become a points hacker

Often you can save some bucks on a flight by being creative and flexible. Try alternate airports, different days, or open jaw tickets where you land in one place and come back from another. The best flight price, however, is free. You’ll still pay taxes and some other fees, but I just booked a round-trip flight from Mexico City to Cusco, Peru for $129.62 and 30,000 United miles. One leg I’ll even be sitting in business class! I got some of those miles from flying, but I got a lot of them through other means, like credit card spending, one-off promotions, and the mileage mall.

Loyalty programs can pay off even more quickly for hotels. I’ve gotten at least five free nights at various Intercontinental Hotel Group properties a Hilton, and a few Starwood ones. The credit card sign-up bonuses alone can get you anywhere from two to five nights as soon as you meet the minimum spend. Plus you’ll get extra perks when checking in. Check out the blogs that cover this subject each week. Try the ones at Boarding Area or see Million Mile Secrets. Here’s my basic strategy guide to travel hacking for free flights and hotel rooms.

Tune in later for “23 Hot Destinations You MUST Visit This Year!” Maybe on April Fool’s Day…


Saturday 17th of January 2015

The point about debit and foreign transaction fees is so true. You really have to watch this. I also liked your point about the deals and loyalty programs. The research of those takes time but in the end it is worth the effort. It is also good not to stick to one hotel group, i.e. get a status with at least two. Diversity is everything. Thanks for sharing.


Friday 9th of January 2015

I haven't heard of many of these advices and I find them super useful. I've never considered using websites like Groupon when I travel. Great tips!