Whether you took an economics class or not in school, you probably understand the basic concepts of arbitrage and the relationship of supply and demand. Few industries are as sensitive to the latter as travel and the most savvy travelers use the former to their advantage regularly. By being flexible enough to pounce on unusual travel sales and opportunities, some people are able to vacation a lot more than others.
If you’re in this camp, regular people probably wonder how you’re able to travel so much. You probably wonder why they’re such homebodies.
Many people have built a prison of “stuff” that saps their budget, so they’re probably hopeless cases no matter what. They’ve got access to plenty of credit and they’ve used it to fill their kitchen and garage with gadgets, tools, cars, and toys.
Others choose experiences instead and if that’s you, here are a few ways to travel much more on an average budget by taking advantage of travel sales and economic opportunities.
Embrace Flight Deals and Unknown Places
I can guarantee you I can find you a terrific deal on your next flight almost any day of the year. I could do that for you 30 times on 30 different days if you want. There’s just one catch: you can’t pick your destination in advance.
Often I can tell who is a savvy traveler from this nine-word start to their story: “We found a great deal on a flight to…”
There are always great travel sales going on for flights to somewhere. You just need to open your horizons and look for alternatives. The more variables the better (day of week, flight time, alternate airports), but just leaving the destination open can be huge.
If you’re dead-set on one specific place, you have to wait for a good deal to roll around or suck it up and pay top dollar. If you’re flexible though, you’ll have dozens of great travel deal choices at any given time.
For example, according to Google Flights, here’s where you can go from Denver, round trip, in cold mid-January.
Miami – $81
Las Vegas – $78
New Orleans – $118
Puerto Vallarta – $259
Belize City – $413
Here’s where you can go from New York in mid-January, round-trip:
Nashville – $76
San Juan, Puerto Rico – $108
Orlando – $76
Cayman Islands – $263
Quito, Ecuador – $363
Rome, Italy – $385
These are by no means the only bargain flights out there for a random week in January. Do your own hunting from your own airport and you’ll find plenty more cheap flights by getting creative. Better yet, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights and let the deals come to you.
Embrace the unknown and go somewhere that wasn’t on your wish list for the next long weekend or longer vacation. Almost anywhere you could choose, there are going to be cool things to see and do there, or even in the most unattractive city there will be great attractions nearby that you can reach by public transportation or a rental car. Forge on with a sense of adventure!
Pay Attention to Seasons and Peaks
There’s an ebb and flow to the traffic at nearly any destination and if you can avoid the peak times, you’ll save a small fortune. I know that’s easier said than done when you’re working around school schedules, but look where everyone else is going and avoid those places. There are always going to be lots of other spots where it’s low or shoulder season instead. Hint: those flight deals I mentioned before are often a good indicator. If you find great hotel deals too, there’s your spot.
I covered shoulder seasons in detail in my book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, in that post above as well, so consult either for some recommendations. Just remember that any month of the year it’s shoulder season somewhere, including in July and August.
Take Advantage of Market Forces in Travel
The price of fuel has a big impact on travel as that impacts what it costs for a road trip or what it costs airlines for jet fuel. So when gas prices spike, it can make sense to take a train or a bus since those methods spread the cost to multiple passengers. Train prices don’t vary much no matter what’s happening in the worldwide oil market.
Another major force is competition. Have you looked at the prices on Megabus and Bolt Bus? They’re crazy cheap. Have you seen the deals on Groupon or your local alt-weekly equivalent? You can get those same kinds of deals when you use those services in a new city for restaurants, bars, and attractions. Heavy competition is a bitch for businesses, but it’s great for you the consumer.
Cities are competing for your business too. They’ll subsidize attractions, build bike paths, put on free concerts, give cheap or free public transportation, and even provide capacity guarantees to airlines to get them to fly to their destination. They want you as a visitor, so visit the tourism site and see what they’re offering.
Supply and demand are never in perfect alignment. Sometimes the leverage swings to the suppliers, as it did in many U.S. cities during Covid times, especially in sunny Florida. More often the leverage is in your hands as the person choosing where to spend their earnings. Use that to your advantage.
Exchange Something Besides Money
There are a lot of ways to travel somewhere new without spending thousands of dollars in the process. Sign up for and use the right credit cards for your recurring expenses and you will end up with lots of free flights and free hotel rooms. Sometimes those rooms were on sale too from a points perspective because demand was low.
This is not some theoretical travel hacking advice. I’ve taken multiple free flights this year (including one all the way to Argentina and back) and have booked more than 10 free hotel nights on three continents. Most of those cashed-in points came from credit card spending, not from loyalty to a single brand.
Sign up with a home exchange program and be flexible to end up with a week or more of free accommodation. There are also house-sitting services where your main jobs are taking care of the pets and watering the plants. In exchange you get an apartment or (more often) a house to stay in. Sometimes these stays can last for weeks or even months–a great arrangement if you can work remotely.
You can also work abroad in a physical job (like teaching English as a second language) or do some kind of volunteer program that includes a place to stay.
Go Where Your Travel Money is Worth More
The idea of arbitrage really comes into play when you travel internationally. If you can withdraw your rich country money in a place that’s not so rich, that money will buy you a lot more in your new location.
Right now the U.S. dollar is historically strong against a whole basket of currencies. In London that just means the pub and the Tube won’t be so costly, but in a country like South Africa or Colombia it can mean bargain basement prices on nearly everything. Take your greenbacks to Turkey or Argentina this year and you’ll start feeling downright rich.
If you’re not sure where the best deals are, you can save a whole lot of research time by getting one book: The World’s Cheapest Destinations.
Just don’t sigh and utter that sentence I hate to hear: “I wish I could travel more but…” Unless you’re below the poverty line or unemployed, I don’t believe it.
How about you? Have you snagged a great travel sale and gone somewhere you hadn’t planned to go?