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25 Great Ways to Save on Travel

Your guide to saving on epic getaways — without skimping on fun

spinner image illustration of an airplane in the sky sounded by clouds in the shape of dollar signs
Illustration by Sam Island

Your travel bucket list doesn’t have to break the bank. To help you fulfill your globe-trotting goals — sans the high spending — we talked with travel industry professionals and writers about their favorite cost-saving tips. Here are 25 of the best ways to save on travel, and don’t forget to share your own budget-travel tips in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

1. Try a price prediction tool

Some budget travelers swear by only booking their flights on Tuesdays. Others suggest booking on Saturdays. But according to Nick Ewen, senior editorial director for The Points Guy, “that ‘day to book’ thing is largely a myth.” What could matter? The day of the week, or the time of day, you actually fly. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are often cheaper days to fly than Fridays or Sundays. Because prices fluctuate, Ewen recommends using tools such as Hopper, Google Flights or Kayak to track and monitor when a flight is a good deal and when it’s not. “Price prediction tools will essentially say, ‘Right now, prices on this route are high, but we expect them to drop within the next 30 to 45 days,’” he says, noting it’s not always a guarantee — but “these tools can help you make a more informed decision.”

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2. Cash in those airline miles

If you’ve built up miles with a specific airline, use them, says Ewen. “Any opportunity to use your miles to keep cash in your pocket is a good redemption,” he says. “I often see people who are new to the world of loyalty programs, points and miles, and they’re afflicted with analysis paralysis.” Instead of using their perks, they sit on them — but doing so could be costing you. “Points and miles are terrible long-term investments; they only lose value over time,” Ewen says. If you want to double-check the miles-to-money conversion before booking, try online calculators that tabulate this equation, including NerdWallet, Omni Calculator and The Point Calculator.

3. Track and modify your trip

Here’s even more incentive to book: In recent years, a growing number of U.S. airlines, including United, Delta, American and Alaska, have removed change fees. That means if you book a ticket, then see a better flight deal, you can modify your reservation and pocket the difference. This goes for not only flights booked with dollars, but also miles. “Since the pandemic, just about every airline, aside from basic economy status, has made award tickets, generally speaking ... are now fully refundable,” Ewen says. 

4. Keep tabs on your credit card discounts

If your credit card comes with a steep annual price, know that “oftentimes there are many ways to offset that fee,” Ewen says. Many cards offer travel credits, complimentary companion passes and other lifestyle perks. But to benefit, you need to actually use them. “Credit card issuers rely on people to not be informed; that way they can offer a perk that [would] cost them money, but they’re not actually going to have to fork that money over,” he says. To keep tabs on your card’s perks, which include everything from rideshare and TV subscription credits to grocery discounts, Ewen suggests checking your account every month and creating a spreadsheet of all available offers.

spinner image illustration of a person relaxing with a drink in an airport lounge, with his tablet plugged into his lounge chair and an airplane visible out the window
Illustration by Sam Island

5. Look into living the lounge life 

Airport lounges can help you save on overpriced terminal fare, and typically offer complimentary food and drink (in many cases alcoholic beverages), showers, less-crowded bathrooms, numerous charging ports and comfortable seating. Lounge life can improve the air transit experience, but there is a cost. Many airline lounges require a paid membership or can be accessed by paying annual fees on travel credit cards. These several-hundred-dollar annual fees come with a variety of perks, such as the opportunity to bring one or several guests free of charge. To determine if lounge membership fees are worth it, Ewen suggests crunching the numbers to see how often you plan to travel and how much you and your potential airport lounge guests could save on amenities. Additionally, if you do decide to obtain lounge membership, make sure your home or go-to airport has that specific airline lounge, he says.

6. Don’t shrug off shoulder season

Want to cut spending and dodge congestion? Travel journalist, photographer and founder of the blog Camels & Chocolate Kristin Luna has some advice: “Traveling in [the] off-season, or shoulder season, is my favorite way to travel — not only do you save money, but you avoid the crowds,” she says, noting that, on a November trip to Iceland — well outside the summer high season — she and her family saved big: “We paid roughly half of what we would have had we decided to travel in summer months.” They also saw a fraction of the crowds. Of course, traveling in the shoulder season can come with a downside, like seasonal closures or bad weather. Before booking a shoulder-season adventure, make sure the restaurants, attractions and experiences you hope to enjoy are still available.

7. Skip the gas pump 

Another way to save on rental cars: Go electric. “It may wind up being cheaper than filling up with gas, especially if you’re outside the U.S.,” says Ewen, noting gas in many destinations across Europe can be “incredibly expensive.” That said, an EV isn’t always the best option. “The big thing is going into it knowing exactly how you’re going to charge the car,” Ewen says. If you’re largely in the countryside, where there are minimal EV charging stations, you could end up in trouble. But if you’re mostly traveling between cities or large urban areas, you should be in the clear — although it’s smart to research EV guidelines for specific countries and regions before you book. For that, EV-focused websites like Chargemap, Electromaps and PlugShare can help.

8. Use credit card rental car insurance

If you have a travel credit card, odds are it includes rental car insurance — but you have to follow a few important steps to use it. First, decline all of the rental car company’s protection offerings, Ewen says. This includes roadside assistance, collision damage waiver — any and all protections. If you do have an issue during your trip — say, a cracked windshield — you can submit the claim by contacting your credit card company. Before you rely on this method, it’s important to know what’s included with your card’s insurance. “Coverage on car rentals through credit cards is limited to damage and theft,” Ewen says. If you have questions, call your credit card company (via the phone number on the back of your card) to confirm. When you prefer more coverage than what’s offered through your credit card — or you’d rather avoid dealing with the potential claims process — consider the rental car company’s options, but do your research ahead of time to avoid being pressured into any decisions.

9. Take advantage of public transit

In many cities, using public transportation instead of a rental car or rideshare service can keep money in your pocketbook. Katie Holden of the blog Katie’s Travel Tricks suggests using an app, such as Google Maps, to navigate safely. “Just toggle over to the public transportation icon after you enter in your destination,” Holden says. “In some countries it even includes detailed instructions on which [station] exit to use.” To help with comparison, Google Maps will often provide an estimate of what a rideshare price would be for the same trip. Other public transit map options to consider include Moovit and Transit. Additionally, in places with robust train infrastructure, like Europe, you can save (and reduce your carbon emissions) by opting to train between destinations instead of flying.

spinner image illustration of a foot kicking a car tire that looks like a gold coin with a dollar sign on it
Illustration by Sam Island

10. Check out deals for your wheels 

Before you book a rental car, Ewen recommends checking a website like AutoSlash (alternatives include Expedia or Momondo) to look for deals. These kinds of services incorporate your memberships, such as a Sam’s Club, AAA or AARP, then make recommendations on the best rental-car deals and saving options. Additionally, if you’re booking a rental car, always join the company’s loyalty program, Ewen says. These memberships, which are typically free, can help you skip the line and expedite the check-in process. Another way to save: Try an alternative transit mode. If you’re visiting only one city, consider renting a bike; many bicycle shops offer e-bike and regular bike rentals for either a few hours or several days — helping you save on not only rental cars and parking, but also gas.

11. Buy one, get one free with a stopover

Several airlines offer stopover programs that let you experience a city for a few days while en route to your final destination. This is a great way to get more bang for your travel buck, says Luna, who has used stopover offerings for a stint in Doha en route to Bangkok, a stop in Iceland while traveling to Germany, and a visit to New Zealand on the way to the Cook Islands. Since you don’t have to purchase additional flights in a stopover program, “it doesn’t cost more money, so it’s basically buy-one-get-one-free flights to see two places instead of one,” she says. 

12. Search for a seasonal deal

End-of-year savings aren’t just for holiday gifts. Many companies in the travel industry offer major discounts timed to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The cruise industry also extends this savings potential with “wave season” (typically January through March), which is “when cruise lines do big pushes to get sales up,” says writer Mikkel Woodruff of the cruise website Sometimes Sailing. In addition to saving on your cruise booking itself, you may also snag goodies like free internet or discounted airfare. Additionally, during the spring, many car rental services need to move their vehicles in the south back north, which means it’s a great time to grab a deal on a one-way rental car if you’re looking for a spring road trip from, say, Florida to New England. 

13. Stay ahead of cell-service charges

International data charges can add up quickly. That’s why Holden recommends going into your trip armed with connectivity options. For example, apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Signal will help you text or call via Wi-Fi. It’s also helpful for booking dining or inquiring about tours. “Internationally, many businesses will have an option to contact them via WhatsApp,” says Holden. She also uses a cell plan that comes with international data and texting, which you can inquire about with your carrier pre-trip. And, if you know you’ll need faster data service, Holden recommends buying a local eSIM card.

14. Save big with senior passes

Memberships and passes can help you save big on your adventures, whether it’s using your AARP membership to get deals on car rentals, cruises or train travel, or taking advantage of senior discounts for museums. Additionally, if you’re planning a national parks trip, travel writer Emily Pennington shares some advice: “The number one thing to do is get the America the Beautiful Pass,” she says. America the Beautiful covers the entrance fee for any National Park Service park, as well as lands managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and several other federal organizations. Travelers age 62 and older can buy an annual pass for $20, or a lifetime pass for $80 (the price for a standard annual pass alone is $80). For another cost-saving trick, Pennington suggests volunteering with the park service for free park admission. “If people want to spend no money on the park pass, they can do a certain amount of volunteer hours and earn a free park pass that way.”

spinner image illustration of a person carrying a bag of groceries while pulling a roll-aboard suitcase behind him
Illustration by Sam Island

15. Stock up at a grocery store 

Dining out can take a major bite out of your travel budget. To avoid this — without skimping on the joy of travel cuisine — Luna suggests hitting the grocery for small meals and snacks. “If we’re staying somewhere multiple days in a row, the grocery store will be our first stop. We stock up on yogurt, fruit, other breakfast items, coffee and beverages,” Luna says. This way, you can save by having lunches at home, then splurge on restaurants for dinner. And, to ensure you’re not missing the cultural side of cuisine, skip the big-box grocery stores. “Street food or bodegas can be a great way to try the local flavors while not splurging on expensive meals,” Luna says. 

16. Look for budget-friendly tours

If you want to see a new destination but can’t splurge on a private guide, consider joining a “free” guided walking tour, offered through numerous services, such as Free Tour, Free Tours by Foot and GuruWalk. (Note that while there’s not a set fee for this tour, you should pay or tip what you think is appropriate.) Additionally, consider alternative tours that won’t break the bank but will help you authentically experience the culture. For that, Holden recommends options like Airbnb experiences. “These are experiences run by locals who are an expert in one area,” she says. “We learned to play Japanese card games in Nara, Japan, and dyed silk scarves in a marbled pattern in Florence, Italy.” Other locally led options include Tours by Locals and With Locals.

17. Download a free audio tour

For a more DIY budget-friendly sightseeing option, look to podcasts or audio tours. Well-known travel gurus like Rick Steves offer self-guided walking tours that use narration to immerse you in a new destination, while the app SmartGuide runs digital tours with audio guides, city maps and insider tips. The website VoiceMap also features hundreds of on-your-own audio walks, bike rides and drives, helping you see the highlights without needing to join a group or in-person guided tour.

18. Save on souvenirs

To save on souvenirs, skip the resort or airport gift shop where prices are typically inflated and consider craft markets or even grocery stores instead. According to Holden, it’s wise to go in knowing exactly what you want so you don’t overspend. “Everyone in our family has a certain small item they collect and we buy that — a statue for my daughter, a magnet for my son,” she says. “We also visit thrift stores and the local equivalent of a dollar store.”

19. Consider alternative accommodations

Options abound when it comes to booking overnights. Sure, hotels are great — and can come with great deals if booked using credit card points, says Holden — but alternative options like rental homes, hostels (many offer private rooms) and even couch surfing can help you save. Some may even help you make local connections. “We’ve used the website Couch Surfing to stay with strangers for free,” Holden says. also features couch-surfing rentals. For any sites, especially couch-surfing ones, be sure to read plenty of reviews. “Another budget option would be to watch someone’s pets in exchange for a free stay at their home,” Holden says. Numerous house-sitting options exist around the globe; to try it, join services like Trusted Housesitters, Nomador and Mind My House.

spinner image illustration of a person with a backpack in an airport walking past a window with a plane outside
Illustration by Sam Island

20. Go carry-on only 

Some travel credit cards offer one or two free checked bags. If you have this perk, take advantage of it. If not — or if you want to avoid the hassle of lugging heavy bags — Luna suggests opting for carry-on only. “Nearly every [U.S.] airline charges for checked bags,” she says. “I haven’t checked a bag in more than seven years, mostly because I don’t trust the airline not to lose [it].” Luna also says the carry-on lifestyle is easier than you might think: “Ditch all the unnecessary items like multiple pairs of shoes, purses, accessories, and stick to basics in neutral tones that you can layer.” But, before you pack, make sure to check your airline’s carry-on restrictions. Many airlines — particularly those outside the U.S. — have strict guidelines and will charge you a fee if your bag is overweight or larger than the allowed dimensions.

21. Expand your outbound airport options

Many Americans live within driving distance of not just one but several airports. If you’re unable to find a budget-friendly flight from your nearest airport, consider looking within a driving radius of a few hours. Even with a drive, this could cut your total transit time — especially if you can nab a direct flight instead of multiple connections — and also save you money. Of course, to ensure you don’t overspend on pricey garage parking, build in plenty of travel time and park away from the main airport lot. Another option is to park nearby and take a shuttle or city transit to the airport. Wally Park has 10 locations in eight cities and allows people to park and shuttle to their airport. Boston’s Park Shuttle & Fly and The Parking Spot have similar options. Some will even offer a free car wash before you exit. Additionally, you may be able to park a few transit stops away from the airport and save money on parking, too. Always look for coupons on airport parking before you reserve.

22. Invest in travel insurance

Don’t lose your money if you need to cancel a trip; instead, invest in travel insurance. “Travel insurance is important for any kind of travel where you have nonrefundable trip costs at stake that would be subject to you forfeiting money if something disrupted the trip or you had to cancel,” says Stan Sandberg, cofounder of insurance comparison site “When you’re traveling internationally, it becomes even more important for the traveler because with international travel, you’re going to have a more expensive trip.”

23. Know when to be loyal

When traveling, it can pay to be loyal, whether you get free upgrades on an airline or complimentary internet access with your hotel stay. For airlines, Ewen says determining which brand you’re loyal to should stem from where you live. If your hometown airport is a hub for one specific airline, it’s wiser to prioritize that airline to reap the loyalty rewards — but know that what you’ll get back largely depends on how often you travel. Sometimes, especially for casual travelers, it’s better to keep your options open. “The valuable perks of earning elite status really come for those who travel a ton for work — like once every other week,” Ewen says. So when should you be loyal? “Ask yourself if you would be willing to pay more for a preferred airline flight, or taking a more inconvenient route to be on your preferred airline. If the answer to one or both of those is no, don’t go crazy trying to be loyal.” Additionally, always look for hotel loyalty programs, because even free memberships can come with perks like early check-in, late check-out and the chance to earn rewards for discounted future stays.

24. Rack up points and miles on everyday purchases

You can build your credit card points and miles base not only by flying, but also by strategically spending on everyday purchases, Luna says. Her first rule of thumb: Ditch debit cards. “Use credit cards for everything: home purchases, groceries, renovation and gas,” she says, noting that with many travel credits cards, such as American Express Business Gold, Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Preferred Credit, “those small bills can add up to a lot of points.” With these cards, you earn points for your spends, so consider checking to see if you can put your property tax, home insurance, gym membership or phone bill on a card, Luna says.

25. Outsource your travel hacking

Travel hacking can open up a new world of low-cost or free jet-setting opportunities, but you have to know what you’re doing — and it can take a bit of training and time. To help, some travel experts have launched courses on the subject; others offer coaching in travel hacking. But, if you want the travel hacking perks without the time expenditure, Ewen recommends looking into outsourcing, available with companies like I Fly With Miles, Point.Me and Jet Better. “You can basically hire them and pay them a small fee to maximize your points.” 

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