I try not to let costs determine the type of travel that I do, but I do find that I travel more if I feel like I am traveling as cheaply as possible. I like cheap travel! It is a game to me, and the following list shows how I play my game.
1. Credit card sign-ups for airline and hotel miles.
This by far is my main strategy for saving money on travel. I wait for large sign-up bonuses with low spend to make my card applications. For example, I just signed my son up for the Citi American Airlines MasterCard that gives 50,000 AA miles by spending $3000 within three months. There are four people in the household earning miles this way. I don’t make applications on a schedule. When the minimum spend is done for one card, I look for the next one. I rotate through all the family members. This way each person is only applying for one card every 3-4 months, but miles can be used by any family member as needed.
2. Use cash-back portals to buy everything.
I mostly use TopCashBack at this point, although I have used BigCrumbs, Ebates, and Mr. Rebates in the past. Before I buy anything online, I check the TopCashBack website to see if any cash back is offered if I click from TCB to the merchant. This has been particularly handy when purchasing American Express Gift Cards. Last year I booked a room at the Best Western Museum hotel in Athens, Greece with Booking.com via the TCB portal. The room was $60 and I got $14 cash back, for an effective room rate of $56.
3. Use discount websites to plan cheap travel.
While in the planning stage of a trip, I use Kayak, Priceline, Hotwire, and Vacations To Go to get baseline prices for comparison shopping.
4. Use giant web-based consolidators to book rooms.
Lately I have been using Booking.com to book hotel rooms, especially in Europe. They seem to have more listings in the lower price ranges, and I can go through a cash-back portal to effectively lower the price a bit. You can sort hotels based on price, and I usually get one of the cheaper rooms. On our last trip to Greece we were getting rooms from 25-30E a night on Booking.com.
5. Get cheap hotel rooms by bidding on hotel rooms on Priceline.
If I’m traveling in the US, and I know that I won’t be canceling, I will bid on rooms on Priceline. I only do this if I am traveling with one other person, or if the 3rd person doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor, as Priceline rooms are all marketed as doubles.
6. Look for opportunities to do extremely cheap travel, like free camping.
I don’t mind camping if I am in a nice location and I am traveling by car. We took camping equipment to the Big Island of Hawaii “just in case,” and ended up free camping 12 nights out of 14. This saved us at least $1000.
7. I have flight benefits on Delta and United.
I have a family member who is an airline employee, so I can waitlist on a space-available basis to fly standby. I have been able to fly in the forward cabin on some trips, but I also have spent the night in airports. Sometimes I have had to cancel trips because I just couldn’t get a seat for days at a time. But if you see I’ve just made a short trip in the US, I probably flew standby to get there.
8. Open bank and brokerage accounts for miles.
I and other family members have opened several accounts at Fidelity to earn miles with United and Delta. I also have a BankDirect account that earns American Airlines miles.