Traveling on a budget can seem like a bit of a challenge, but there are a lot of great resources and travel websites that can help you become a travel pro, which can save you a ton of money. We learned from others about rewards points, finding good deals, and the best ways to travel on a budget. Let’s be honest, traveling with a family can certainly add up and become expensive. But, employing different strategies you can save thousands of dollars and travel for cheap. Here are 7 tips that can help any family travel on a budget:
1. Get and use travel credit cards.
Our favorite credit cards right now are the Southwest Visa and the IHG Mastercard. Our recommendation is to sign up for these cards during special bonus offers. We did this during an 80,000 bonus points period (a tip we learned from our friends Mike and Megan from WeTravelCheap.com — check them out!). Because we both signed up for the Southwest credit card during this time, and met their conditions, we accumulated a combined 160,000 points right off the bat. That’s a lot of points and we’ve flown our entire family on two separate vacations to Los Angeles and Baltimore round-trip, respectively, just on points! Not too shabby. Currently, the offer is 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Sign up here to receive that offer. The IHG Card is nice because, like many cards, it let’s you rack up extra points for travel, gas, food, etc. For a small fee of $49 per yer, you also get a free night’s stay every year at any IHG hotel- which can be valued up to $300! Definitely worth keeping this card long term. We stay nearly exclusively at IHG Hotels- mostly Holiday Inns–because of how family friendly they are! Kids eat free, most of them offer free breakfast, they are clean (they wash the duvet covers!!) and usually have a pool. Plus they offer points-plus-cash options, which is awesome if you don’t quite have enough points for a free night’s stay. You can combine points- usually starting at 13,000 + cash (usually $40 or $70) per night. Currently, IHG does not have any bonus offers, but as soon as they do we will let you know!
2. Play the rewards game.
Now that you have the card, play the game. We learned long ago that there are certain expenses in life that are a given: groceries, fuel, clothes, cell phone, internet and other bills, so why not earn points on these purchases you are already making? Now Dave Ramsey might preach otherwise about credit cards, but I think he would agree that if you can get in the habit of using these cards, and then having them automatically paid off every month, you’ll never pay a penny of interest, and that can be a wise move.
3. Travel smart.
I travel a lot for work. I always prefer to book my travel expenses, including airfare and hotels, with my own card and then be reimbursed for those expenses. With the Southwest Card, I earn 5X the points on airfare, and average 10 trips per year, so it really adds up fast. Even if you don’t have a travel credit card, most hotels and airlines still offer rewards programs. I even booked hotels for colleagues and used my Marriott rewards to earn the points.
4. Travel during off-peak times.
We’ve scheduled a few vacations during off-peak times and have found that rates and general expenses are considerably less during these times. And in many cases hotels, rental car companies, and other travel partners, will offer deals during these slower periods. As a bonus you won’t have to deal with huge crowds, either. For example, Disneyland is an entirely different place when you only have to wait 15 minutes or less for Indiana Jones as opposed to 2 hours! We’re just saying…
5. Plan ahead.
When traveling on a budget, planning ahead and doing your homework is a great way to help you save money. We recently went to Universal Studios Hollywood. Because we did some homework, we found that their annual passes were only $10 more than for single day tickets per person. Translation: If you go more than once, you’re essentially going for free. We went for two days and are currently racking up our hotel points and plan to return to Universal a couple more times this year. Another example is for Disneyland. We always book through our favorite agency, Get Away Today, and doing a price comparison you’ll notice that the difference between three days and four days (or four and five, etc.) is only slightly more expensive. So regarding tickets and hotels it’s essentially the same price to spend an entire week as opposed to just a few days. Now, if you (and we) could just learn to control our spending on treats, souvenirs, including those darn Mickey ears! 🙂
The marketing geniuses at Disney have certainly figured it out and know that they’ll get your money even if it’s not through ticketing. (A side opinion: I believe it is in Disney’s best interest to pack the park which makes it impossible for a family to do Disney in a day or two. Universal or Lego Land you sure can do in a day, but not Disney. More on this in another post). So please, keep reading for other ways to budget to overcome this.
6. Deals on food.
We always looks for hotels where breakfast is included in the price. And not just continental breakfasts, but hot breakfasts that help us start our day right! We figure we save roughly $30-$40 a day by doing this, plus we always grab an apple or a banana for a snack down the road. For other meals, many of the hotels offer a Kids Eat Free plan where there’s no cost on meals for kids, which is nice and saves us even more. We also look for a Trader Joes or Costco nearby and stock up on water, granola bars, and other snacks, especially if we are going on a longer trip. With that said, one of our favorite things to do on vacation is eat at restaurants that are foreign to us. By using these simple strategies we figure we’re saving a little bit of money by not overpaying for standard, on-the-go meals, and that frees us up splurge on new places to eat at.
7. Always ask for best deals.
You’d be surprised how much you can save, just by asking:
“Are there any deals or discounts?”
“Can you do any better than that?”
“Do you have AAA discount or family rates?”
We’re not advocating for being a cheapskate, like good ole George Constanza, but when you’re on a budget it helps to make sure you’re getting the best price possible. Especially in a world of Travelocity, Priceline, and Expedia, where places will charge varying prices trying to get whatever they can. So we advise getting in the habit of looking and asking for a deal.
These are just a few tips that can help you when traveling on a budget. What are your secrets? Share your tips and comments for traveling on a budget.