Travel is one of the great pleasures of life—but it can be extremely expensive. Luckily there are many websites that allow you to save some serious cash on your next trip. Whether you use a rewards credit card, a last-minute hotel booking service, or stay for free with couchsurfing, there are a wealth of ways to travel within a budget. Let’s look at the best cheap travel resources.
Get the Best Deal on Flights
The website Secretflying is sort of like a “deal of the day” site for cheap travel. They post extremely cheap flights. For example, they recently highlighted a deal from Los Angeles to Stockholm, roundtrip, for only $298. Sometimes, these are error fares, which are occasionally canceled after purchase, and sometimes these are legitimate deals offered by the airlines. This option works best if you can be flexible with your travel, as the flights are usually for specific dates. Either way, these are fantastic prices that allow you to save hundreds or even thousands on travel.
In Europe and Asia there are a number of airlines whose entire business model is built around offering dirt cheap travel.
If you’ve already made it to Europe, airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet offer super cheap fares for travel within the continent. London to Paris for $30, anyone? Within Asia, Peach offers great flights to and from Japan and Jetstar offers discount flights to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hawaii, and more.
Discount carriers also offer select flights from the USA. RyanAir flies from New York CIty, Miami, and Boston. Wow Air offers flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and more. Peach flies to Honolulu. These airlines offer cheap travel at surprisingly reasonable prices. I flew Wow Air roundtrip from San Francisco to Stockholm for around $300, and it was great. Keep in mind, you often have to pay for extras, like picking a seat or checking a bag. However, even with the added fees, the prices are typically significantly cheaper than flying with a traditional airline.
If you’re booking flights, Kayak has a key advantage over its competitors like Priceline or Expedia—their price trend estimator. It uses historical data to estimate when the best time to book your flight is. Kayak will let you know if you should buy now, or wait. This gives you some confidence that you are receiving the best deal.
Get Started With Rewards Credit Cards
Never forget the incredible value that the right rewards credit card can bring to the table. If you are going to spend the money anyway, and know you can pay off your balance, then travel cards essentially offer free travel, from flights to lodging to car rentals, for very little effort. The process comes down to three basic steps: find a credit card with a big signup bonus, accumulate points, research and plan your trip.
For example, the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card offers 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. That’s enough miles for a free roundtrip flight to Hawaii! All of the other major US Airlines have their own cards with similar offers. Other cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express Platinum card, offer large signup bonuses which can be redeemed for airplane tickets, hotel stays, or other travel.
Whatever card you choose, make sure to read the fine print and look for fees associated with the card. Many include expensive annual fees, which may or may not be worth it depending on how much you save.
You also want to make sure you to use the card responsibly. If you spiral into debt, that defeats the purpose of saving money on a flight. Brokepedia founder Kristin Wong offers a few rules for using your rewards card responsibly:
- Only spend money you were going to spend anyway
- Set up an automatic monthly payment of your entire balance
- Keep tabs on your budget and make sure you always have the cash to pay what’s on your card
- Keep tabs on your credit
For even more info on getting started with travel “hacking” with credit card rewards, check out her primer.
Save Money on Lodging
Hotel Tonight is an iPhone and Android app that allows you to book last-minute hotels—often at substantial discounts. Hotel Tonight looks at hotel inventory and finds hotels that have too many unsold rooms. These rooms are then offered at deep discounts.
Remember, this is a true last-minute only app. You can’t book in advance, although you can book a multi-day stay, as long as it starts the day you book the room.
Hotels.com isn’t exactly a secret, but many people don’t know about their membership rewards program. Once you book 10 nights through your account, you’ll get a credit for one free night. The value of that night is the average of the previous 10 nights, so if you spend an average of $100 a night, then you’ll receive a $100 free night.
Like Hotel Tonight, Hotwire saves you money by offering discounts on undersold rooms. Unlike Hotel Tonight, Hotwire doesn’t tell you specifically which hotel you’ll be staying in. Hotwire tells you the general location and the star rating of the hotel, and offers a big discount. Of course, since you don’t know the exact hotel you’re staying in, you’re rolling the dice a little bit. But, if saving money is a priority, and you’re ready to take a chance, Hotwire is a good option.
Couchsurfing connects travelers with locals who offer their spare rooms—or couches—to guests. Unlike AirBnb, it’s totally free. Couchsurfing is a great way to travel for free—and it doesn’t just work in the States. One of my friends traveled by bus and train across China, spending nothing on hotels by simply couchsurfing the entire way to Shanghai. Besides saving money, she learned so much about the local culture, because she was staying with actual Chinese families. And remember, despite the name, you aren’t always stuck sleeping on a couch—many hosts offer beds.
What are your favorite ways to book cheap travel? Do you have experience couchsurfing? Let us know in the comments below.