Picture this: You just returned from a much-needed vacation, and your phone is full of Instagram-ready photos, but your bank account isn’t looking so hot. Thanks to a few easy-to-follow tips, you can still say bon voyage (even on a budget). With costs creeping upwards, now is the time to travel smarter. The extra effort during the planning process will help you book a vacation that leaves you happier and your finances healthier.
Never heard of travel hacking? With summer right around the corner, there’s no better time to learn.
What Is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is just a series of clever ways to save money by navigating the finicky rules of airlines, credit cards, and hotels before your trip. It’s easy, but requires more planning. Following this advice will save you time and stress. We’ve previously covered smarter packing, so feel free to check out that post, too.
Travel Hacking Flights
Booking your trip using credit cards is the best way to earn travel rewards through everyday spending, especially if you pay them off every month to avoid interest charges. There are many credit card options available, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Card that offers features like travel reimbursement, gift cards, or cash back. Another option is to open a card from your selected airline—many also offer rewards on flights and hotels—like the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card. Knowing how you like to travel and spend will help you choose the right card.
Once you’ve spent enough money to get the sign-up bonus, use Kayak or Priceline, online booking agencies that search hotel, airline, and car rental prices to find the best deals. Book using your rewards credit card—the bonus may have covered your flight, so pay attention to the numbers. Set up automatic payments—late payments can cost you all the points you’ve accumulated.
If you’re on a flexible schedule, voluntarily getting bumped from a flight in exchange for flight vouchers may also be worth considering. Some airlines and credit cards even offer companion tickets—buy one, get one free, essentially. Download AwardWallet to track your rewards and mileage points so you can better use them while en route.
Travel Hacking Hotels
Many hotels offer loyalty programs for free; sign up and use your rewards number when making your reservation. Call any hotels you’re considering to see if they’ll offer incentives for booking through them directly. Also, ask about promotions that can get you bonus miles or points. Again, remember to use your rewards credit cards for additional points. Consider staying at the same hotel brand (whenever possible) so you can reach a higher status quicker—meaning more bonus points for perks and upgrades.
Keep in mind, booking a family home or single room on Vrbo or Airbnb may be more economical than a traditional hotel. Plus, you can enjoy conveniences like full kitchens and more privacy. Shop around before deciding.
Once You’re There
Use the airplane restroom when the flight attendant announces that the flight is descending so that you can bolt to baggage claim after you land and beat the lines. This will help you get out of the airport faster.
Here are a few additional tips for helping you get settled:
Pick up some essential groceries before shopping in the hotel lobby where exorbitant markups are common.
Don’t forget your rewards numbers when checking in; sometimes you can apply both your hotel rewards number and your airline program to double up on points and miles.
Get cash from local ATMs for the best currency exchange rate.
For domestic travel, Yelp can be a helpful guidebook for rated restaurants, shops, and attractions. In general, skip Starbucks and embrace living like a local, whether you’re trying a tucked-away cafe or seeing the sights.
When You’re Departing
Taking a few minutes to avoid last-minute scrambling by applying these hacks can help give you the smoothest departure possible.
If your airline has an app, check-in for your flight as close to 24-hours ahead as possible, especially if you have frequent flyer miles which can help put you first for an upgrade.
Arrange for your transportation using Lyft or Uber (for international travel) to the airport before check-out day to avoid the departure dash with everyone else.
Depending on when you have to be at the airport, request a late check-out for a couple more hours of vacation. That also goes for early check-in upon arrival; sometimes when you show up early and ask to get into your room sooner, the hotel can make it happen.
Look up the weather for your departing and arriving cities to anticipate any delays, and make sure you’re appropriately dressed.
Always double-check your room and seat for chargers, misplaced items, or any other valuables you might have missed. Trying to recover something from a hotel or plane after you’ve left it can be a nightmare.
When your journey is over, unpack, and take some time to reflect. Be sure to check on your rewards’ statuses from time to time, and take advantage of any updates that get you more points to use toward your next adventure.
Now that you’re armed with the fundamentals, put some of the time and money you saved towards planning your next trip.