The cheapest ways to travel: 15 tips to save money on your next vacation

July 22, 2019

If your primary travel goal is checking destinations off a bucket list, you’re likely going to need to know how to stretch your funds. This list of travel tips aims to help you see the world without wrecking your finances, covering everything from scoring free trips to paying less for common travel budget busters.

Use Airline Miles to Cover Flights

The most expensive components of travel tend to be airfare and lodging, but earning enough airline miles allows you to erase the cost of flying from your budget occasionally. Check out the U.S. News ranking of the Best Airline Rewards Programs to find the rewards program that best suits your needs. Also, consider picking up an airline credit card or a flexible travel credit card to begin netting points or miles on all of your purchases.

For example, you may be able to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards points and occasionally even Delta SkyMiles points for flights within the U.S. or to the Caribbean for less than 10,000 points one-way. These are just a few examples, but keep in mind that you can use airline miles to fly anywhere in the world, often paying only the cost of government-mandated taxes and fees.

Consider an Inexpensive Family Cruise

Cruising provides an excellent opportunity to visit numerous destinations, and a single price covers nearly all of the trip’s expenses. The benefits of an upfront cost make budgeting for a cruise especially easy for families, since all food, lodging and entertainment come included. For families who live within driving distance of a cruise port, these potential savings compound, as it becomes possible to avoid the cost of airfare altogether.

While there are plenty of discount cruise lines, families should check out MSC Cruises, a budget-friendly European cruise line that also offers Caribbean cruises departing from Miami. Not only are MSC Cruises ideal for all ages, but kids 11 and younger cruise free on many itineraries.

[Read: The Best Cheap Vacations in the USA.]

Book Rental Condos Over Hotels

Airbnb and rental condos are growing in popularity for a reason: They grant you the space to spread out and live like a local in nearly any destination. What’s more, many options can be considerably more affordable than booking a hotel, especially if you have family in tow.

The best part? Condos with their own kitchens make it easy to prepare your own meals, meaning you can save big on food costs.

Fly a Budget Airline

Budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant Air offer a no-frills flight experience for as little as $50 one-way. The catch? Discount carriers don’t usually provide any complimentary extras like in-flight drinks or snacks. In fact, you should be prepared to pay more for just about everything, from seat assignment to carry-on luggage. For example, Allegiant Air charges up to $80 for seat section, while printing your boarding pass at the airport could set you back another $5.

However, if you forgo extras like seat selection, remember to print your boarding pass at home or use the airline’s app to access it when traveling, and make sure to pay for luggage when booking rather than at the airport, then you can often snag an extremely affordable ticket on these types of carriers.

Redeem Rewards for an All-Inclusive Hotel

Some hotel rewards programs, including IHG Rewards Club and World of Hyatt, let you redeem points for stays at all-inclusive hotels in the Caribbean and Mexico. This option is far from free since you’ll need to fly to your destination. Still, all-inclusive resorts can be a godsend for your budget because all of your lodging, food and activities come included in your (now nonexistent) room rate.

As an example, you can stay at the Hyatt Zilara Cancun or the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Jamaica for as little as 25,000 points per night.

[See: 30 Cheap Beach Vacations for Travelers on a Budget.]

Watch Out for Flight Deals

If you’re eager to travel far and want to save big on airfare, keep an eye out for short-term airfare offers on websites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying. Both sites offer details on deals that usually last only a few days, meaning you have to be ready to strike while the iron is hot. But if you check often enough, you’ll find international deals from the U.S. to destinations like Japan, Italy and the Philippines for less than $500 round-trip.

Travel Off-Peak

Booking a trip outside holiday weeks and peak travel season for your chosen destination is one of the best ways to travel on the cheap. Not only will pricing likely be lower during shoulder and off-peak seasons, but thinner crowds mean shorter lines at attractions and museums, and less drama and stress throughout your whole trip.

Peak travel season varies by destination, so make sure to read up on your desired vacation spot ahead of time to find out the best time to save. Off-peak season in the Caribbean starts in April and ends just before the holidays, for example. In Europe, October through May is typically considered off-peak season.

Go Camping

Camping is inherently frugal, provided you don’t book a luxury cabin or buy your own recreational vehicle. Campsites surround many of the top natural attractions in the U.S., so travelers are sure to enjoy excellent views and memorable hikes. You can easily borrow or buy a tent and essential camping supplies, then pack a cooler for a weekend of frugal fun at an affordable campground nearby.

If you aren’t aware of an inexpensive campground nearby, make sure to explore state park options. Many state parks offer basic camping spots for less than $30 per night.

[Read: 11 Campgrounds With the Best Amenities for Families.]

Get Free Travel Perks

Some travel credit cards offer benefits that can help you save money on travel. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers free trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary auto rental coverage, trip delay insurance, baggage delay coverage, emergency evacuation coverage, travel accident insurance and more. While this card comes with a $450 annual fee (with a $300 annual travel credit), these coverages can help you recoup your costs should you encounter a variety of travel mishaps.

If you want similar benefits with a lower annual fee, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which charges just $95 per year and comes with a similar selection of coverage and perks.

Don’t Pay Foreign Transaction Fees

Some credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee on all purchases made abroad. This fee can typically be up to 3% of each purchase you make, or up to $3 for every $100 you spend.

Since paying this fee is akin to throwing money out the window, it’s best to avoid foreign fees altogether. Make sure you have a credit card in your wallet that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and you won’t have to worry about paying for the privilege of using your card overseas.

Book Flights Early

While you can often score cheap flights when you can book at the last minute, the opposite is also true. Booking airfare early is a great way to save money, provided you can plan your trip at least six to nine months in advance.

Most airlines let you book around 11 months ahead of time, making it easy to compare pricing early on. When it comes to airfare, you can use Google Flights to search for flights to different destinations or regions of the world using flexible dates. Start tracking prices so you know on average about how much the flight costs on whatever dates you’re looking to travel. Then, when you see a flight deal to your desired destination, have your credit card ready to book.

Let the Deals Guide the Way

If you’re searching for the best travel deals, avoid limiting yourself to just one dream destination. Be open to traveling anywhere, then let the deals dictate where you go. You can keep an eye out for flight deals using travel discount sites and be ready to pounce when you find something you like.

This is a great strategy to pursue if you have like seeing new places and don’t mind an adventure. Plus, letting the deals decide your next trip means that you’ll get to explore new areas you may not have thought to visit otherwise.

[Read: The Best Cheap Family Vacations.]

Check Out Alternate Airports

While flying from the airport closest to home is always the most convenient option, don’t be afraid to compare pricing for flights from airports a few hours away. You may find prices are hundreds of dollars less to get to the same location, making the combined cost of gas, parking and driving time an excellent investment.

If you can drive a few hours to a larger airport with more flight options in general, that may be even better. Not only do you have the potential to save money, but you may find a direct flight or a route with fewer layovers.

Become a Professional Housesitter

If you want a free place to stay in Europe, Australia or Asia in exchange for some light work, you can sign up for to become a professional housesitter in numerous popular destinations around the world.

These gigs don’t typically pay, but you get a free place to live while you care for someone’s home (many of the homes also include pets). You can often find housesitting jobs that last multiple weeks as well, giving you the chance to live like a local.

Use Rewards to Cover Excursions and Daytrips

Finally, don’t forget that credit card rewards can be used to cover more than airlines and hotels. Programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards make it easy to redeem points for activities like snorkeling, museum tours, boat trips, guided food tours and more.

As another example, you can use points from hotel rewards programs, such as the World of Hyatt program or the Hilton Honors program, to pay for fun experiences in hundreds of destinations around the world. Options range from cooking classes and concerts to outdoor activities and spa experiences.

More from U.S. News

How to Save Money When Booking Travel Online

20 Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.

How to Find Cheap Flights

The Cheapest Ways to Travel: 15 Tips to Save Money on Your Next Vacation originally appeared on

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up