Happy Friday, friends! Enough of you messaged, emailed, and commented requesting this post- so I wanted to get it on the calendar sooner rather than later… especially since summertime is the prime season for travel. Sure, I’ll share the occasional vacation recap or camping adventure here on the blog (in the travel & adventure section), but obviously my niche is all things home & interiors. While this post does feel a bit out of the norm for me, in terms of blog content, I’m fortunate to say I’ve done my fair share of traveling in my short thirty-two years. It’s something Emmett & I have actually become quite good at over the years, in terms of scoring deals, getting upgrades, and taking advantage of hidden perks. This post is for those of you who are curious about how we snag less expensive flights, travel further on a budget, all while enjoying the amenities (in an increasingly expensive age). Click through for my best tips on snagging good deals & upgrades. It’s a BIG post- so be sure to pin or save it.
First, let me say this… if you’re on a mega budget and just want to see more of the world- don’t be afraid to travel on the cheap. During my early twenties, I couch surfed, stayed in hostels, backpacked my way through foreign countries, and split tiny rooms with friends- even if that meant crashing on a cot or sharing a bunk. Emmett & I once took a month-long cross country camping trip and tent camped the entire time (which is extremely budget-friendly). It was a great way to see more of the United States without spending an arm and a leg. All of this to say- there are definitely ways to travel, see new things, have new experiences, meet new people, and create memories without spending an insane amount of money. Sometimes it just means traveling in a different way.
Remember… travel can look however you’d like, based on your goals & budget.
How I prefer to travel these days? More than a decade after my couch surfing days, my personal travel goals have shifted as I’ve aged. Emmett & I try to map out fun trips, set travel goals for the year (it’s one of our big priorities), and dream of where we can go with our resources. We like to save up, plan ahead, and have been known to sometimes splurge for well-designed hotels, excellent food from highly rated restaurants, and travel further than past trips. However, most of this is possible thanks to snagging cheap airfare, redeeming points, and taking advantage of loyalty programs. That’s really the info I wanted to share with you today. First let’s talk flights…
Here are 10 solid tips for scoring flight deals…
- Follow & subscribe to accounts that share local deals… local pages (from your home base airport) are best. Examples in my area? Flights from Home and FromSLC.
- Be flexible with dates & locations… if you’re willing to be flexible with your dates and location, the more deals you’ll be able to find.
- Check third party deal sites… look at sites & apps like: Skyscanner, CheapOair, Skiplagged, JetRadar, Airfarewatchdog, Hopper, Google Flights, etc.
- Book in advance… we book the majority of our flights at least four months in advance. Planning ahead is worth the savings, and it gives you something to look forward to!
- Use incognito mode when searching for flights… did you know prices increase with repeated searching? This prevents your data from being stored and you’ll see lower rates.
- Set fare alerts… this is great when you have a specific location in mind- you’ll be notified if flights to that location drop into your set price range.
- Book early weekday arrivals & departures… did you know it’s always less expensive to fly Monday-Wednesday, and you’ll see higher rates Thursday-Sunday? FYI, Tuesday is usually the least expensive day to fly.
- Stick with one mainstream airline… choose an airline that is well known at your local airport, then stay brand loyal to build your points & status through their loyalty program. Our go-to airline is Delta.
- Act fast… flight deals sell out quickly. The key is to act fast! There isn’t time to hesitate- you just have to commit.
- Pay with points… I’ll touch on this topic later in the post, but we’ve paid for multiple international trips using only points- which cost us zero dollars.
If a flight deal pops up that has us excited, we’ll immediately book it. In fact, we’ve even booked flights for other trips while on vacation. While we were in Hawaii back in April, we got a notification that Italy flights had just dropped. We booked the last two flights into Venice during that deal… all while sitting on the beach in Maui. Was it a convenient time? No, but should we have waited, we would have missed out.
I know it seems like a lot of work, but I promise it’s worth it! To give you a little encouragement, here are five good flight deals Emmett & I have snagged in the past year or two…
- SLC > Amsterdam (under $500, round-trip, nonstop)
- SLC > Phoenix (under $40, round-trip)
- SLC > French Polynesia (under $500, round-trip)
- SLC > Venice (under $600, round-trip)
- SLC > Denver (under $80, round-trip)
We also just booked flights to Bali for a scuba trip, and we solely paid for those flights with points. That brings me to our next topic…
This is really where Emmett shines, being finance and analytically minded. I have to give him all the credit for finding the best credit cards for accumulating points & status. He is constantly researching. Here is the simplified version of how it works and what we do to earn miles & upgrades…
We have a couple different credit cards that are excellent for travel. I’d recommend researching to see what cards best benefit your goals, finances, and align with your preferred airline. We basically pay for everything via credit card and pay it off right away- all to build points.
Perks of having a travel specific credit card? It all depends on the card, but here are a handful of ours…
- Free lounge access… which includes free food & drinks, clean restrooms outside of the main airport, showers, comfortable private seating, etc. Plus, two free companion passes to the lounge.
- Boosted points & status… which means seat upgrades, priority boarding, free food & drinks, free in-flight Wifi, more legroom, etc.
- Free checked bags & luggage… those costs can add up quickly, we always enjoy our free checked luggage.
- Free flights… yes- you read that correctly. Each year, we get two FREE companion flights in the lower 48.
- Travel bonuses… you get up to $300 to spend solely on travel. Some cards include bonuses toward hotels, ride shares, rental cars, more flights, etc.
- Vouchers... signup also includes a handful of vouchers for food, cocktails, regular drinks, etc.
- Free TSA PreCheck & Global Entry… Emmett & I both already had this, but one of our cards could have gotten us Global Entry or PreCheck for free. It’s a game changer and a couple hundred in savings.
- Free global assist… if you’re ever in an emergency situation, you can call the credit card hotline and get free medical & legal referrals, emergency cash wires, missing luggage assistance, etc.
Another great tip from Emmett… if you travel with a companion the majority of the time (like a partner or spouse), consider getting two different credit cards. We each have two cards and they’re all different, because they have unique benefits & perks. This means we’re able to take advantage of all of them.
I’ll admit, we’re too cheap to buy first class…. we would rather spend money on experiences once we arrive at our destination (renting a boat, eating at a fancy restaurant, diving, booking a super cool hotel, etc). However, we get upgraded 60-70% of the time thanks to our travel cards- either in Delta Comfort or first class, which is always a fun surprise. Bottom line in regards to cards? Research to see which one best fits your travel goals, budget, and financial situation. Next up, let’s talk loyalty programs.
LOYALTY PROGRAMS & POINTS
Hand-in-hand with travel cards & point building… be sure to sign up for the loyalty programs. These are always free and are the most underrated tool (in my opinion) when it comes to travel deals & freebies! I have neatly arranged all of the travel apps on my phone in a folder. Make sure you join loyalty programs & download apps for all the travel outlets so you can begin enjoying the perks (even if you don’t travel often). Sign up for…
- Your preferred airline… so it can track your miles and boost your status (ours is Delta Skymiles).
- Accommodations… I always try to book through Hotels.com because we like a variety of hotels- or stick to a certain brand / chain (Marriott hotels, etc).
- Home rentals… Airbnb, VRBO, etc.
- Rental cars… Enterprise, National, Hertz, etc.
- Ride shares… Lyft, Uber, etc.
Try to stick to the same system or outlet, so you can accumulate points & perks more quickly. I’ll give some examples of that below in the accommodations section…
As I previously mentioned, we like staying at a variety of hotels- boutique hotels, international hotels, smaller & unique places, popular places … a good mix. Therefore, I’m setup on the Hotels.com loyalty program. It allows me to book lots of hotels and enjoy the perks (like free stays and free champagne sent to our room).
Most third party apps or established hotel brands have great loyalty programs. Once you stay so many nights, you get a night or two for free. You may also get free food or drinks once you collect so many “stars” or points. For our upcoming Italy trip, I was able to book two FREE nights at an incredible high-end hotel that we never would have spent that much money on. We didn’t have to pay a penny! Breakfast is included, we receive complimentary wine, and we were upgraded to the suite… all for free, solely because I signed up for a free loyalty program last year.
Here are 10 of my best tips for saving on accommodations…
- Join loyalty programs… which we discussed above.
- Check third party deal sites… look at sites & apps like: Hotels.com, HotelsCombined, Expedia, HotelTonight, Orbitz, Booking.com, Travelocity, Trivago, etc.
- Book in advance, but keep an eye on it… book early, but keep an eye on the hotel rate. If it lowers drastically, call the hotel and ask if they can match the current price… they usually match the price, instead of losing your business altogether.
- Negotiate with a human… if you see conflicting prices online, it never hurts to call the hotel and ask if they can match or beat the lowest price. Ask if there are discounts for military, teachers, AAA members, government employees, etc- if that applies to you.
- Reserve weekday rooms… just like flights, accommodations are less expensive on weekdays, as opposed to weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
- Later check-in for a chance of an upgrade… that’s when the hotel has a good idea of available inventory for that evening. You’re more likely to get upgraded, if you ask later in the day.
- Try rentals instead of a hotel… if hotels are booked or are too expensive, don’t forget rentals like: Airbnb, VRBO, HouseTrip, and FlipKey (just be aware of hidden fees).
- Pay with points… like flights, you can pay for hotels with your points or loyalty rewards.
- Upgrade... why am I telling you to check out the more expensive rooms while you’re trying to save money? Some of them include free meals & perks- like breakfast & parking. Sometimes it’s worth weighing the cost to see what is actually less expensive.
- Book in the off season… booking during the off season may mean the weather can be iffy, but it also means lower rates and less crowds.
- Split a room with friends… if you travel well with someone, ask them to split a room to cut the cost in half.
While looking at expensive over-the-water bungalows in Bora Bora last year, we knew we could stretch our dollar by splitting a larger bungalow with friends. We cut our cost in half and were able to get a private pool, just because we shared the space with another couple. The key to this is to make sure the accommodation you are sharing is with people you travel well with, AND make sure it’s allowed by the hotel. It will typically tell you the max number of adults that are allowed in a room or suite.
One last tip for accommodations… if something isn’t as expected, speak up! During that same Bora Bora trip, our air conditioning went out. It’s hot & humid in French Polynesia, so we immediately let the manager know we were without A/C. He sent a repairman and for the trouble, he comped dinner for the four of us at their best restaurant. We enjoyed an eight(!) course dinner with wine pairings, all because of the A/C mishap and because we let the right person know (rather than suffering through it).
INSPIRATION, GOOD RESOURCES, & BLOGS
I’m going to wrap things up, but I wanted to leave you with some inspiration and interesting resources.
These are some groups, people, and blogs Emmett & I follow specifically for travel…
- Girls Love Travel (and I also follow Girls That Scuba)
- The Points Guy
- Condé Nast Traveler
- Upgraded Points
- Travel & Leisure
- Trip Advisor
- Dan Flying Solo
- The Planet D
- Flights from Home
- God Save the Points
- Going Awesome Places
As cliché as it sounds, I learned (probably too young) that life is short. I have never once regretted taking a trip or traveling. The experiences we make are the ones we carry with us for life. As much as I love and care about investing in our home, the next category we focus our energy and funds toward is travel & adventure. Example? My dream of installing a pool here at home might be years away… and who knows- maybe it will never happen (thanks to rising prices), but I’ll make memories splashing in the ocean and swimming in at least two different countries this year instead. The thought of installing that pool and not being able to travel for the next few years because of money displaced isn’t worth it to us right now.
One of my pet peeves is when people say, “I wish I could visit X destination” or “You’re so lucky you get to travel”… why? Because the keyword there is wish. I want to scream, GO DO IT! Go have fun! Take the trip! Anyone can travel. Get out there and go someplace new- even if it’s to a neighboring state on a shoestring budget. I do feel fortunate our health allows us to travel, but in terms of the budget- we’ve traveled many places with an extremely small amount of money. It doesn’t involve luck- it’s just about making it happen and prioritizing. I’d also encourage you to be a tourist in your own state. We’ll never stop doing that!
I think it boils down to priorities, personal goals, and what brings you happiness… instead of dropping a hefty sum on a designer handbag or fancy car, I’d rather buy a flight. Instead of ordering carryout three nights a week, put that money into a travel fund. Spend or save based on what brings you joy for whatever phase of life you’re currently in. For us, that’s our home & travel. We save, we plan, we work hard to make it a priority, and we do it. That feels really rewarding and empowering. Sometimes you just have to jump in, metaphorically & literally speaking. 10/10 recommend canyoning in the Swiss Alps, by the way- that’s me cannonballing into a waterfall.
I know this was an abnormally long post, but I hope you enjoyed it. I’d love to know if you learned anything new? I really hope it was helpful and encourages you to dream big and plan some trips to look forward to this year. If this post was helpful or educational for you, please feel free to share it! I’m obviously passionate about traveling and would love to encourage more people to get out there and see the world. Also let me know if you’re able to use any of these tips to snag some deals. What vacations or trips are you most looking forward to this year? How about dream trips or locations you’d like to visit in the future (set some price alerts)? If you have any questions for me (or for Emmett), leave them for us in the comment section below. We’re always happy to help. Cheers to a wonderful weekend ahead! We’ll be working on our camper… full steam ahead!