Travel can be one of the largest easily controllable expenses that most people face — myself included. For 2017, travel is set to make up 12% my spending — the largest of any category outside of my home. Over the years as we have traveled more, my approach to how I spend money while traveling has changed a lot. Here’s the approach to travel that’s worked the best for me to get the most out our trips for the least expense.
1. Get a Deal on the Flight
Flights are usually one of the top 2 expenses (hotel being the other) of the trip. We’re fans of Skyscanner, which lets you search for a flight, then get alerts on it as the price changes. For our recent trip to Japan, we watched as fares fluctuated and grabbed tickets when they were at their lowest.
Buying flights with points is amazing when it works. Churning and building up points to get flights for free is a lucrative approach, but it does take a bunch of work. I’ve tried churning cards before, but it didn’t seem worth it. One misstep and I’m paying a yearly fee, or not hitting a required amount – it was too much extra for me to worry about. Instead, I have a handy Fidelity Rewards Visa with 2% cash back and no fee. I love the idea that I’m just getting straight cash and can use it on anything. This card has a foreign transaction fee of 1%, so technically you’ll be paying to use it when traveling abroad, but with 2% back, you’re still positive 1%.
2. We Don’t Take Airline Offers To Be Bumped
One way to make a dollar last the longest is to accept offers to be bumped in exchange for a discount on a future fare. We never take these, and instead like traveling on a schedule that maximizes our vacation time. This only applies on the way out though! On the way back from a trip, bumping is always an option if we have the time to spare before heading back to work.
3. Book a Hotel Using Points if Possible
I’ve found it’s a LOT more beneficial to book a hotel using points than book air travel using it. The net amount of that each point gets you go a lot further. For our recent trip to St. Petersburg for Mrs. Minafi’s birthday, we booked a Marriot hotel, using Starwood points we transferred over to Marriot to use there. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is the best bang for the buck on this, with a free first year and $95 after that. We’ve used this card to book our hotels for free on at least 4 trips, totaling above $5k saved.
4. Do Your Planning Ahead, Not During
Our approach is to front-load research before the trip, then just relax and enjoy things during it. Things like the flight and hotel are the big ones, but aside from that having dinner reservations, plans on top sights to see, places added to Yelp or a custom Google Map. I love this approach since it allows us to get somewhere and know what’s next.
5. Plan Something For the First Day
We don’t plan out every day of our trip, but I like planning out the first day after we get in. This gets us up and out of the hotel with something in mind. It saves that awkward step where you wake up the first day and think “What should we do now?”. I love planning a dinner, or something with a tour guide on this day – a chance to chat with some people and get other recommendations for the trip.
6. We Don’t Worry About Expenses After That
From when we touch down in a place, we don’t worry about expenses of anything at all. All the big things have been taken care of – hotels, airfare, any expensive tours or meals – so now is the time to just relax and enjoy the trip. We don’t buy souvenirs, so that’s one less thing to consider spending money on. Instead, we prefer to kick back and spend (somewhat) recklessly. Daiquiris by the pool? Check! Expensive dinners at the tastiest restaurants around. Check! Lyfting around the city in a drunken stupor? Sure!
We trust ourselves to not spend money on useless things, so this approach has worked so far for us so far. In all of our trips, I can’t remember a single time when we spent more than $100 in an unexpected way on a trip. We’re not throwing money around left and right in that way, but just not cheapening out on a taxi when we have luggage to save a few bucks, which brings me to the last point.
7. Don’t Cheap Out on Taxi’s
If we’re traveling with suitcases, taxi’s are often worth it. Even if it’s just from a close station to a hotel, it can save a ton of grief after a lot of stress traveling. Ideally, if we’re traveling with just a backpack then public transportation is a non-issue.
What are your financial rules of traveling? Do you prefer to travel on the cheap? Get good deals? Are you a planner or a spur of the moment traveler?