Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Be Flexible with Destination and Timing
Being flexible with your destination and travel dates is one of the best ways to score a great deal on airfare and lodging. While it's tempting to fixate on one location or timeframe, loosening your criteria opens up possibilities you may not have considered.
Leaving your destination open-ended gives you the freedom to capitalize when an airline launches a sale or a hotel drops its rates. Sign up for fare alerts and check deal sites regularly so you're among the first to spot a bargain. Consider only locking in the region, like Europe or Southeast Asia, rather than a specific city.
Expanding your airport options also helps. Look at flying into and out of different cities within a country or even neighboring countries. A flight to London may be pricey, but you could fly cheaply from Paris. Take trains or budget airlines to reach your final stop.
Timing is everything when it comes to saving money. High season rates leave little wiggle room, while shoulder and low seasons offer substantial discounts. Avoid major holidays, school vacations and big events that drive up demand. Travel midweek rather than weekends if your schedule allows.
Don't limit yourself to 7 or 14 day trips. Longer stays of 21+ days can get you better flight and accommodation prices overall. Mix and match hotels/apartments for added savings. Consider open jaw flights that give you extra flexibility.
Read up on a destination's weather patterns too. Visiting during rainy or extremely hot periods means fewer tourists and often lower prices. Pack accordingly and save your dream spots for optimal weather. You’ll get to see them from a different perspective.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seize a killer flight deal even if you’re unsure of the destination. Sites like Kayak have “explore” tools that will show you dates and airports with the cheapest fares. Pick one that piques your interest and research things to do after booking. Unexpected places can end up being your favorite.
What else is in this post?
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Be Flexible with Destination and Timing
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Travel Off-Season for Big Discounts
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Watch for Airfare Sales and Error Fares
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights and Hotels
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Try Lesser-Known Destinations for Lower Costs
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Travel Mid-Week Instead of Weekends
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Split Stays Between Hotels or Apartments
- Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Cook Your Own Meals to Save on Dining Out
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Travel Off-Season for Big Discounts
One of the best ways to massively slash your vacation costs is to travel during the off-season. Peak tourist season is when prices skyrocket at hotels, airlines and attractions. Everyone wants to visit popular destinations when the weather is ideal. But venturing to these spots during their quieter shoulder seasons or low seasons can save you a bundle.
For example, legendary Cancun sees high season rates from December through April. That’s when hordes of college students and families flock south to bask in sunshine and party it up. But visit in the low season of September and October and you’ll enjoy pleasant temperatures with heavily discounted hotel rates. We’re talking $100+ nightly savings even at luxury resorts. The same goes for European hot spots like Greece, Spain and Croatia. Their peak runs May through September, so aim for spring and fall for dramatic savings.
Ski destinations offer among the biggest low season deals. Places like Vail, Whistler and Lake Tahoe are packed December through March. But come May when the snow melts, tourists disappear along with jacked up pricing. At some resorts you can get rooms for 60%+ off. Mountain biking, hiking, festivals and alpine sightseeing replace skiing.
Off-season travel isn’t just about weather and crowds. Capitalize on places with marked low tourism periods. Japan sees a dip from June to early July during its rainy season. Though you risk showers, airfares and hotels plummet. Thailand also has a low season around September when rains are prevalent. And you can’t beat Europe in winter when airfare sales abound and lines are nowhere to be found.
If crowds put you off, target destinations that lack mass appeal to begin with. The Azores have a mild climate year-round but few travelers divert there from mainland Europe. Or try the Balkans – ridiculously affordable gems like Croatia and Montenegro without the summer stampedes. Places like Bali and Istanbul seem perpetually chaotic, so seek out their overlooked neighbors.
Morocco, South Africa, Dubai – their peak seasons run November to March. But the shoulder seasons still offer warm temps at a fraction of the cost. Plus, you’ll beat the extreme heat of their summers. And never discount domestic trips. Warm weather cities like LA and Miami are far cheaper to visit in their scorching off-season summers than winter high seasons.
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Watch for Airfare Sales and Error Fares
Savvy travelers know that timing is everything when it comes to scoring low airfares. Airlines run sales sporadically throughout the year, often with very short booking windows. Being ready to pounce when these sales hit is key to locking in the best deals. Sign up for airline and deal site alerts so you’re tipped off the minute sales go live. Check your email frequently so you don’t miss out.
Most airlines run at least a couple of major sales annually tied to slower travel periods. For example, winter fare sales kick off in January for travel through May or June. Late summer/early fall sales pop up in August for fall and winter getaways. Sign up for fare calendars from sites like Airfarewatchdog and you can get a sense of when sales historically happen.
Keep an eye out for one-off sales too, like Delta’s recent 72-hour Hawaii fare sale with roundtrips starting under $300 from multiple mainland cities. Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines run similar Hawaii deals as they battle for market share. expanded service to Hawaii, triggering competitive deals. Customer appreciation sales also happen periodically for those enrolled in loyalty programs.
Error fares represent one of the biggest potential scoresof all. These are airfares inadvertently filed for substantially lower rates that intended. Travelers lucky enough to stumble upon and book them can end up with once-in-a-lifetime deals like $99 transatlantic flights or 90%+ off normal fares.
Error fares frequently originate from third-party sites like Expedia or Orbitz. But they are honored if booked before being discovered and pulled. You may have just an hour or two to act. Sites like Secret Flying specialize in alerting followers instantly when error fares appear. Turn on tweet notifications so you never miss a deal.
Be ready to book fast if something looks suspicious – any routing that seems too good to be true probably is. But move cautiously if it involves complex itineraries with multiple airlines. Codeshare flights are generally safe, but book travel interrupted by lengthy layovers at your own risk. Some error fares have re-ticketing fees or other hiccups that diminish their value.
Travel hacking forums and blogs share tales of epic error fares unearthed by eagle-eyed shoppers. A few examples: LA to Singapore for $150 roundtrip instead of $600+, NYC to Paris for $278 instead of $1000+, Chicago to China for $324 instead of $1300+. Even “mistake fares” with smaller discounts can represent big savings, like 10% to 20% off normal prices.
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights and Hotels
Savvy travelers know the immense value of racking up frequent flyer miles and hotel points to redeem for free flights and stays. While earning them takes some strategy, the payoff is huge - we're talking getting $5,000+ international business class seats or 5-star hotels for a fraction of the cost.
Signing up for co-branded airline and hotel credit cards that come with large signup bonuses is one of the fastest ways to build up a stash of miles and points quickly. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred offer 60,000 bonus points, worth at least $750 towards travel. Some premium cards like the Platinum Card from American Express provide massive 100,000+ point bonuses.
Put your everyday spending on these cards to keep earning points on top of the signup perk. Charge groceries, dining, streaming services - anything you normally buy. Using the cards strategically during promotions like 5x or 10x bonus points on certain categories will really add to your balance. It takes a bit of spending dedication, but you can easily amass hundreds of thousands of miles and points within a couple years doing this.
Transferring points between loyalty programs is a savvy way to maximize value. Chase Ultimate Rewards can move over to Hyatt, United Airlines and more at a 1:1 ratio. American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Delta, Hilton and dozens of others. Even credit card cash back can convert to frequent flyer currencies in some cases. Know your options.
Redemption is where the fun starts. Don't just settle for economy flights. Use your hard-earned points for international business and first class award tickets that normally cost thousands. Flyers report incredible experiences like sipping Dom Perignon champagne while lounging in lie-flat pods on Emirates, or multi-course meals with premium wines in spacious suites on Singapore Airlines.
Similarly, cash in points for overwater bungalow suites at top tropical resorts or multi-bedroom villas at luxury properties in destinations like Hawaii and the Caribbean. Nightly redemption rates are usually capped at 40,000 - 60,000 points, even at places going for $1000+ per night. Take advantage of 5th night free awards, use points on room upgrades and don't forget free breakfast benefits that are included for elite members.
Points and miles do take some work and know-how to maximize. You'll need to dig into programs deeply to understand sweet spots and transfer partners. Award availability is limited on some airlines and hotels, so you have to be flexible and persistent. Having cards that let you transfer points between loyalty programs helps open options when one program lacks the award you want. Sign up for ExpertFlyer alerts when award seats do open up.
Avoid wasting points on items like magazine subscriptions or merchandise. Stick to lucrative redemptions like flights and hotels that provide 2+ cents in value per point redeemed. That's 2-10x the typical worth you would get otherwise. Though tempting, even using points to erase travel purchases provides lower value. Seek elite status tiers with programs like American AAdvantage that unlock more awards and perks.
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Try Lesser-Known Destinations for Lower Costs
Escaping the crowds and saving money go hand in hand when you venture beyond the tourist circuit to lesser-known destinations. Savvy travelers have long realized the value in exploring alternative locales that provide just as much wow-factor and cultural immersion without the inflated costs.
The Caribbean offers the perfect example. Islands like Jamaica, the Bahamas and Barbados are utterly Instagram-worthy, but also come with Instagram-worthy hotel rates to match. Venture just a bit further afield to islands like Dominica, Saba, Montserrat or Grenada and you’ll find the same gorgeous beaches and friendly vibes with a fraction of the other islands’ prices.
On Dominica, you can stay at boutique cliffside eco-lodges with private plunge pools or right on the beach for under $200 a night. Grenada draws the all-inclusive crowd but has an entire charming capital filled with spicy cuisine, colorful homes and restored plantation ruins that often get overlooked.
Montserrat is practically still a secret after past volcanic eruptions deterred visitors. But this quiet escape now welcomes travelers eager to explore its black sand beaches, lush rainforest trails and laidback local culture. Prices for food, activities and hotels run delightfully low.
Europe’s heavy hitters have their charms, but you can immerse yourself in old world charm, history and culture in Central Europe for a steal. Rather than forking over hefty sums in Paris or London, try charismatic gems like Ljubljana, Slovenia and its castle-topped medieval center. Or the ridiculously picturesque Czech town of Český Krumlov with architecture straight out of fairy tales.
Budapest’s sprawling bathhouses and opulent Turkish-era monuments exude elegance for so much less than Western Europe. Poland’s Krakow tantalizes with Europe’s largest medieval square and historic Jewish quarter. Baltic capitals like Riga and Tallinn, Estonia wow visitors with their red-roofed medieval cores and resplendent art nouveau facades.
Asia, Africa and South America each hold their own trove of intriguing destinations where you can stretch your budget further. Northern Thailand delivers jaw-dropping temples, vibrant culture and stunning scenery in spots like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai at a savings from Bangkok. Sri Lanka beckons with ancient Buddhist sites, rolling tea fields and pristine beaches for less than half of what a vacation costs in the neighboring Maldives.
Stay in an Amazon eco-lodge or witness daily life in a rural Andean village in Peru on a fraction of the budget you would need for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. Or opt for Mexico’s artsy, cobblestoned San Miguel de Allende over the touristic ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum to the east. Wander Morocco’s coastal Essaouira with its windswept medina instead of crowded Marrakech for a peaceful, charming experience.
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Travel Mid-Week Instead of Weekends
Shifting your travel dates to avoid crowded weekends can be one of the easiest ways to secure better rates and availability. While every traveler dreams of blissful weekends away, the reality is that peak demand those two days a week drives prices up exponentially.
First and foremost are the crowds. Weekends, especially in warm weather destinations, mean jam-packed beaches, hour-long waits at restaurants and packed tours and attractions. Finding any sense of space and serenity amidst the masses is next to impossible. But come Monday through Thursday, you’ll have those Instagram hotspots practically to yourself. No pesky photobombers ruining your perfect sunset shot.
Mid-week is also when hotels and airlines tend to offer their best rates. With lower weekend occupancy, properties drop prices to fill rooms. I’ve stayed at luxury Caribbean resorts mid-week that were 50% cheaper than weekend rates. That meant getting a beachfront suite for the price of a garden view.
Similarly, more award night availability opens up at top hotels if you’re willing to avoid Friday and Saturday. That makes securing upgrades, specific room types and elite benefits much easier.
In Europe, mid-week museum crowds thin out so significantly that it feels like you have a private tour. In London, hit the British Museum on a Tuesday morning and you won’t queue for tickets or jostle through mobs of school groups in the galleries.
Mid-week flight deals also abound, especially if you can depart and return on less popular days like Tuesday through Thursday. Airfare pricing algorithms account for peak demand periods, so you’ll skip out on that premium.
Theme parks like Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Universal Studios actively drop rates and extend park hours on certain midweek days to entice tourists. Recent promotions boasted 8am openings with tickets as low as $49 at Universal. Good luck finding weekends that affordable.
Work trips predominantly fall mid-week, so business hotels tend to lower prices then to compensate for empty rooms. As a leisure traveler, take advantage to afford properties you’d typically never be able to swing on points and cash rates.
It takes a bit of date flexibility, but the mid-week advantage is worth it. Look at hitting big cities over more relaxed weekends and doing getaways earlier in the week. Or plan longer stays that span both weekends and mid-week nights to balance out costs.
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Split Stays Between Hotels or Apartments
Families and groups traveling together especially stand to benefit from this strategy. Sharing a two or three bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, living area and laundry facilities provides way more space, convenience and privacy than squeezing everyone into a single hotel room. Even studios and one bedrooms offer perks like lounging space that standard rooms lack.
Savvy travelers leverage sites like Vrbo (formerly HomeAway), Airbnb and Booking.com to find apartments and vacation rentals interspersed with hotel stays. This opens up possibilities like spending the first few nights of a trip at an upscale business hotel located downtown or right on the beach. Then shifting to an apartment in a more residential neighborhood for the remainder of the stay.
Apartment rates that are 50% or less than comparable hotel suites make the split stay affordable. And the apartment location gives you a chance to dive into the local vibe, shop at neighborhood markets and cook some meals on your own schedule.
I’ve used this strategy in expensive cities like London, where hotel rates are exorbitant. Booking a hotel by the train station or a major attraction for the start of my trip kept transit simple while I got my bearings. Then switching to an apartment on the other side of town for 80% savings over subsequent hotel nights let me live like a local.
Having laundry in the apartment was a huge perk after a week of travel. And being able to whip up quick breakfasts and the occasional dinner slashed my food costs considerably. The small trade-off in transit time getting to central sights from the apartment was well worth the hundreds in savings.
Split stays work especially well when you spend the tail end of a vacation somewhere more remote like a tropical resort. Kicking things off in a big city hotel full of amenities keeps you entertained. Then head to a secluded beach town where the main attraction is relaxation, not five-star service.
The key to making split stays work is not skimping on research and reading reviews. Property photos can be deceiving. Don’t assume amenities like Wi-Fi, parking and laundry mentioned on a listing are guaranteed. Pin down locations on a map before booking to understand transit logistics.
Message hosts with detailed questions beforehand if something seems unclear. Pay close attention to guest reviews that might reveal issues not obvious from listings, like noisy neighbors, faulty appliances or construction projects nearby. Cleanliness woes pop up more often in apartments than hotels.
Steal Away: Pro Traveler Secrets for Scoring Your Next Dream Vacation on the Cheap - Cook Your Own Meals to Save on Dining Out
Eating out three meals a day during a trip, especially somewhere like Europe, can devastate your budget faster than you can down a gelato. Restaurants know tourists will pay a premium to sample local cuisine. A single pasta dish can run $20+ with drinks, apps and tip. Even casual grabs like pizza and sandwiches tally up. This doesn’t mean sacrificing trying new food and flavors. But preparing some of your own meals allows you to cut costs without sacrificing calories.
Travelers willing to self-cater rave about the savings while still enjoying local supermarkets and fresh ingredients. Couples and groups who split restaurant bills one night then make communal meals save hundreds over the course of a 10-14 day vacation. Families with kids benefit in particular from having a kitchen. No worrying about finicky eaters or huge tabs for multiple kids’ meals out.
Packing some pantry basics like olive oil, spices and condiments eliminates having to buy these at inflated prices abroad. Grocery shopping shortly after you arrive lets you stock up on whatever you need for multiple meals. See what’s ripe and seasonal in the produce section. Bakeries and prepared foods counters offer quick meal solutions too.
Whip up omelets or pancakes for breakfast, assemble sandwiches for lunch on the go and craft a pasta dish or stir fry for dinner. Repeat your favorites or get creative with new ingredients you spot. You’ll likely find far more variety at the market than hotel breakfast buffets.
Portable appliances like electric kettles, French presses and multi-cookers take up minimal luggage space for brewing coffee or cooking. A sharp knife and small cutting board tucked in your bag lets you prep ingredients with ease. Insulated lunch bags mean you can pack food for day excursions.
Scope out apartment and vacation rental listings with full kitchens so you aren’t trying to cook out of a bathroom. But even hotel rooms with mini-fridges, microwaves and electric kettles present options. I’ve managed to whip up satisfying egg scrambles, oatmeal, soups and more from a hotel microwave. Road trippers love camping stoves and grills that let them cook at parks and rest stops.
Dining out still has its place for tantalizing local specialties, atmospheric cafes and opportunities to connect with locals. But mix in some self-catering days to keep your budget and appetite satisfied. Cooking classes abroad offer a chance to learn new cuisine hands-on before replicating dishes yourself.