Ahh…personal finances. One of our biggest frenemies whether we are 18, 40 or 70. We all want to travel but many of us can’t afford to do so due to said frenemy. It’s the thing most of us only learn to manage long after we are tied down with families and jobs that inherently strain our finances. One of my biggest regrets of my adult life prior to marriage was not allowing myself to travel when I was untethered due to my lack of financial planning and bargain hunting. As we are about to embark on the year 2020, here are my tips for saving on travel. Set those New Years resolutions!
Get a Cash Rewards card!
One of the first and biggest regrets I have is not using a rewards cards sooner. I have always used a credit card for my day to day purchases (gas, eating out, etc.) but only just before getting married at age 29 did I get finally get around to looking into credit cards that offered rewards. Not doing so sooner prevented me from earning thousands (YES, THOUSANDS) of dollars (for doing nothing). Money that I could have used to help pay for travel (or whatever else I wanted). Since getting into rewards cards in late 2016 or early 2017, my wife and I have gotten around $1,500 of free cash just from using the card for our daily expenses.
Personally, we have a Bank of America Cash Rewards card and a Bank of America Travel Rewards card. We use the former for our day to day purchases and generally can redeem around $600-750 per year that we apply towards our travel budget. I do adjust the category that we get the 3% cash back on every few months (for example, I set it to shopping at the end of the year as we approach Christmas).
However, the Cash Rewards card has a drawback in that it has foreign transaction fees. That means, we can’t use it while actually traveling or we will be charged around 3% on our purchases. That’s where the Travel Rewards card comes in play. That is the card we use while traveling outside of the US as it doesn’t have that same stipulation. After we are done traveling, we simply redeem the rewards from that card against our statement.
PRO TIP: You must pay the cards off at the end of the month otherwise any rewards cash you earned will just be redeemed towards the inevitable high interest rate you will pay. Otherwise, seems counter intuitive to have a rewards card, right? To maximize rewards, you can’t carry balances.
There are many options out there and there are likely better ones than the two I use, so do your research.
Find other ways to invest…in travel
You should be investing for your future. 401k’s, HSA’s, Roth’s…there are many options. However, you can also invest in your lifestyle.
One of the ways to do that is via a tool like Acorns. Think of it like a piggy bank. As you make purchases, Acorns rounds up that money and puts it into a bucket which is then invested. For example, it may round up 10 purchases and take out $5 from your checking account at the end of the week. Over the course of many months and years, you can start to see how that may be helpful.
I’ve only been using Acorns a few months but already have $300 in the account (probably $200 of it is actually mine, the rest is ROI). As this money grows to $2,000, $10,000, etc. the resulting growth could allow you take $500 out once a year to pay for those airplane tickets, etc.
Ideally, you shouldn’t touch investments (especially as most have stiff penalties for doing so), but Acorns is a bit of an exception.
Use the tools at your disposal to research prices
I used to never research prices and pretty much only used the main sites to check for airfare or hotels. You know the ones…Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, etc. Turns out, there is a WHOLE LOT MORE options. For an upcoming trip in April (stay tuned for posts!), I started with Google Flights and used their graph/date matrix to give me an idea of when the cheapest flights were for that destination. I then cross referenced this with other sites that sell airline tickets and even the airline carrier themselves. In the end, I was able to find tickets via Vayama that were $150 cheaper than virtually all other places (including Google).
For the resort that we are going to be staying at, I did much the same thing. I compared many sites over a period of time to see the price fluctuations. Even after booking I monitored prices (read the cancellation policies!) and got the reservation cheaper directly from the resort due to a flash sale. This sale wasn’t available at the other aggregate travel sites.
Consider using loyalty programs
Another huge avenue of saving on travel is loyalty programs from rental car companies, airlines and hotel chains. If you find yourself staying/wanting to stay at multiple locations of a particular hotel chain, it may not hurt to sign up for their loyalty program. For example, when I travel for work I try to stay with one chain so I can accrue points with them to use on my personal travel. Same thing for my car rentals, I try to use Enterprise as much as possible.
Today, keeping track of all of the sites and passwords is no longer a chore. So sign up for those loyalty programs!
Don’t be afraid to reach out to hotels or airlines
Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.Forrest Gump
When it comes to securing a great deal, sometimes the best option is to go direct to the source. This was our experience when we stayed Amari Havodda in the Maldives for our honeymoon. Amari gave us an unpublished coupon code to use during booking and threw in a candlelit dinner on the beach. It was fantastic. If you are good at schmoozing, you could even ask the front desk clerk for a hookup!
We all want to hit that book now button so we can get that warm fuzzy feeling. Even if it means going into debt by over spending on your credit card or over paying due to impatience. Been there and done that. I hear ya. BUT…be patient, do your research, monitor the prices and you will come out on top! Victory and vacations for all!
Those are my tips for saving on travel. What do you do to help finance your travel plans? Do you have additional tips and/or tricks that you’d like to share? Tell me in the comments below! And, of course, Happy New Year!