Travel Hacks to Save Big Money

By Alex Kallimanis: Everyone loves a great deal, no matter what your budget is. There are so many travel hacking opportunities that can save luxury travelers to backpackers big money. Last year we flew multiple international trips for just the taxes, thanks to the bonus points on credit card sign ups. It’s liberating to travel around the world for pennies on the dollar, giving you more money to spend at the destination. Here are some ways to save big money on travel!

Bell jumping out of a small boat into the water in front of a glacier

Earn Cheap International Flights with Credit Card Bonuses

Play the credit card points game to earn free flights with everyday spending. There’s really no catch as long as you’re responsible with credit. Try and pay off your monthly balance to best maximize this hack. The best choices depend on your budget, style and what city you live in. Here are a few of the many great options in the travel hacking world.

Take Advantage of Credit Card Reward Bonuses to Save Thousands on Travel

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card includes a complimentary priority pass. This allows for 10 free airport lounge visits in a year. The bonus offer of 130,000 Hilton Honors points is worth around $700 in travel credit. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card also includes automatic Hilton Honors Gold Status. And as a gold member, you get room upgrades when available. This is fantastic value, as the annual fee is just $95. So even infrequent travelers can find great value in this card!

The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card and Delta Skymiles Platinum AMEX cards are great cards if you fly Delta – which ranks as the best US airline for customer service. The Delta Skymiles Platinum AMEX card sometimes offers up to 90,000 SkyMiles as a signup bonus!

Alex selfie at Osaka Castle

Last year I flew roundtrip from Washington, DC to Tokyo, Japan on Delta for 70,000 Skymiles and $60 in taxes. If I paid out of pocket for the ticket it would have cost me $1,300. So I saved over $1,000 on that ticket! Then I was able to replenish Delta miles even during the pandemic. Read how I earned over 120,000 Delta Skymiles in a year without flying and how you can too!

two Japanese women standing on a bridge wearing traditional kimonos

Free Lounge Access with Priority Pass

Rewards credit cards that offer a priority pass are great for free lounge access. Having lounge access makes any flight, especially a long one, more relaxing and enjoyable. We’ve now taken advantage of free lounge access in cities around the world like Istanbul and multiple airports in Tanzania during our recent safari trip. Cards like Chase Sapphire also offer a Priority Pass, but the annual fee is $550! There’s a $300 reimbursement for travel credit, and even Uber counts towards that. With so many cards on the market, that card is not worth keeping beyond a year for some. Bell had this card, and cancelled it during the height of the pandemic. Given the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card comes with a Priority Pass, and the annual fee is just $95, that’s been worth keeping for us during the pandemic.

Sunrise over the Indian Ocean, boats and balcony

Istanbul balcony view of Hagia Sofia

Maximize Hotel Points With Travel Reward Card Bonuses

If you travel a lot for business, there’s value in brand loyalty. So it’s typically not worth alternating between Hilton and Marriott stays unless there’s a massive price difference. The points add up over the long haul, and loyalty has the added value of status. So you can get extra perks like complimentary room upgrades and free breakfast with a higher status. The exception here is with travel hacking – because with big sign up bonuses it can be worth alternating between hotel branded travel rewards cards. Many of them even include automatic status upgrades, so you can hold higher status at hotels like Marriott and Hilton simultaneously, even if you barely stay there!

Tempe things to do, luxury places to stay

Hilton Points

Many travel rewards cards offer big sign up bonuses. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is an excellent travel rewards card to have. They offer 130,000 Hilton Honors Points that you can use towards multiple free Hilton stays. Those points are worth around $700 in Hilton credit. Another excellent perk of this card is automatic Hilton Honors gold status.  Hilton gold status offers complimentary breakfasts and room upgrades when available.

You can receive a free Priority Pass, which allows you 10 lounge visits in over 1,200 lounges worldwide. At $95, this is the lowest annual fee card I’ve come across that gives free lounge access! One downside is that sometimes the lounge is in a terminal you can’t access. But this is a fantastic travel perk when you can access the lounge. You can enjoy complimentary snacks, drinks and comfortable seating with outlets to charge your devices!

A glass pyramid in front of the Louvre Museum after it has just rained

Marriott Points

Marriott is now the largest luxury hotel brand in the world. Westin, Sheraton and Le Meridian are among the hotels that fall under Marriott’s umbrella. So points with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express can be redeemed at many hotel brands around the world. I used this card to book a Sheraton stay in Venice Mestre for two nights for just 6.20! Yes, 6 euro and 20 cents!

Among the perks of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is automatic Marriott Gold Elite Status. That means guests automatically receive free room upgrades when they’re available. The card also comes with a Priority Pass so you can get complimentary lounge access in over 1,200 airports around the world. After the initial spend, the current bonus is 75,000 points, which is good for about $700 in hotel credit according to the Points Guy. You also receive a complimentary reward bonus night each year. The $450 annual fee seems steep, but you only have to spend $300 at Marriott each year, and you receive $300 of it back in credit.

Not everyone resides in the United States, and travel hacking through credit cards is not for everyone. So here are some other tips to save money on travel.

Front of boat, clean blue water and fjords under a blue sky in Alaska

Book Hotel Rooms with Free Cancellation When You Know Your Travel Dates



Booking.com

If you have to cancel your trip or you find a better deal later, you can make changes without paying a penalty. We typically use booking.com because they usually offer the best prices. They also seem to offer a higher inventory of rooms with free cancellation compared to many of their competitors.

Quickly double check prices by searching the hotel on google before booking. Often times the hotel charges more if you book directly on their site, which is peculiar. But some hotels offers specials for direct bookings – like complimentary breakfasts.

Alex & Bell on the Great Wall near Beijing in China

Travel Off-Season When Possible

Off-season travel is typically much cheaper, and there’s always an offseason somewhere. It also doesn’t require as careful of planning in advance. Popular destinations, like the Great Wall of China, that might otherwise be mobbed in the summer, can be very quiet in the off-season. And that means it’s easier to get photos with nobody else in them at famous sites!

Houses along a cannel with house boatsu

Research Hotel and Restaurant Reviews: Don’t Waste Money

Be wary of fake reviews though. If there are a lot of rave reviews by people that have only left one review on sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp, the business owner might be rigging the system. But reviewers can also be overly critical. So dismiss reviews that seem far fetched or ridiculous.

Sometimes it’s best to just look at negative reviews to see if there are consistent problems with an establishment. If a restaurant or hotel consistently receives bad reviews, it’s generally pretty accurate that you won’t receive a good experience there either. When in doubt, consider emailing a travel or food blogger you trust for specific recommendations.

Bell looking away at Naxos Chora from the Temple of Apollo

More articles you might find useful:

10 Tips to Save Big on Plane Tickets

The Benefits of Taking Time Off to Travel

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If you have questions about planning a trip or maximizing travel reward bonus point programs, leave a comment below or email [email protected] and I can assist you!

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links. We receive a small commission when you book through certain links, and it costs you nothing extra. Thanks in advance for using them! 

14 thoughts on “Travel Hacks to Save Big Money

  1. Thanks, Alex! Good point about reviews. I always forget to read restaurant reviews in advance, when I have a WIFI connection.
    After all, I go to the nearest restaurant that looks good enough, to try my luck 🙂

    1. Cheers Oleh! If the restaurant or food stand is busy with locals that’s a pretty good indication it will be good. So the eye test usual works well there! But if we have wifi and we can check, we’ll still usually have a quick look at reviews. We’ve been burned by places a few times that were popular with locals where we didn’t check reviews. Italy comes to mind here 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for saying that, Colver! Happy future travels to you! And let us know if you have any questions 🙂

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