Travel Hacks to Save Big Money

By Alex Kallimanis: Everyone likes a good deal, no matter what your budget is. And it’s never been easier to travel the world, especially with so many travel hacking opportunities. Last year we flew multiple international trips for just the taxes, thanks to credit card bonus points. It’s liberating to fly around the world for very cheap, and to have more money to spend at the actual destination. Here are some ways to save big money on travel!

Earn *Almost* Free 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.

Laptop with credit cards and passports and this website

Chase Ultimate Reward Points

We now have a couple Chase cards in our household. We love the flexibility that Chase Ultimate Rewards offers for cashing in for free flights and hotels.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee the first year and offers 60,000 bonus points when you sign up. 60,000 bonus points on Chase rewards is worth about $750 in travel credit! There are no blackouts on flights, meaning that if there are seats you can use your points. You can often even earn airline miles with the free flight this way too! The Chase system is easy to use to cash in the points for free flights and hotel stays around the world, making it very popular among travel hackers. You can even transfer Chase points to many airline mileage programs at a 1:1 ratio!

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is great to have for a year because it includes a Priority Pass, which gives you complimentary lounge access around the world. We’ve now taken advantage of free lounge access in cities like Istanbul and multiple airports in Tanzania during our recent safari trip. But with that card there is a $450 annual fee, though 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.

Alex & Bell selfie with Maasai

We like the freedom and flexibility that Chase’s cards offer. Bell recently cashed in Chase points and Chase’s rewards agent made sure we were seated together on our Turkish Airlines flights between Istanbul and Tanzania. I had won a ticket on Turkish Airlines and already had a separate booking made directly through the airline. So we were very happy with Chase’s customer service when cashing in the points.

Alex in Istanbul with a mosque behind him

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard by Barclays

Sometimes there’s especially great deals out there, and this is one of them. We first learned about this deal flying back from Tempe, Arizona on American Airlines in January. The flight attendants announced that by filling in the application we would receive 50,000 miles for just one purchase.  Note that they charge the $99 annual fee up front and it took around 60 days for us to get the bonus miles.

You can apply for the Aviator Elite Mastercard by Barclays here. They don’t offer referral credit so we have nothing to personally gain from mentioning this. We just want to help some people save big on travel! I used the bonus points from this card to get a roundtrip ticket from Washington, DC to Italy in June. The $99 annual fee plus $52 in taxes on American Airlines means the ticket cost me just $151! This plane ticket would have cost me over $1,000 otherwise!

Gold Delta Skymiles Card

The Gold Delta Skymiles Card is another good card with less of an introductory spend compared to Chase. They offer up to 60,000 bonus miles after you charge $2,000 on everyday purchases. That can be enough miles for a free ticket to Europe during the off-season! Plus the Gold Delta Skymiles card entitles you to a free checked bag on Delta flights and the option to purchase Delta lounge access for a nominal fee.

Save Money with Airbnb

Hotels can be very pricey and sometimes they offer terrible value. Airbnb often provides better value compared to hotels, especially for families that need multiple rooms. If you’ve never used Airbnb, sign up here for free and receive $40 off your first stay over $75! Just be sure to research the accommodation and only choose places with consistently good reviews.

We’ve had great experiences staying at Airbnb’s worldwide, including a family trip to Greece last year. Our group of 5 saved a lot of money staying at a spacious and comfortable 3 bedroom apartment in Athens off Airbnb, compared to booking 3 hotel rooms.

Maximize Hotel Points

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 sometimes 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!

I recently got the Starwood Preferred Guest Card last month which just re-branded to Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express. Starwood is also affiliated with Westin, Sheraton and Le Meridian, among many other hotel brands. I used this card to book a Sheraton stay just outside Venice for two nights for 6.20! Yes, €6.20!

Among the perks of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is automatic Marriott Gold Elite Status. That translates to free room upgrades when 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 free bonus night each year. And if you have points for 4 nights at a Marriott, you can stay the 5th night free. The $450 annual fee seems steep, but if you spend $300 at Marriott, you receive that 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.

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

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.

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!

Alex & Bell on the Great Wall near Beijing in China

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.

Alex & Bell with the red rocks of Sedona in the background

More articles you might find useful:

10 Tips to Save Big on Plane Tickets

The Benefits of Taking Time Off to Travel

Pinterest Pin - travel hacks

If you have questions about planning a trip or maximizing travel reward bonus point programs, leave a comment below or email alex@wanderlustmarriage.com 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! 

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7 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 🙂

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