Contrary to common belief, traveling frequently does not require a six-figure salary, trust fund, or that you become a skilled jewel thief. We don’t have any of those things and aren’t skilled cat burglars (yet), but we still travel extensively thanks to travel hacks.
As such, we thought we should share additional travel hacking tips and resources that are generally applicable to all destinations, and that we use to help save money when traveling. Whether you’re visiting Walt Disney World and Disneyland, or Paris and Tokyo (or Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland), hacking can be used to significantly cut costs or travel for free. In fact, smart use of credit cards is often what we use to make our trips happen!
We originally wrote this post a few years ago with the travel hacks we follow after receiving a lot of emails inquiring as to how we can afford to travel so much. Due to a spike in questions along those lines again, we’ve made some updates to this post and are now re-posting it. If you’d like to see anything here elaborated upon, drop us a line in the comments, as we will likely be doing more travel hacks posts in the future!
For now, this post will cover some of the highlights of each area where you can really save on travel, how to stretch your vacation dollar further, plus links to sites we read that delve deeper into the wonderful world of travel hacks.
Consider this post track hacks 101, your gateway to cheaper (and more frequent) vacations!
Depending upon the number of people for whom you’re paying, airfare can be the most expensive part of any trip. It’s typically not for us, not just because we’re a childless couple, but also because we know where and when to purchase airfare. The easiest, quickest way to free airfare is credit card sign-up bonuses. Over the last few years, we’ve leveraged sign-up bonuses with Southwest, United, and Delta to secure multiple free flights. In the case of Southwest, we were able to earn a companion pass for a year thanks to their credit card from Chase!
We know many people are credit card averse (seriously, though, if used properly, they are excellent tools!), so if you’re simply looking for the best prices out of pocket, there are a number ways to save. If you know your travel dates and have no flexibility as to when you travel, we recommend checking out ITA Software. Basically, it’s like a more robust and cleaner version of Kayak and other airfare search engines. There are a myriad of parameters you can set, and in our experience, ITA is the best way to find the lowest prices on airfare for set dates of travel.
One great thing about ITA Software is that it makes stopovers and open-jaw flights easier to find. We covered taking advantage of these airfare rules pretty extensively (as applied to Asia and Hawaii) in our 3 Disney Destinations on 1 Airfare post, but the rules there can be applied to any destination.
If you have some flexibility as to travel dates or your trip is far in the future, you should also use fare alerts on Airfarewatchdog.com. You can set some parameters for the alerts here (although not as many as I’d like) and receive email updates when flight prices drop. We are always looking for an excuse to head back to Japan, so we have alerts set for Los Angeles and San Francisco to Tokyo flights. I receive pretty much daily updates on this (those
Our travel dates are normally more flexible, and we largely travel based upon when there are deals. If this describes your travels, there are a variety of resources you should use. Again, my favorite is Airwarewatchdog. I receive a daily email from Airfarewatchdog with the lowest prices available for dozens of destinations. I quickly scan the email for bargains on destinations to which we might be interested in traveling, and occasionally, I find a steal.
We were able to book a flight to Denver earlier this fall for $140 RT, and we found flights that we booked to Washington, D.C. and Atlanta for $105 RT and $80 RT, respectively. We use these low prices to justify weekend trips (literally–Friday afternoon to Sunday night) to experience the highlights of particular cities and National Parks.
For airfare, we also read the FareCompare.com Deals Blog, Flyer Talk forums, Vayama.com, Bing’s Farecast, and BoardingArea.com.
Everyone knows about Priceline.com and Hotwire and the unique bidding processes employed by each of these sites. However, not everyone knows about betterbidding.com, which is a user-driven forum that helps you make more informed bids. Since Priceline and Hotwire work differently, the site functions differently for each.
For Priceline, users of that site post their recently accepted bids along with the hotel and dates booked so others use that information to formulate their own bids. For Hotwire, users post which hotels they were awarded, along with the price, region, dates, and amenities listed by Hotwire. Depending upon the hotel density in the given area, readers can use this information to game the Hotwire system and figure out which hotel they’re bidding on through Hotwire.
When we don’t have rewards for hotel stays, we primarily use Airbnb. We cover the basics of this in our Tips for Using Airbnb post. Not only is Airbnb significantly cheaper, but it provides more spacious accommodations and also allows you to live like a local, whether that means doing some laundry halfway through your trip or getting food to prepare you own meals. (You can use my sign-up link for a free credit your first time using Airbnb!)
Looking for something even cheaper? Couchsurfer.com covers the free route and although we’ve never used it, we’ve heard great things.
Credit cards aren’t a dedicated element of travel, but choosing the right credit cards for your travel and spending habits is absolutely essential. So essential that it can help you travel more frequently. Credit card bonuses and rewards have enabled us to take flights we otherwise wouldn’t have and to stay in some of the nicest hotels in the world (for free).
There has long been backlash against credit cards for their unsavory side, but savvy consumers should absolutely have multiple credit cards. To suggest otherwise is hogwash. Much like light sabers, credit cards can be a harmful pain-inflicting weapon or an awesome tool. Use them responsibly and they are an awesome tool.
First, and this is directed at a lot of people reading this site, the Disney Visa is not a good credit card for everyday use. Yes, it has some perks that can come in handy for Disney trips, but its rewards are paltry, which should be of far greater concern. So instead of this being your primary-use card, look at sites like NerdWallet.com to determine which credit card is right for you based upon your spending habits and perks-preferences.
When doing this, don’t shy away from credit cards with annual fees. Some credit cards have annual fees for a reason: they’re better. Do the math to determine whether you spend enough relative to the annual fee and the rewards of the next-best alternative to justify having an annual fee card. Sarah and I both use annual fee credit cards as our primary cards, and we’d hazard a guess that many other adults will find that annual fee cards suit them well, too.
Admittedly, with this last item, we’re getting into an area where I’m still learning my way. I’ve “always” sought new credit cards on the basis of what sign-up incentives they have coupled with annual fees and cashback rates, but always is in air quotes back there because I’ve only held a handful of credit cards in my life. I’ve followed the somewhat inaccurate advice that opening more credit cards is harmful to your credit score.
Before I get into this, there’s one thing that cannot be stressed enough: your credit score is one of your most important assets. You should not be opening credit cards and making purchases that leave you crippled with debt. In fact, carrying any balance on your credit card is a bad idea, and something we never do. Not matter what the perks, you don’t save money if you are paying interest on your purchases.
That said, those with good credit, time to spare, the desire to travel, and some great organizational skills, might want to try something called “credit card churning.” Credit card churning involves simultaneously opening new credit cards based upon what perks are being offered, spending the appropriate amounts to receive those perks, redeeming said perks, and closing the credit card account, usually all within around 90 days.
This requires research and being very responsible with your spending, among other things. Here are a couple of examples of what others have done. Some people go wild with it, but that requires a high level of dedication. Still, this is something to give serious thought before undertaking, as there are some risks.
Other Good Reads
While the above linked-to sites are great for the particular purposes mentioned above, there are numerous other sites I read from time to time that offer great tips, but don’t necessary have a singular purpose. Probably the best in terms of offering a gateway into the world of travel hacks is this Beginner’s Guide to Credit Card Churning.
Here’s a list of other sites that I feel are worth checking out:
Much like Disney fan sites, there are literally hundreds of other travel sites out there. These happen to be the ones we read. They don’t always offer tips and travel hacks, but they all usually offer great reads!
Finally, if you are interested in traveling to destinations outside of the Disney Parks, be sure to read my companion travel blog, TravelCaffeine.com. All of the photos featured in this post are photos I’ve taken at non-Disney destinations and shared on that blog!
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Are you a frugal traveler? Are you interested in future posts here about travel hacks? Any tips of your own to share? What sites do you read? Share your thoughts on these questions and anything else in the comments!