Top 10 Travel Hacks to Save Money on Every Trip Without Skimping

Beach House in Cayucos, CA
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Here Are 10 Simple Hacks to Help You Save Money When You Travel, Without Skimping

Updated: March 7, 2024

We are about to head out on our first vacation of the year, and that got me thinking about the different ways that we attempt to save money whenever we travel.

Even though our travel budget has gone up over the years, we are always on the hunt for the best ways to save.

Because more savings = even more travel!

Here are the tried and true ways that we continue to save money, even while staying at 5-star hotels, amazing rental properties, or eating at high-end restaurants:

1) Utilize your AAA discount

AAA is the easiest way to save an estimated 10-20% on most hotel visits.

This is by far the best “hack” – simply by having a AAA membership and utilizing it for 1-2 nights per year, you WILL make your money back, not to mention have great roadside assistance in a bind.

We usually opt for the AAA Plus membership, because if we ever run into a real situation needing a tow or roadside assistance, I want to be more than covered and not have to pay for a 50-60 mile tow.

2) Book directly on the hotel’s website

This one is probably overlooked a lot, but I have found that booking directly on a hotel’s website will save you money over the booking engines.

Many hotels will also have promotions directly on their website and many will offer a free night if you stay for 3 or more nights.

When you book directly, hotels do not have to pay commissions to the booking engines, and they therefore can pass the cost on to you. It’s a win-win!

3) When booking AirBnB or VRBO, ask for a discount

With small kids, we will often need more than one room or a suite at a hotel to make the stay enjoyable for all.

And that means that we often are looking at rental properties.

So as long as the market isn’t super competitive (think San Diego in the summer), then you likely can message the owner and ask for a discount.

I typically will say something like,

Hey, we really love your property and would love to stay there, but it is a tad over budget. I was curious if you would be willing to knock a little off the price. If not, we totally understand, but figured I would ask. Thanks!”

9 times out of 10, this will work!!

The owner usually will give you a discount of some sort.

And like I said, the only time this does not work is in a really competitive market during peak seasons, where the owner is likely to book it up for their stated price (4th of July, New Years, etc.) or if it is run by a national agency like Vacasa.

4) Be flexible with your destination and look farther afield

We did this a few summers ago…

We were looking to book our vacation at a very popular summer vacation destination in California, and the prices for a spot directly on the beach were just outrageous.

So we looked farther up the coast and sure enough, there were plenty of properties that met our criteria for half the cost!

We ended up finding the perfect property and though it was a bit farther than our initial destination, we were treated to an entirely new place and at half the cost.

5) Work with a travel agent

They exist still? Turns out, they do.

I have found that while they sometimes they can’t offer better rates than booking directly with the hotel, they DO get access to deals and other offers that are not listed publicly or available to the booking engines.

Therefore, if taking a major vacation, it is worth at least double-checking.

6) Bring your own alcohol

Another solid method to saving money, is simply bring your own alcohol.

Wine, beer, hard liquor, you name it!

By bringing your own drinks, you will be able to save on the one food and beverage item that has the highest markups.

We often will cart in a large cooler filled with water, beer, soda, etc.

This doesn’t mean we don’t purchase beverages at meals, but at least cuts down on the amount of beverage purchases overall.

Works great when we go to Vegas!

7) Research and book excursions in advance

This is especially important on cruises.

You can book the exact or a VERY similar excursion as the cruises offer, for half the price.

But even when traveling to a non-cruise destination, looking up tours in advance, searching for coupons, and asking for discounts are all much more pleasant when doing the research upfront.

Sure there are those serendipitous moments you want to allow for during any trip, but if you do most of the research for your trip ahead of time, it will save you money and stress and allow you to enjoy the trip more.

8) Look for coupons and ask for discounts when booking

It’s that simple!

Researching things in advance, allows you to find and secure the best deals.

If that fails, call the tour company or hotel and ask if they have any deals or discounts. Sometimes it is as simple as the AAA discount.

9) Share meals with your significant other

We find that eating out at restaurants day-after-day, meal-after-meal, restaurants serve WAAAYYYY too much food for one person.

So my wife and I will often share an entree, then split appetizer(s) and a dessert.

We do this at home on date nights as well, but this will save a lot of money on a trip too!

10) Set a yearly travel budget and a trip-by-trip budget

I think the yearly travel budget is the most important.

Once you set a total yearly travel budget, then it makes it must easier to figure out how much you want to go towards your bigger trips and how much will remain for the smaller weekend trips.

So for example if you set a $10K travel budget, you might decide that you’re big trip will cost $5K and then that leaves another $5K to spread out among shorter weekend trips.

But be careful, because weekend trips can often add up fast, especially with a family of four or more.

That is why having a budget helps to keep those in check.

It also might help you to realize that you may need to sometimes opt for camping trips or other cheaper options.

BONUS: Use Credit Card Points

Finally, we use credit card points.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert here, but a few years ago we upgraded to the American Express Gold Card, and the benefits have been huge!

With 4x points at restaurants and 3x on flights, it has helped us to scale our credit card points much faster.

Combined with the introductory points offer, we were able to use our points to purchase 4 round-trip tickets to Europe this summer for USING ONLY POINTS!!!

Chase has their Chase Saphire Preferred card, which also seems geared for travel, and you can also take advantage of any of the airline or hotel cards offered by any airlines or hotel chains you enjoy.

Of course, you should NEVER spend on a credit card just to get points, but if you already are spending in these categories, then it just makes logical sense!

*I have no affiliation here, but I found that The Points Guy‘s App is very well done and lets you keep track of all your points in one place and also offers a good deal of information on how to make the most of your CC points!


So that’s that!

Those are my best travel-saving hacks.

Do you have any other hacks that you use to save money on travel?

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  1. Perfect example of “it never hurts to ask”. The worst that will happen if you ask for a discount is the person will say no.

    We’ve split meals for takeout or fast-casual meals. I remember going to Disney and a simple deli sandwich was like $12 but it was huge! We split it in half and it was still more than enough for two adults. Bringing your own food, drinks, snacks is another easy way to save as well.

    Great tips!

    1. So many meals are really two meals in one. Once you realize this, it’s pretty easy to take advantage of.

      I love having leftovers, but when traveling unless I know we are 100% going to have time to eat it, it’s not worth getting the extra entree.

  2. Here is a trick on AAA membership. For years I had the Plus membership for the additional towing. My membership was June to June and I always noticed that around December they would offer me an upgrade to the Premier highest tier for free for the remainder of the term. I never took it in the past. When the pandemic hit last year, I downgraded to the Classic membership since we weren’t driving much. Sure enough, in December 2020 they offered a free upgrade to the Plus. This time I took the upgrade, which came in handy for road trips we took this spring. I renewed at the Plus rate this year because we are still just doing road trips. I will be curious to see if they offer me a free upgrade to Premium in the winter.

    Good suggestion on asking for discounts on Airbnb rentals. How far in advance do you usually book your Airbnbs and ask for the discount? Is there a sweet spot in terms of advance booking where the host might offer up a discount? Do you usually ask for a certain price or just a discount in general and see what they offer?

    1. I think asking for a discount works better in advance, but I think it depends on the exact circumstances. Sometimes they say “no”, and I can see it backfiring if the host has a surplus of alternative renters (like this summer). But I think as long as you do it nicely, you really can’t lose.

      Last fall I was emailing with a host directly to book her property for the summer. It was the very beginning of her high season and I noticed the price was cheaper the week before we were booking. So I just said “Can you go any lower on price at all since we are right at the start of the season?” – she lowered the price by 10% total.

      And that is typically. They’ll knock off maybe 10% or so with this method.

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