I love to travel.
I like learning about new cultures, eating the way locals eat, getting to see new places, experiencing new things.
But I hate the cost.
It’s no secret that traveling is expensive, which is why any time I can figure out a way to save money on trips, I’m a happy camper.
My absolute favorite way to travel is FREE.
If I can figure out a way to shave hundreds, or thousands, off the cost of a trip, I’m like a kid on Christmas morning.
This past weekend, Eric and I had the joy of taking a practically free 4-day, 3-night trip to San Fran, and this was the amazing view we had.
I mean, this would make the Kardashians jealous.
It’s the view from my high school roommate’s apartment and it was glorious.
Last time Eric and I came to San Francisco together, we rented a room through Priceline for $150 a night and we faced a brick wall….
San Francisco Trip Cost
Southwest Flights: $25 thanks to reward points
San Jose Sharks Game: Free tickets thanks to friends with season passes
Transportation: Uber, taxis, CalTrain and Bart came out to about $100
Dining/Entertainment: Budgeted about $100 per day, but used our Visa Rewards points ($157 plus 10% bonus for getting statement credit=$172)
Total trip cost: about $300
How We Save Money on Travel
I know lots of personal finance bloggers that like to talk about saving money on food by eating the included hotel breakfast and skipping lunch, or saving money on hotels by staying at hostels, but Eric and I are not like that.
When we travel, we want to travel in style.
We are major foodies, so saving money on food is just not an option for us. We want to eat.
If we’re not willing to save by skimping on luxury or experiences, then we have to find other ways to make travel affordable.
Staying with friends
A lot of my travel has been dictated by where I can stay for free.
Hotels are probably the biggest expense, and considering you pretty much only use it to sleep, it seems like such a waste to spend a ton of money for a bed.
Thanks to family and friends, I have experienced hotel-free :
- Mardi Gras in New Orleans
- New Year’s Eve in Times Square
- Sydney, Australia
- San Francisco
- Kauai with my in-laws
- Palm Springs with my parents
- Disney World
Those are some expensive places to stay, right?! But anytime I had a friend living somewhere cool, I made it a priority to save up for the flight so I could take advantage. Most family and friends love having people visit! And living in southern California, I often repay the favor by having an open-door policy. Disneyland is just a 15-minute drive away!
Once you can figure out where you can stay for free, the other major expense is flights. So we sign up for frequent flyer programs.
We signed up for the JetBlue card (not an affiliate link) with the specific purpose that we would save up enough points to book free airfare to New York–it took us almost two years, but we did it! Paying $10 for our flights to New York.
This past year, we signed up for the SouthWest card (not an affiliate link), and so far that has paid for our flights to San Francisco, a flight to San Jose, and two one-way fares for our trip to the Riviera Maya in January. And I still have 13,000 points left–might be enough for a couple of more trips to San Fran in our future now that we have a suite-ass place to stay… (see what I did there? #pun).
That pretty much leaves spending money. Plain and simple: credit card rewards points are only used to pay for vacations.
There have been times where I have been extremely tempted to use our card points for other things, but I always end up holding out and using them for vacations instead. And trust me, it helps take away the sting of spending money on vacation.
We primarily use two credit cards:
Our BofA Cash Rewards Visa (not an affiliate link): We earn 3% on gas purchases, and 2% on groceries, and that’s what we charge on that card. You’d be surprised how quickly it adds up.
Our Amex Blue Sky (not an affiliate link): We put all our other charges on the Amex. For every $7500 we spend, we earn $100 toward travel purchases, so essentially a 1.25% return. Again, it adds up quickly because we put everything on credit cards, including all our bills, my grad school tuition (which I get reimbursed 70% through work), daily spending, etc.
I know some people have a hard time using credit cards, but Eric and I actually are really good about it. We pay off the card pretty much every other day. So we’re constantly checking our purchases and paying them off.
Credit Card Churning
We really want to get into credit card churning in order to earn even more credit card rewards for travel. However, this won’t happen until we buy a house since we don’t want to mess with our credit scores.
How do you save for travel?