I love using my points from British Air for American Airlines flights, my Southwest points are awesome living in Dallas for quick get aways, and my Hilton and IHG are great for hotels and free nights. I have taken many vacations travel hacking and spent money only on food and activities. Such as a week in San Francisco for a family of five for under $1,000 a few years back. But today lets talk to those who love to travel, but hate the points game. I will share how to find the cheapest way to travel using no points and still having a great luxury trip. I won’t mention the words hostel or couch surfing here, but those are great options I have utilized in the past. I will tell you how to be comfortable traveling and still be on a doable budget.
The first thing I always do is set a budget for any trip. I research prices, activities, transportation for a few months out of a few places I would love to visit. I get an idea of when the off season is and that is the time I will travel. I never pick just one place to vacation instead I pick an experience, and begin to find which places have that experience. An example the other day was my wife wanted a couples beach trip, so I began researching beaches in the USA, and it led me to Mexico, based on the prices in May 2017. It was $305 roundtrip to travel to Miami and $179 roundtrip to Puerto Vallarta. I noticed next that hotels in Mexico were $64 a night, for a 4 star hotel with a great pool right next to the beaches. With food and taxis being cheap in Mexico, if you stay out of the tourist areas, we could go for 5 nights for under $1,000 and do every activity we could want to do. Even see the Hidden Island beach. It is $678 for airfare and hotel for two, in case you were doing the math, plus some taxes and fees. I never really count food in our travel budget because I will have to eat even if I stay home. I might even eat cheaper in Mexico. Yeah, Street Tacos!
Now, lets look at the tools I use. I always pull up a Google flights calendar for the month I want to travel, and I like to travel in October and April because no one else travels during those off times. As a teacher I get 10 sick days a year, and they roll over if I don’t use them. Early on in my career when I was broke and struggling, I accumulated 50 leave days, and I still get 10 at the start of each new school year. This is why I can travel during these months. I highly suggest that you find a job that allows some leave time, because it is awesome! In the Google flights calendar you can see which days of the week and month are the cheapest. Tuesdays and Wednesday are great cheap travel days. You can also set alerts to see if the prices drop to something you can afford for certain destinations.
I also use trivago.com and kayak.com to price multiple flights or hotels together all in one place, and if the hotel is still expensive I pull up airbnb.com, especially for the whole family. I have never had a bad experience with airbnb and I love the idea of having a whole house to myself especially one that sleeps 16 in Destin, Florida for my entire extended family to share. Liftopia.com is great for our ski trips, as lift tickets kill any budget, and for car rentals I usually go with whatever deal earns me the most points. I really don’t have a go to for rentals cars because I try to travel to walkable places and use public transportation. San Francisco has the BART, Portland has bikes, Europe has trains and budget airlines such as Easyjet, WOW, and Ryanair, and Chicago and NYC both have great public transportation.
The bottom line is if you save $100 a month or $50 a person per month, your honey and you could go on a great trip every year using no travel hacking. Just remember the first rule, that the prices dictate where you travel, and your experiences at a beach can be just as great as at any beach. Chicago and NYC are both great city destinations and Seattle and Portland are basically sister cities filled with quirky experiences. Everyone should travel more and it is so much more affordable now then it has ever been. You can even snag a plane ticket to Europe for under $400 roundtrip if you keep a look out in the offseason. Set up your travel budget and see the world cheap.