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My husband and I both traveled a ton before we got married. Collectively we’ve been to all lower 48 states and I’ve been on several trips abroad. Of course we can’t travel as much now that we have a family but we still like to take a few trips a year. Doing this while on a strict budget is challenging but it can be done! Here are a few of my go-to strategies and resources on the web:
- Get alerted when flight prices drop – I use the website Airfare Watchdog to get free email fare alerts. You choose a route to watch and when the prices of flights on that route drop, you get an email alerting you to the new low fare. You can choose to get alerts for specific routes, departure cities or arrival cities. I have scored the lowest possible prices on flights this way many times. Sometimes airlines will run ridiculously cheap promotional fares on new routes and if you are instantly alerted you are likely to get one of these cheap tickets. I got a round trip flight from Raleigh to Cleveland for under $80 once thanks to a fare alert.
- Take advantage of generous credit card bonuses to fund your trips – In the past few years I have earned our family almost $3,000 in free travel just by opening a few new credit cards and using them to pay for our basic expenses. There are tons of great resources out there for how to travel for cheap or even free using credit card sign-on bonuses. I suggest checking out the Frugal Travel Guy’s Rookie Guide for more on how to get started with this strategy. Or you can read my post on how to take a family of four to Disney World for $200.
- Get highly discounted hotel rooms through Priceline and Hotwire – There definitely is a trick to having success with this strategy! In case you aren’t familiar with them, Hotwire and Priceline are websites where you can book a discounted hotel room in a certain location with certain amenities, however the name of the property is hidden until after you pay for your stay. I know a few people who have had a bad experience with these sites and ended up staying at place they’ve tried for years to forget.However there is a way to know with almost 100% certainty which hotel you are booking before you book it. The site Better Bidding has lists of hotels that regularly appear on Hotwire and Priceline and a forum where folks report on what hotel they received and how much they bid. These resources have helped me 1) discover the secret identities of the hotels available and research them on the web to see if I really want to stay there and 2) pay the lowest possible price for the room using a savvy bidding strategy. I have paid $38/night for a room at the Radisson right outside of Disney World and have saved 50% on rooms when I visit my family in Ohio. It takes a little detective work but I think that’s kind of fun anyway.
- Use Orbitz for multiple discounts – I have booked many hotel stays through Orbitz and received discounts up to 45% off regular rates. First of all, Orbitz lets you combine their promo codes with current hotel sales. So if Hilton has a 20% off sale going, you can get an additional % off by applying an Orbitz promo code (try REVIEW15, it has worked for a while now to save an extra 15%). You will also earn up to 5% back in “Orbucks” that can be applied to any future stay and so far I have earned $115 in Orbucks. If you are new to the program you can get a $25 off code through this link.
- Find the very cheapest rental cars – If I can find a great rate we sometimes rent a car for a long road trip instead of putting the wear and tear on one of ours. We have done the math and if the total out-the-door rate is under $25/day, it makes more sense for us to rent a car instead of putting tons of miles on ours. Last summer I got us a great little SUV to take to Ohio for a week for around $150. I use the site Rental Car Momma to get a heads up on the current specials offered by the different companies. When I find the company that is offering the best deal for the car/dates we want, I use RetailMeNot to find any current promo codes for that company. Then I go to the rental company’s website and try out the promo codes to get the best deal. It sounds complicated but the total process only takes me about 10 minutes and has saved us hundreds of dollars.
I feel like I could go on and on about websites that can help you get the best prices on travel. Kayak.com and Fly.com come to mind right away, both of which can sometimes help find the lowest prices on hotels, car rentals and flights. There must be tons more out there. If you know of any more helpful resources please share them below in a comment. Hope this helps you get inspired to travel even on a shoestring budget!