Think you can't afford to travel? Think again!
They say travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer—that is until you look at your bank statement on the last day of a vacation. Going outside is expensive and often the cost makes travel seem prohibitive for individuals and families alike. Thankfully, there are money-saving hacks available for those who know where to look. Here’s how to secure discounted–and even free award travel–with or without credit cards.
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Save Money With the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
While the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) focuses on people over 50, there is no minimum age requirement to join. For less than $20/year, you can get access to travel savings on hotels, rental cars, airport parking, travel insurance, and even flights.
For instance, you can get $65-$200 off economy and business class tickets on British Airways. You can also save 30% on base rates, get a free upgrade, and add an additional driver at no extra cost with Budget Rental Car. These reduced AARP rates will save you the cost of annual membership several times over on your first booking.
Travel Perks Through the American Automobile Association (AAA)
The American Automobile Association (AAA) has been a longstanding name in travel and remains relevant. Members still get access to travel agents for in-person service and online discounts with partner brands like Hyatt, Marriott, and Hertz. Perks can include a waiver of a young driver fee when renting a car (ages 20-25). There are also restaurant discounts, like 10% off at the Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe. The best part? AAA membership automatically comes with travel insurance that includes trip interruption protection and travel accident coverage.
Sign Up for Flight Alerts
Want to find flight deals with minimum effort? Flight alerts were made for you. Instead of searching the internet for deals, have someone else find deals for you. You may be notified via email of a price drop when airlines try to sell unsold seats or of an error fare when a price is listed incorrectly (this works only if you catch the error before the airline does). One of the most popular flight alert programs is Scott’s Cheap Flights, which regularly sends out deals like $300 roundtrip flights to Europe and the occasional jaw-dropping fare like a $70 roundtrip flight from Pittsburgh to Tokyo.
Join a Wholesale Club
Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s Wholesale Club all have travel discounts included in their memberships. This is a good resource for booking discounted theme park tickets to places like Universal Studios, Walt Disney World Resort, and Dollywood with perks like extra park hours and skip-the-line privileges. You can also find Broadway tickets starting at $50 and cruise sales that come with bonuses like an onboard ship credit and cabin upgrades.
Student Travel Discounts
For those under the age of 26 and with a valid student ID, consider StudentUniverse, an online booking platform that finds discounted flights for young travelers. Students also get discounted train travel on Amtrak and Eurail.
Those ages 18-30 can enroll for free in Qatar Airways’ Student Club and save up to 20% on flights. Not to mention discounts on museum admissions, public transportation, and restaurants. Certain discounts continue after graduation, with schools like DePaul and Boston University partnering with regional hotels to offer up to 25% off room rates for alumni.
Use Cashback Programs for Booking Travel
Cashback programs work like a digital rebate where once you make a purchase, you get a percentage of your money back. These sites make money on an affiliate basis, earning a commission for every purchase they refer. Part of that commission makes its way back to you as a rebate. Popular cashback sites for travel bookings include Rakuten and TopCashBack. Offers can range between 4-7% cashback and includes popular travel booking sites like Expedia and Agoda.
Get Travel Discounts Through Work
Are you a teacher? Members of the National Educators Association get 25% off car rentals at Hertz and 20% off stays at Red Roof Properties. Teaching isn’t the only profession that comes with travel perks. Nurses and first responders, for instance, get 35% off rooms at Caesar’s Hotels and 10% off all reservations booked on Hotels.com.
Apply for a Travel Credit Card
There are many benefits to having a travel credit card, but the biggest one is the ability to accrue bulk points and miles to redeem towards award travel. You earn the most points and miles on a travel credit card at the very beginning through the sign-up incentive.
Once you meet a minimum spend threshold, you get an award of tens or hundreds of thousands of miles, which can be redeemed for free or discounted travel in the form of flights, hotel stays, or experiences. Credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve card, have generous welcome offers and dozens of travel partners on their Ultimate Rewards redemption portal.
Use Airline Loyalty Programs
The traditional way to earn a “free flight” is to frequently fly on a given airline and accumulate miles with them. To do this, sign up for the airline’s loyalty program. The programs are free to join and everyone in your household can have their own account, including children.
Notably, you can credit flights from partner airlines to your preferred account. For instance, Delta Air Lines and Alitalia are part of the SkyTeam Alliance, so you can choose to have miles from your flight on Alitalia credited to your Delta SkyMiles account. Simply enter your Delta account number at checkout.
Shop Through Airline Portals
Once you’ve created an account with your preferred airline, you’ll notice they have a shopping portal with discounts or shopping incentives for partner brands. To access these discounts, click through to the partner site from the airline shopping portal so they can track your purchase.
Deals may include offers like three points for every dollar spent at Amazon or Home Depot. If you’re shopping online, you should be getting miles for it. Certain airlines also offer an award just for signing up, like TAP Portugal, which gives 200 bonus points for joining their Miles & Go loyalty program.
Recommend a Favorite Travel Credit Card to a Friend
Found a great travel credit card that works for you? Spread the word! You can get points and miles just for referring others. British Airways, for instance, awards 10,000 bonus Avios for each referral, up to 20,000 Avios per year. The Hilton Honors Surpass Card awards 20,000 points per referral, up to 80,000 points a year. You must share your unique referral link to be credited, and your award is processed when the account is approved.
Earn Travel Points With Online Surveys
Did you know you can earn airline miles just for completing surveys online? This is an easy, mindless activity you can do while watching TV at night or sitting in a waiting room. JetBlue has a program called JetOpinions, where you take short surveys and earn anything from 10-50 miles per survey, depending on the target demographic. You get 400 TrueBlue points when you join and complete your first survey.
Earn Travel Rewards While Eating
Several major brands have a dining rewards program. All you need to do is sign up for the program, register a credit or debit card to your account, and every time you make a purchase at a participating restaurant, you earn rewards.
Importantly, you can only have one card registered to one dining rewards program at a time. The programs offer a first-dine bonus, like a credit card sign-up incentive, where you get a bulk award when you meet a minimum spend threshold. American Airlines, for instance, offers 1,000 bonus miles when you spend $25 on AAdvantage Dining within 30 days, an easy threshold for most households.
Use a Gift Card to Get Gas
Did you know that gas stations charge different prices if you pay with cards versus cash? This is because the vendors charge the credit card fees to the customer. However, if you pay with a gas gift card, it’s considered the same as cash. Moreover, if you buy your gift card from a supermarket or office supply store that offers gas gift cards, you can usually get a point multiplier on your travel credit card. This is a great way to maximize your benefits and save money on gas at the same time.
Use Multiple Point-Earning Tactics
Perhaps the biggest secret travel hackers exploit, and most consumers fail to realize, is that you can use multiple point-earning tactics at once. You can pay with a credit card that gives you points and miles through a cashback portal that earns travel rewards while taking advantage of point multiplier offers. Granted, this is more along the lines of extreme couponing, but the reward is a free vacation as opposed to 20 bars of soap, which makes all the difference.