As recently promised on my Instagram account – I wanted to share with you my tips for affording luxury travel on a budget.
We love to travel and it is my favourite thing to spend money on, but that doesn’t mean that we can afford lots of high-end trips! Where possible we have to travel on a budget. Here are my favourite ways to make those holiday funds go further!
Hotels.com collect free nights
Be friendly and polite
Upgrade at check-in for a fraction of the price
Collect miles and points with credit cards and reward schemes
Check in early and check out late
Travel in low season
Set alerts with sky scanner and save
Choose emerging destinations rather than established and popular tourist hot spots
1. Use Hotels.com or other booking sites with member rewards –
I have been using Hotels.com now for several years and am lucky to travel relatively frequently, which allows me to build up nights. Ten nights booked adds up to one free night. (Worth a total of the average spend over the ten collected nights). I LOVE this feature, and it has enabled free or discounted stays in cities across the world.
This April my sister and I traveled to NYC. By using 2 free nights to help offset the cost of our accommodation, we spent just $120 per night for a 4* hotel in the heart of midtown (usually around $300-$400 per night), and that included taxes! That’s $240 each for a 4 nights in central New York 4* accommodation.
In case you’re wondering, we went back to my favourite – The Arlo Nomad.
You might also enjoy reading: A Review of the Arlo Nomad Hotel
In total I have redeemed 7 free nights since becoming a member. These total a whopping $1,469.83 in savings. And I still have three nights in the bank for future travel.
Over $2,200 in value, just through booking all my hotel stays through one particular website!
Not only can you collect free nights but, the various levels of membership (Silver and Gold) often offer additional benefits and discounts. You may be awarded resort credit during your stay, a free bottle of wine, 20% off food and drink (three examples of perks I have enjoyed recently) or discounts at the spa – all of which add up.
These little savings can really help your holiday funds stretch, enabling to to treat yourself to more activities or meals. If you haven’t signed up yet – you can do it here!
If you’ve read any of my previous hotel reviews or travel posts you’ll see that I always use Hotels.com, and this is the reason why!
You might also enjoy reading: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico – A Travel Guide
2. Be friendly and polite –
I am a big believer in the power of a friendly smile and polite attitude. Not only does this generally make you a much nicer person to be around but, people are more inclined to help out someone who is pleasant and amenable.
Never is this more applicable than with hospitality staff. I worked in hospitality for years! (Bar and restaurant management, if you’re interested, with some stints working in hotels.) You work long hours. You’re always on your feet. And you are smiling and delivering the best customer service you can – occasionally to very rude, arrogant or difficult people.
When you put travel into the mix, and potentially stressful situations with connections, luggage, rooms, flights etc. It is even more important to keep your cool and remember that the staff you are dealing with are likely doing their very best. A little bit of patience and professionalism can go a long way.
Example: I was flying from the UK to the Caribbean. The night before I had been unable to check in online. I arrived at the airport early-ish (because of my check-in issues) and made my way to the self-service check-in. I wasn’t able to check in there either! A little concerned, but with a big smile on my face nevertheless I made my way to the check-in desk and explained to the lady at my airline what my issue was.
You might also enjoy reading: How to travel with only your carry-on
We exchanged good mornings and a bit of chat about the weather while she checked the system. She could see the aisle seat I had selected at the time of booking, but wasn’t able to check me in either and needed to go and speak to the manager.
Nearly 50 minutes after disappearing, she returned and was ready to check me in. But, since I had been so patient and polite she was also upgrading me to Premium Economy. On that particular morning the cost to upgrade would have been $299! Plus it saved me paying an extra $60 for an additional bag since Premium had a bigger luggage allowance. I was, by this point, a little late for my boarding but I was whisked through the priority security queue and ready to start my transatlantic flight home, with plenty of extra legroom and some free bubbles.
Regardless of whether your being friendly and polite scores you any upgrades. Remember that it will go some way towards making that person’s day a little easier and brighter.
3. Upgrade at check-in for a fraction of the price –
The previous point brings me neatly onto this one. Any time I do pay to upgrade, I wait until check-in the night before or on the morning of my flight, as it is usually a lot cheaper. It never hurts to inquire with check-in staff how much it might cost to upgrade your seat. Obviously leaving it until the last minute you run the risk that Premium Economy/Business/First Class might already be full, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take to avoid paying a premium fare. You can also see if it would be possible to upgrade with miles.
Tip: Please ensure that you are at the airport early, if you leave it too late the upgrade list will be full or airline will have already loaded all the Business class/First class meals and won’t accept additional upgrades.
As with my previous tip, you should always make sure to be friendly and amenable, and it helps if your clothing is presentable too. You can dress for comfort in-flight while still looking smart.
This also works for hotel rooms – it may be possible to upgrade your room type when you check-in, if there are unsold rooms in inventory. Some hotels also offer this as a perk for members of their loyalty schemes. Which brings me neatly to…
4. Brand loyalty – collect points and miles with credit cards and reward schemes –
Always sign up for the rewards scheme. It usually costs nothing and is a great way to enjoy some little perks. If you can streamline your travel so that you start collecting miles with a certain airline that’s great too. Or sign up to a credit card that collects miles or rewards points. My credit card is affiliated with American Airlines, so just by paying for my groceries etc I am racking up the miles. (Always be careful to pay off your credit card as quickly as possible. I use my MasterCard for my regular monthly spending and then pay off the balance.)
We just got back from our trip to Costa Rica, travelling entirely on American Airlines air miles. Our two round trip tickets cost us $76 each and 67,000 miles. So our week in Costa Rica cost us a total of $150 in flights.
(Although this is the other reason that I enjoy Hotels.com as I can secure little benefits without always having to stay with the same big hotel brands)
5. Check-in early and check-out late –
Whenever I travel, where possible, I like to arrive early and leave late. This way I can try to maximize my time exploring my new destination. While hotel’s can’t always assist with an early check-in (this is heavily reliant on the number of free rooms they had the night before), it never hurts to ask.
Even if you can’t get access to your room, there is usually a place to leave your luggage securely and a guest toilet for you to freshen up. As a bonus, you may be able to access some of the resort amenities, like the pool, the bar or the restaurant.
The same goes with checking out late – sometimes you can pay an extra fee for a late check-out, or they can hold onto your luggage for you and you can chill out at the resort for a little longer.
6. High-low accommodation –
I love a little splurge on accommodation and a luxury stay as much as the next girl! But, I’m a bit of a champagne drinker on a lemonade budget… In order to afford a few nights in a high-end hotel, I have to balance it with some more budget friendly nights.
Last year my husband and I had one of our favourite holidays when we traveled all the way across the world to Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. These destinations were so far away from the Caribbean that we were determined to make the most of it. It was the perfect place to put my high-low accommodation strategy into practice. While accommodation in South-East Asia is more affordable than accommodation in the US or the Caribbean, we still enjoyed some real splurge nights as well as some saves.
Our most expensive accommodation was staying in The Majestic Hotel, a 5* hotel in Kuala Lumpur at $138 per night. Our biggest save was 3* The Old City Wall Inn in Chiang Mai costing $25 per night. Some of our other hotels were 4* or 4.5* for around $60-$90 per night.
You might also enjoy reading: The Elephant in the Room – Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary
Hostel accommodation is another excellent way to save. While in Costa Rica we saved on hotel costs by spending some nights in hostels.
No longer all about dorm living, many hostels now offer private bedrooms (with shared or private bathroom options) and lively social spaces. By carefully researching our hotel accommodation and striking the perfect balance, I was able to work in some luxury nights.
Our Hostel Pool in Jaco, Costa Rica
The nights that you’re economizing in budget accommodation are the days that you maximise your sight-seeing and days out. You just use your hotel as a base to sleep in. The nights that you are enjoying your luxury accommodation are the days for lazing at the resort, relaxing and enjoying the hotel facilities.
Tip: check the different room types at your hotel. Some of the smaller rooms will be far cheaper but you’ll still enjoy all of the luxury amenities at the resort.
7. Travel in Low Season –
This point comes with an important caveat. Traveling in low season can come with a host of unpleasant side effects and you always want to avoid peak hurricane or monsoon season. But, traveling just outside of high season usually comes with a nice discount and won’t differ too much from the experience during the expensive months.
Example: Where we live in the BVI tourist season runs from November – April, with the peak months being December, Jan, Feb. The worst of hurricane season is August/September and those months are to be avoided at all costs, but you’ll find cheaper deals in May/June/July (just as we head into the wet season) and the weather should still be good.
The key for optimizing the deals traveling in low season is to do your research. Check average weather forecasts for the year and be sure to ask for advice on travel forums and community groups in your chosen destination (low season can mean that many tourist attractions/restaurants etc. are closed).
8. Fly mid-week –
Just as the time of year you choose can affect travel prices, so can the day of the week. The majority of travelers are looking to travel at the weekend before and after work, so traveling mid-week can occasionally score you a cheaper fare. Tuesday and Wednesday are statistically the cheapest days of the week to fly. Friday and Sunday are the most expensive.
Interestingly the day/time when you search for and book your flights can also make a difference to your airfare. The cheapest time to book is Tuesday at around midnight.
Tip: Make sure that you’re always using an incognito browser when researching airfare – otherwise your browsing history will be counting against you as you search for the best deals.
9. Set alerts with Skyscanner to save –
Skyscanner offers a really useful feature to set alerts on your chosen travel destinations. This works well if you’re flexible with your travel dates. I tend to set alerts for my most frequently traveled destinations, and places on my bucket list. I’m then notified whenever the price changes on a specific route or flight.
Simply search for the route or the flight that you’re interested in, tap the bell button ‘Get Price Alerts’ to set the alert and then click create!
10. Choose emerging destinations –
This is one tip where I don’t always practice what I preach but… Another way to make your holiday funds stretch further is to pick up-and-coming destinations over established tourist hot spots. We all know how quickly prices can rise as soon as a destination becomes ‘popular’. I guess we partly have Instagram to blame for this one.
There are places that have been on my bucket list for years that have soared in popularity and which now are harder to afford. So, if there are destinations that are off the beaten track that you want to visit – do it now! Not only is it usually significantly cheaper, but it will also be much less crowded. (Crowds are one of my travel pet peeves).
So there we have it, my top tips for travel on a budget. Do you have any tips for me to try next time? Please leave any suggestions in the comments. We are always looking for ways to travel more and have our money go further!