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6 strategies to save you real money on travel

Traveling isn't getting cheaper. Here's how you can save money on your next trip.

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Giacomo Augugliaro | Moment | Getty Images
Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We earn a commission from affiliate partners on many offers, but not all offers on Select are from affiliate partners.

The demand for travel has steadily increased over the last year, even though the Covid-19 pandemic is far from being over. Through the first nine days of August, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 18 million passengers, nearly three times more than the same time last year.

While still 20% lower than the traffic seen in 2019, the roaring comeback of travel has lead to a lack of airline seats, hotel rooms and overwhelmed staff. However, competition is as fierce as ever to get consumers back on the road and there are plenty of deals to be had if you look in the right place.

With the tools and strategies listed below, you'll be well prepared to save on your upcoming travel expenses.

How to save money on travel

Use flight search aggregators and deal websites

You should always start your flight searches on a search aggregator such as Google Flights or Momondo. These websites bring together a list of flights that match the needs of your itinerary, and will send you to an external website like the airline's website or an online travel agency to complete the booking process.

This is a great place to get a sense of what your airfare will cost, and give you additional options and booking ideas if you are flexible on dates and times.

However, if you are the type of traveler that is always looking for a bargain, there are several flight deal websites that will send you alerts when a particularly good deal is live. Some have a recurring subscription cost. Here are a few popular services:

There are also dozens of social media accounts that post flight deals regularly. There is likely at least one page curated for your preferred airport. Type into Google "______ (insert your preferred airport) flight deals on social media", and you should be able to find an account that posts regularly.

Several accounts that can help you find deals are:

Rental cars

The car market has been on tilt since the start of the pandemic. Prices for renting and purchasing vehicles have been at record highs in recent months, leaving travelers with few affordable options.

Instead of booking directly with one of the large rental car operators, consider these options as additional resources before reserving a rental car the old fashioned way.

Costco rental car

Costco is a favorite for many American shoppers, but did you know they offer travel services as well? Next time you're looking for a rental car, take a look at the Costco rental car website. By putting in your travel dates and location, the site will aggregate the best deals for you. In addition, Costco members qualify for additional discounts and free upgrades.

You do not need a membership to search through Costco, but you will need one to check out and secure a rental car.

Autoslash

Similar to the Costco rental car site, Autoslash is an aggregator that pulls together information of the best rental car deals at your destination. 

Once you input your travel information and preferences, Autoslash will email you within minutes with the best rental car deals.

Autoslash is completely free to use and is well known for being one of the best places to secure a cheap car rental.

Turo

Sometimes referred to as the 'AirBnB of cars', Turo is a peer-to-peer marketplace where you can rent cars from owners directly.

You'll find all sorts of options through Turo, including regular everyday cars all the way to super luxury vehicles.

The benefit of using Turo is that prices typically do not surge like traditional rental car agencies, so it can be a great alternative if you want to save money.

Hotels vs. Airbnb

This is a debate among many travelers. Yes, they each provide a place to rest during your travels, but the amenities and experience they provide are quite different.

Yes, a hotel has housekeeping, amenities and other services attached to it. Also, staying at a hotel allows you to earn hotel rewards that can later be redeemed for free hotel nights, and pairing it with a hotel credit card can make it an even more enjoyable experience because of elite status perks. 

Airbnb provides a much different experience as there is no check-in desk or dedicated staff at every property. You're mostly on your own once your at the property, but you can still get assistance prior to or during your stay by communicating with your Airbnb host.

While one is not automatically cheaper than the other, having more options can help reduce your costs if you are flexible with where you stay.

Generally, if you are traveling with a large group, it will be much more cost efficient to go with an Airbnb. In addition, an Airbnb home will likely come with a fully stocked kitchen, so you can prepare meals at your Airbnb rather than going out to eat every night. And unlike many hotels, you will not be on the hook for things like resort fees or parking fees.

Using airline credit cards to save on baggage fees

Many travelers have an allegiance to one side of the checked bag versus carry-on bag argument. For some, a carry on means not having to worry about your bag being damaged or lost. For others, checking a bag means one less thing to carry and worry about during your journey.

For those who like to pack heavy or need to bring items that aren't allowed inside an airplane cabin, you can save on checked bag fees by using an airline credit card. Many airline cards, including several of the Delta SkyMiles credit cards, waive checked bag fees for cardholders and companions traveling on the same itinerary. In many cases that can save up to $60 per person on a round-trip ticket.

But if you don't have an airline credit card, you'll likely favor a carry-on bag. Each airline has different specifications as to what qualifies as a carry on, but you'll usually end up with more money in your pocket if you stick with a smaller bag.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at U.S. Supermarkets and at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and 1X Mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months.

  • Annual fee

    $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    17.99% - 26.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

Drive to a different airport

If you don't mind a road trip before your next flight, departing from a different airport than normal can save you serious cash.

For example, if you live in Salt Lake City, you are only roughly six hours away from Las Vegas and Denver. Or if you live in San Diego, the quick trip to LAX may be worth it. It could make the difference between hundreds of dollars and several layovers in some cases.

In a search for flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT) for Sept. 18-25, the most reasonable itinerary is $610 in economy on Air Canada with a four hour layover in Vancouver. For the same dates but departing from San Diego, you would be paying $947 on American Airlines and Japan Airlines with two layovers — with one ironically at LAX.

Don't forget about points and miles

Lastly, don't forget to earn valuable points and miles for your flights and hotel stays. This is by far the best way to save money on traveling as you can seriously reduce your out-of-pocket costs for flights and accommodations. In fact, some credit card enthusiasts rack up millions of points per year, and are able to cover almost all of their travel costs just with rewards they've earned. 

There has never been a better time to earn travel rewards as travel surges back in popularity, and there are plenty of credit card welcome offers to jump on, including the 80,000-point welcome offer for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You'll earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership. That's worth $750 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

With the right travel credit card, you can earn heaps of rewards and have access to travel perks such as rental car insurance and travel insurance — saving you even more money and protecting your trip.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase’s secure site
  • Rewards

    $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    17.49% - 24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

 

Bottom line

As the demand for travel continues to rise, prices will likely see an increase as well.

Saving money on travel may take an extra few steps or a bit more research, but it can prove to be beneficial for your bank account. Between credit card rewards, being flexible with accommodations and using social media to your advantage, traveling can still be affordable.

For rates and fees for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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