You already know how to upgrade a trip by paying only a little more. But there are also times when you can get a more rewarding travel experience even while saving money. Here’s how experts and savvy frequent travelers do it.
- Go in low season—especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Heading to a popular destination during its slow season can mean savings of 50% or more. I love traveling to Hawaii in November, for example, when the weather is still great but crowds are thinner and prices lower than in summer; the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a real sweet spot there.
—Gabe Saglie, senior editor, Travelzoo
- Travel when businesspeople aren’t.
Being retired, I can travel pretty much any time. So, when traveling to big cities, I’ve learned to fly on days of low business travel (Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday) and balance that out with more weekend hotel stays. I get not only better fares and hotel rates, but also higher upgrade probability.
- Choose a vacation rental instead of a hotel room.
The price for a rental apartment or even a house is often similar to local hotel rates (especially for longer stays), but you’ll get a lot more space, as well as a kitchen to help you save on restaurant meals.
—Sarah Schlichter, senior editor, Independent Traveler
- Take a free walking tour.
They’re available in cities around Europe and the U.S. (I’ve taken them in Barcelona, Krakow, Rome, Washington, DC, San Francisco and New York City, among other places), and the guide makes all of his or her money from tips—meaning, they have to give a compelling tour to get paid. I have yet to be disappointed by a free walking tour (I wish I could say the same for pre-paid ones!), and what you pay at the end as a tip is usually far less than what you’d pay for a walking tour with a set price. Any good guidebook will give you the info on how to find these sorts of tours.
- Join loyalty programs.
You can get more than just a free room or flight. With points you can plan a vacation in a suite with a view, get upgraded seats on a plane, or enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner in your room… all for the same price you would pay had you not used points. And some loyalty points can lead to VIP treatment. For example, Starwood Hotels preferred members can earn points for Member Moments, and use points for VIP events, such as attending a World Series Game or getting backstage passes and meet and greets with casts of Broadway plays.
—Lissa Poirot, editor in chief, Family Vacation Critic
- Choose the least expensive room in the swankiest hotel.
Forgo a great view from your room and instead enjoy those views from the hotel’s public spaces. The public rooms are more opulent anyway, and the people-watching in the lobby is like a show. The experience is better, for much less money.
—Robyn Webb, cookbook author
- Ask the front desk if they’re running any incentives.
Ask at a hotel’s front desk if they’re offering any special incentives to upgrade. It could lead to a better room for free. Booking the Fairmont San Francisco on a Sunday and talking to the desk about how much I love San Francisco recently scored me an upgrade to a beautiful bay-view suite.
- Take the stairs.
Usually there are two ways to ascend a tall monument, whether it’s a cathedral bell tower, an ancient fortress, or the Eiffel Tower: You can take the elevator or the stairs. The steps almost always cost a lot less, have no line, and are more atmospheric. You have a sense of accomplishment once you’ve reached the top, and you get exercise too—which means you needn’t spend money on a hotel with a gym.
—Wendy Perrin, TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate
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