What would you say if I told you I booked three people from Huntsville, Alabama to Frankfurt, Germany for under $400 total? That I am flying seven of us to Chicago for $35 total? That we are staying in a hotel next week in San Francisco that runs over $450 a night for FREE? Like most of my friends, I’m sure you want to know HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS? Let me share my favorite travel strategies with you!
Travel is the only non-necessity I spend my money on, otherwise, we live pretty modestly. Along with providing my children an academic education, I hope to provide them with knowledge of the world and the people in it. In my opinion the best way to do this is to expose them to the world in which we live.
Since we’ve made it a priority, travel research is part of my daily internet regime. I follow multiple websites and am associated with most frequent flier and frequent guest plans.
1. Getting There
If your car is a gas guzzler you might think that a road trip isn’t in your budget. Have you ever considered a rental car? Members at Costco often overlook the travel benefits. I can rent a smaller car, get better gas mileage and save wear and tear on my own car at Costco Travel. LOCAL TIP: I’ve found that Enterprise has the best price and the customer service at the one on Bob Wallace in Huntsville is AMAZING! We rent a car almost on a monthly basis and my kids love riding in all the different cars. Often the insurance and add on costs are covered by the credit card you are using or by your own car insurance. Look at those details before paying extra. I can get a car for a weekend for around $35 or for the entire week for about $120.
Airline travel might seem out of your league, but if you have time and are willing to work at it, flying is totally within reach. One of my favorite sites is ThePointsGuy.Com. The credit card game, as I call it, is the best way to fly for FREE. (Please note if you have debt or trouble paying off cards at the end of the month this is NOT a good idea for you!) Using advice from the Points Guy and several hours of research (about 5) I was able to secure three round trip tickets to Europe for less than $400 total for Spring Break, these would normally cost in excess of $1100 EACH. Flexibility is also a key factor. When looking at sites such as, Matrix Airfare Search, make sure you look at 3 days before/after your date and check surrounding airports. This often reflects a huge savings.
2. Where To Sleep?
Once again this is where loyalty programs and credit cards are great. If you or your spouse travel regularly for business you should be a member of every loyalty program out there and your family should be traveling for free. For instance, if you are staying at a Hilton Property put that charge on your Hilton Branded Credit Card and using their Honors Program. Sign up for E-Miles for both hotel stays and airfare.
Ask about all discount options. The AAA Membership Program is the least expensive most useful travel tool ever created. If you have the AAA membership I bet you have never studied all of its perks! If you don’t have one , what are you waiting for?
Remember active and retired military are offered huge travel discounts. At places such as Great Wolf Lodge there is even a discount for service personnel which includes EMT and firefighters. Call and ask for the HEROES discount. Are the grandparents joining you on your vacation? Book under the senior discount! The opportunities are endless. Whatever you do, never take the first rate you are quoted. Ask questions and build a rapport with your booking agent!
My all-time favorite hotel for family travel is The Embassy Suites (a Hilton establishment). Each room sleeps six, and includes breakfast and evening cocktails. When traveling with kids this is a big savings. Large families often have to get two standard hotel rooms, at Embassy Suites you fit into one. Breakfast included saves at least $10 per person. And who can turn down a free glass of wine at happy hour?
3. Get Help
Some of you are saying, “Good for you Melika, but I work full time, have three kids with full sports and academic schedules, and I am lucky to sleep four hours a night. I want to travel but there is no way I have time to research all of this!” There are options for you. For instance, a local family recently saved over $1000 on their Disney Vacation when a local Disney Specialist made them aware of free dining opportunities that were available if they changed their travel dates by one day and switched resorts. One call to a travel specialist is all you need to get your travel planning started, and they do the work of watching for lower rates for you. PRO TIP: I book all of my cruises with Lesley because she calls me when the rates go down and knows my family’s needs.
I hope these tips have given you new hope that travel within your budget is achievable. Perhaps with some of these tools you can afford a vacation this year! Below are a few more of my favorite travel related websites:
Stay tuned for helpful hints on how to save money once you get there! Happy Travels!
Born in Germany, but raised in Huntsville, Melika Nixon brings a unique perspective to travel and culture. As a nurse practitioner and single mother to seven-year-old twin boys, including one with serious medical issues, she brings an even more keen perspective to traveling with children. She frequently writes about creative, cost-effective ways to introduce children to the world through the gift of travel.