8 strategies for getting more value on your next vacation

Jul 2, 2021

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After more than a year of staying home due to COVID-19, travelers are itching to hit the road again. And many people were excited about the prospect of deals and discounts designed to incentivize people to travel.

Of course, you probably already know that’s not really the case.

Flight prices continue to rise and are poised to hit pre-pandemic levels in a matter of weeks. Hotels, rental cars, restaurants and more are also seeing prices spike as pent-up demand meets with reduced capacity and ongoing staffing shortages.

But all isn’t lost. There are plenty of ways to get more bang for your buck on your trip, even if you don’t score a major deal.

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In This Post

Negotiate fees with Airbnb hosts

Airbnb is a popular alternative to hotels because you can generally get more space for your money if you’re booking a property for a group or longer stay. Unfortunately, Airbnb is also seeing increased demand and higher fees, so prices are rising.

You can try negotiating a lower price with the Airbnb host. It’s not a guarantee, and not all fees are negotiable on Airbnb’s platform. But if you are staying at a rental hosted by an individual rather than a company, they might be more willing to adjust the fees (such as the cleaning and extra-guest fees) — especially if you’re hoping to book an extended stay.

Related: Demystifying Airbnb fees: How to understand the final cost before booking

Have the right credit cards

Hyatt Union Square room
You could score a better room or upgraded amenities if you have the right credit card in your wallet. (Photo by Ariana Arghandewal/The Points Guy)

Several credit cards such as the World of Hyatt Credit Card offer complimentary elite status. Depending on the loyalty program and elite status tier to which you belong, having elite status can mean complimentary room upgrades, welcome amenities, free breakfast and more.

“The biggest thing for me has been taking advantage of elite hotel status through my hotel credit cards,” Ben Luthi, a freelance travel and money writer, told TPG. “Getting the occasional room upgrade is nice, but a lot of hotels also give me on-property credits and welcome gifts that make for a better trip experience. I also get about eight free night stays every year through my hotel cards, and it’s nice to add one or two free nights onto each trip to cut the cost a bit.”

Try a travel agency

With so many online booking portals such as Expedia and Hopper, the thought of using a travel agency can feel like an unnecessary step in your trip planning process. In some cases, however, it might just be the secret to leveling up your next trip while sticking to your budget.

“As part of our partner relations, we have access to the usual high-end perks and amenities; extras like room upgrades, complimentary breakfast [and food and beverage] credits that provide extra value for your money,” Joan Roca, founder and CEO of travel service Essentialist told TPG in an email.

Plus, booking through a travel agency can help take some of the legwork out of finding the best deals, and you might get specific perks only offered through them.

Related: 4 scenarios when you should book through a travel agent

Consider a city escape

A city vacation this summer might be more budget-friendly than beach destinations. (Photo by Gian Lorenzo Ferretti Photography/Getty Images)

Demand data shows that beaches and national and state parks are hot spots for travel this summer. That can mean overcrowded destinations, sold-out accommodations and higher prices. However, a getaway to a city might be a better option this season.

“New York City, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans — all of these destinations are opening back up or have recently opened, with festivals, live entertainment and attractions all heating back up,” said Christie Hudson, senior public relations manager for Expedia. “Even better, the hotel rates are still lower year-over-year so that you can get a lot more bang for your buck.”

In addition to lower-than-usual hotel rates, a city break might be less crowded — and you won’t need to worry about an overpriced rental car.

Put your trip on a new credit card

If you know you have a potentially expensive trip coming up, do a little research on which credit cards are offering the best sign-up bonuses. When you apply for a new travel credit card, you can earn a welcome bonus after spending a set amount (often around $3,000 or $4,000 in the first three months for common travel cards). That sign-up bonus could help you offset the cost of your trip or save money on a future vacation.

Related: Cards with 100,000 points or higher sign-up bonuses

Find free night hotel deals

More people are starting to reserve hotel rooms again, with booking rates rising to more than 65% of 2019 levels according to SiteMinder’s World Hotel Index. Many hotels are offering special packages to travelers right now as an incentive to book directly with the hotel. Search on the hotel’s website or call the property directly to see if they have deals like a third or fifth night free to help lower the overall cost of your trip.

American Express card members with a Platinum or Centurion-branded card, including The Platinum Card® from American Express, can book through the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) program and, in addition to getting elite-like perks, may also be able to get a complimentary night. Amex highlights FHR properties on their webpage that currently offer a third, fourth, fifth or sixth night free.

Wait for a cruise promotion

If you’re able to keep your travel plans flexible, you could save money by jumping on a cruise promotion. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

If your travel dates are flexible, jumping on a cruise promotion when you see one could save you a lot of money.

“If you have some flexibility, you can wait for the right mix of perks,” said Luthi. “They’re usually in the form of onboard credits, but you may get a beverage package, free Wi-Fi, a free excursion or even a room upgrade. Some of these will run you hundreds of dollars, so it can not only save you money but also create a better overall cruise experience.”

Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise

Request an upgrade

Before booking, you can call the property and ask if there’s a better rate available for booking directly. There’s never a guarantee that you’ll score a cheaper stay, but the worst they can say is no. If I can’t get a discounted rate, for example, I’ll ask if there are any room upgrades available at check-in.

“You’d be surprised how often a friendly approach with a front desk agent will result in a free upgrade to a suite or better,” said Willis Orlando, member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights. “And with hotel occupancy still down about 10% from pre-pandemic levels — and over 50% in several major urban areas — those suites are more likely than ever to be open.”

Featured image by Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock.

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