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6+ unexpected travel discounts that can save you money

April 21, 2022
12 min read
Overwater bungalows at Hilton Moorea
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With high inflation levels and increasing travel demand, travel is getting more expensive.

As travelers, our priority is usually to spend the least amount possible while still getting the most out of our travel expenditures. To that end, many travel providers offer discounts to incentivize you to do business with them. This can come in handy when faced with high prices for hotel stays, rental cars and airfare.

Here is a look at some popular travel discounts -- including some you may not have even realized you were eligible for.

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AAA and AARP rates

The American Automobile Association and American Association of Retired Persons are two of the most popular membership associations in the U.S.

Despite what you might think, you don't need to own a car or be retirement age to join: Just pay the annual fee and you're in. With that fee, you gain access to discounts at various travel companies which can help you offset the membership fee and then some.

For example, most major hotel groups offer special AAA and AARP rates. On the AAA side, this includes Best Western, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, MGM, Radisson and Wyndham. AARP has discounts with Best Western, Hilton, Radisson and Wyndham.

These discounts save you 5-15% on the standard nightly rate. You can indicate a special rate when searching for a hotel to reserve these rates. When checking in, you may be asked for your identification and proof that you belong to the organization, so bring your membership card with you.

(Screenshot from hyatt.com)

It's important to note that you aren't likely to be eligible for AAA, AARP and senior rates when booking with an online travel agency like Expedia or Hotels.com, so you should book with the hotel brand directly if you'd like to reserve one of these rates. That said, AARP does have an Expedia travel booking portal that can help you save on certain hotel stays.

How much can you save with AAA and AARP at hotels?

Canopy Austin Downtown. (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

Next month, a night at the Canopy by Hilton Austin Downtown offers these rates:

  • AAA Prepay and Save: $355 per night.
  • AAA Member Rate (flexible): $402 per night.
  • AARP Member Prepay: $355 per night.
  • AARP Member Rate (flexible): $402 per night.
  • Standard non-refundable: $363 per night.
  • Flexible Rate: $410 per night.

While you don't get a huge discount by using AAA or AARP rates at this particular Hilton, the savings can add up on longer stays. And if you use these rates often, you can offset your annual membership with relative ease.

Sometimes you get added benefits when you book with AAA, too. For example, at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach, you can reserve a flexible rate for $379, a Hilton Honors member rate of $371 or a AAA Valet and Stay rate for $363. The AAA rate entitles you to free parking, which would otherwise cost $48 per day.

(Screenshot from hilton.com)

Saving on rental cars with AAA

AAA is also known for providing great rental car discounts. AAA Northeast members are eligible for preferred rates at Dollar, Hertz and Thrifty. Plus, AAA waives the under-25 rental car fee at Hertz, saving young drivers big on longer rentals. The AAA code also includes free car seats at some locations.

The discounted rates vary based on location and when you rent, but they can be substantial. For example, a flexible one-day Hertz economy car rental from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD) costs $98.70 in May before taxes and fees. With the AAA Northeast code, the same rental costs $67.25 before taxes and fees.

It's always worth checking if your AAA or AARP membership helps you save on rental cars, hotels or other travel. Depending on how often you travel, it could offset the cost of your membership (plus some).

Related: Best hotel credit cards of April 2022

Government and military rates

Suppose you work for the U.S. government, your state, a local city or county, or any other public employer such as a school district or transportation agency. In that case, you are considered a government or “public sector” employee. Consequently, you may be eligible for government rates.

Like AAA and AARP rates, you can book government and military rates on the hotel site directly as a special rate, just as you'd indicate you're a AAA or AARP member.

Federal government rates differ from state government rates, and are set to a per diem that the federal government selects. Here's the October 2021 to September 2022 per diem schedule for the District of Columbia.

(Screenshot from gsa.gov)

You'll notice that the July per diem rate is $172. This explains why each major hotel company set its government rate to $172 for a given night in July. Of course, the government rate isn't available at all hotels.

Familiarize yourself with the government rate booking conditions. In the case of Marriott, select the hotel you'd like to book, and then select "Rate Details."

(Screenshot from marriott.com)

There are several important details here. In addition to needing to present a federal government ID, you sometimes have to be traveling on official business to reserve the government rate.

In the case of Marriott hotels, our tests indicate that you must be traveling on official business to reserve the federal government rate in most cases.

(Screenshot from marriott.com)

On the other hand, Hyatt does not require you to be traveling on official government business to be eligible for the government rate unless specified.

(Screenshot from hyatt.com)

In the case of this booking at the Grand Hyatt Washington, D.C., you would still need to provide a valid federal government ID at check-in, but if you can provide one, $172 for the night is far more appealing than the member rate of $297.

You might find state government and military rates too. For example, when searching for a room at the Hampton Inn San Diego/Del Mar, you will notice a federal government rate, state government rate and military family rate.

(Screenshot from hilton.com)

On both the state and federal government rates, travel orders are required. Eligibility for the military rate is also outlined.

Government and military rates can be a great way to save on hotels, but you need to fully understand the reservation terms before making your reservation. You don't want to be in a place where you cannot provide proper documentation when checking into a hotel, as your reservation could be void or you could end up having to pay the walk-up rate for your room.

Military rates are also available on most cruise lines, and you can use your military status for discounts at theme parks, including Disneyland.

Related: A secret cherry blossom spot in DC that’s less touristy

Emergency and healthcare rates

The major hotel companies offer special rates to healthcare workers, which has become especially notable during the pandemic.

Here are some healthcare worker discounts:

At the Hyatt Place Chicago/River North, the Hyatt Healthcare Heros rate is roughly 50% off the lowest public rate (the members advanced purchase rate).

(Screenshot from hyatt.com)

Most cruise lines also offer discounts for police, firefighters and other first responders. If you fall into one of these categories, make sure that your cruise line or travel agent is aware.

Check for resident rates

Are you staying close to home? Keep an eye out for resident rates.

For example, the Laylow Hotel, Autograph Collection in Waikiki offers a "Kama’aina" rate to those with a valid Hawaiian ID. The rate is roughly 25% off the standard rate and includes a $20 valet parking discount. You can only use this offer if you're a resident of Hawaii.

(Screenshot from marriott.com)

Similarly, the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre offers a resident rate to those who live in the Canadian providences of British Columbia, Alberta or Yukon, or the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington and California. You can make your reservation on Marriott's website using the promotional code provided on the hotel's website.

(Screenshot from marriott.com)

Corporate and university rates

Check with your employer — especially if you're employed by a large Fortune 500 company — to see if there are special travel discounts for employees. These rates can be a great way to save on travel, especially since you don't always need to be traveling for work to take advantage of said discounts.

You might find these discounts at hotels, rental cars companies and even airlines that your company has corporate travel contracts with. Check your company's travel portal or benefits page for more information.

Many universities also offer discounts to students, alumni and their families, so consider reviewing your university's travel page to see if there are any discounts you can leverage. My university's corporate discount code routinely saves me at least 50% when booking a rental car with National.

Likewise, TPG Points and Miles Editor Andrew Kunesh has access to a handful of alumni rates through DePaul University. This includes preferred rates at a handful of Chicago hotels, like the Hyatt Place Chicago/Wicker Park, where DePaul alumni, faculty, parents, retirees, staff and students get a 20% discount off the standard rate.

(Screenshot from hyatt.com)

Again, only use corporate and education discount codes if you're eligible for them. Otherwise, like government rates, you could be on the hook for a much larger travel bill if you can't produce proof of eligibility.

Related: Points rich, cash poor: How to travel as a college student

Bonus: Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts® and Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection

While American Express's Fine Hotels + Resorts and Chase's Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection won't generally provide a discount on the room rate, the benefits you receive from booking through one of these booking engines can add tremendous value without paying a surplus.

For example, the Taj Campton Place is offering a standard king room on its website for $300.

(Screenshot from tajhotels.com)

Eligible cardholders can book the same room with the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts booking portal for the same price.

(Screenshot from amextravel.com)

The difference between the two rates is that with American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts, you receive the following perks at no additional cost:

  • Room upgrade upon arrival, when available (suites excluded).
  • Daily breakfast for two people.
  • Guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout.
  • Noon check-in, when available.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi.
  • $100 property credit as the experience credit.

These benefits can easily total over $150 in value, which you wouldn't have otherwise had when making a reservation directly with the hotel.

You can unlock similar value from the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection. The 21c Museum Hotel Chicago charges a $179 nightly rate later this month when booking direct. Meanwhile, the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection portal charges roughly $183 for the same night.

But when you book with Chase, you receive the following benefits that you wouldn't otherwise receive with a direct booking:

  • Full breakfast for up to two guests daily in Lure Fishbar. Also available through room service.
  • $50 food and beverage credit in Lure Fishbar, per room, per stay.
  • Welcome amenity.
  • Upgrade, subject to availability.
  • Early check-in/late checkout, subject to availability.

Clearly, the Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts® and the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection can provide tremendous value, so long as you take advantage of the included benefits.

Related: How American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts can land you elite-like benefits at top hotels

Bottom line

It can be tempting to book a rate that you don't necessarily have access to, especially when you see that the state government rate is 50% of the AAA rate. But make sure to follow the rules of these travel discounts as the consequences of rate fraud can be severe.

Still, there are many concrete ways to save on your trip using published policies. It's always worth the extra few moments to check other rate options when booking a hotel and renting a car. Depending on where you work, go to school or the associations you belong to, you could save a fair amount on your next hotel stay.

Featured image by You'll get the best returns with Hilton purchases on your card. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases