Have you ever said “I’d love to travel more but just can’t afford it”? We said the same thing for years. Trying to save up the money to take an annual vacation was zapping our energy. There were some years we didn’t even go because financial circumstances just didn’t allow for it. As someone who traveled a lot for over 10 years of my life, not being able to go and do was just not an option in my book. So, I decided to find top ways to travel free or almost free, plus discounted travel options so we could afford to get our adventure on. Here’s what we discovered and now we can travel multiple times a year!
Top Ways to Travel Free or Almost Free, Plus Discounted Travel Options
Credit Cards Bonus Points
There are so many ways to earn points and miles now just by using a credit card. The trick is to find the ones that offer the top ways to get free, almost free or discounted travel options. Each of these offer a certain amount of points once you spend anywhere from $1,000 – $3,000 in the first 3 months. The idea is to NOT incur debt but to use your current monthly bills to reach these limits. Now, in case you are asking “what is she talking about”, here’s the skinny.
Basically, what happens is that you pay your current monthly bills on that credit card until your reach the required spending limit for the card you choose. As an example:
United Airlines — $2,000 in the first 3 months to earn 40,000 bonus miles
- Mortgage or rent: $1,000
- Cable: 200
- Utilities: 200
- Groceries: 300
- Vehicle Gas: 150
If you just did these listed above for one month, you would have spent $1850 toward the $2,000. You’d almost have what you need to earn those bonus points. Be sure to pay the card off each month, then enjoy the rewards.
Here’s some of the best that I’ve found and why I think so. There are more to choose from than I list below, but I won’t list it if we personally don’t use it. It always pays to shop around to find what is going to work best for you.
Please note this information is taken directly from their website and can change at any time. Always be sure to read the fine print before applying to make sure it will meet your specific travel needs.
- Earn 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in first 3 months.
- Earn an additional $5,000 after adding an authorized user and making your first purchase.
- Receive 2 Free Club Passes Annually — $100 value
- Priority Boarding
- 1 FREE checked bag for you and a companion on the same reservation — $50 value
- No annual fee for the first year, $95 after that
This is the card I use because we like this airline in particular. Added bonus is the free checked bag, annual club passes and priority boarding. Even though there is a $95 annual fee, it offsets because of the club passes and checked bags. Overall, this one has the best perks for the lowest annual fee, which works really well for us.
- Earn 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in first 3 months
- Preferred boarding
- 1 FREE checked bag for you and up to 4 traveling companions on same reservation. May not be eligible on codeshare airlines. Be sure to read the fine print.
- $95 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months
I no longer have this card because I don’t care for “Citi”, however my husband uses this card and really likes it – so we still have this option for travel if we need it. Basically, it all comes down to your personal preference when choosing the best card for you.
- Earn 30,000 miles and 1 companion fare ticket after spending $1,000 in your first 90 days
- Companion fare annually
- Annual fee of $75
- Free checked bag for you and 6 additional passengers on same reservation for Alaska and Virgin Atlantic flights
Be aware on this one that if you don’t qualify for the Signature Card, you will be given the Platinum Plus which doesn’t have the free companion fare but rather a $50 airline credit annually. The good news the annual fee is only $50 on that card which makes it a wash. You still get the free checked bag. The perks aren’t very good on this card and the interest rate is not competitive with the other two. We have it but rarely use it unless we are going to fly Alaska in order to earn the 2x points.
- Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
- 3,000 bonus points after your first anniversary
- $69 annual fee
I have this card but I find that the perks for having it aren’t as good as the others. At the holidays this year I was able to use my points to purchase rental car and hotel gift cards which was nice. Not sure if this is something that can be done all year long. I doubt I will continue to pay the $69 annual fee on this one, just my personal opinion.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1000 in first 3 billing cycles
- Earn 20,000 additional bonus points when you spend $5,000 within 12-month billing cycle
- Automatic Platinum Elite Status
- Free nights starting at 8,000 – 36,000 a night
- 10% discount when choosing the BW Platinum rate
- 20 points per $1 spent on BW reservations
- Annual fee 0 for first year, $59 annually
The perks on this card really pay off. We just got a 3-night stay in San Francisco Union Square for 10,000 points a night. Plus, because we are Platinum, we got the upgrade to a suite, a welcome gift and treated like royalty. This card is high on our list because of the options we have available to us.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
- 5,000 additional points adding an authorized user and making your first purchase within the 1st 3 months.
- Free night on your anniversary
- Platinum Elite status
- 10% rebate back when you use your points
- 0 Annual fee first year, $49 after that
Another great option that we take advantage of regularly. This group of hotels includes Holiday Inn which is another of our favorite hotels. Having the Platinum Elite status gets you many more perks when staying at the hotel. Option for upgrades, free breakfast or drink coupons and more. This hotel chain will often have a concierge level which can only be accessed by being a Platinum Elite member. This is great because it will often have breakfast, snacks and beverages offered throughout the day.
- Earn 50,000 points after spending $1000 in the first 3 months
- Higher point earning depending on purchase
- Complimentary Silver Status
- No Annual Fee
Now, I was able to grab this card when they were offering 80,000 bonus points, so you may want to watch as the bonus point offerings can change at any given time.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after $3,000 purchases in the first 3 months
- 1 Free night on your card anniversary
- Earn an additional 7,500 bonus points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first 3 months
- $85 Annual Free (offset by the free card anniversary night)
There are many more hotel credit cards but these are ones we use most frequently because of the cost savings, bonus points and either low/no annual fees which can be offset by free nights on the card anniversary.
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Travel Discounts Options
Who doesn’t love a discount, right? In case you don’t want to go through the process of applying for specific credit cards, I’ve given you some options that are great opportunities to book travel using discount sites. I use all of these when considering my travel.
Sometimes you just want a place of your own especially if you are spending an extended period of time in a certain area. That’s why I love Airbnb plus by clicking on this link, I can save you $40 on your first stay. I have discovered that at times, staying in an Airbnb property can be less expensive than a hotel but there won’t be the amenities either. It is a trade off but definitely another option to consider.
A great selection of hotel options and discounted prices. Plus, they have a reward program which gives you a free night after 10 stays. Discounts, free nights – what more could you ask for. They have so many locations to choose from, plus you get TripAdvisor reviews as well.
City Pass offers incredible cost saving options to some of the most popular attractions in the city. We always look to see if City Pass is offered when we travel to major cities, especially if we have not been to that city previously. City Pass cities include:
- San Francisco
- New York
- Tampa Bay
- Southern California
We try to go on several trips a year and sometimes we don’t have enough hotel points to free stays and there may not be a discount we can use. That’s when we turn to BookVip! This is a great way to get a cost saving vacation at some of our favorite destinations! We love Mexico and have found the best all-inclusive resort vacations on BookVip. Click here to find out what discount vacations are currently available. They don’t include airfare but we have that covered with our airline credit cards.
These are two different sites you can buy discounted gift cards. I watch these regularly to find travel gift cards. You can find ones for gas, hotels, airlines and more. It is just another way to reduce the cost of travel and as you know, I’m all about saving money!
Ebates is a great way to get cash back for your purchases. I find that when I use most of these links I’ve shared with you, I have the opportunity to earn cash back. Combine that with the discounts, use the gift cards and get cash back – you are saving money at every turn. Plus, when you first sign up, you get a $10 gift card after your 1st qualifying purchase. It costs nothing to join and you earn money for shopping. What’s stopping you from signing up? I do recommend getting the Chrome extension they offer as it makes it easier when you shop!
You will definitely want to check out the travel options that Groupon has to offer. Sometimes you can find some great deals depending on your flexibility and budget. As with any of these things, there may be restriction dates and costs may go up if you want to stay outside the time offered. Still, it can be a great resource for travel discounts if you just watch. I signed up for the email so I see what the new offers are as they come out. We’ve taken advantage of some activities and food discounts that we have found on Groupon so I definitely recommend it as an option. Plus, you get Ebates discounts as well if you’ve signed up for Ebates. At the time of this writing, it was 6% cash back!
Adventure Grammy Recap of Top Ways to Travel Free or Almost Free, Plus Discounted Travel Options
The first thing I will remind you . . . this is not about incurring more credit card debit! Use the bills you already pay monthly to earn the bonus points and ALWAYS PAY THEM OFF EVERY MONTH!!!! Running up credit card debit defeats the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. We always set aside the cash we would have paid normally, so we can pay off the credit card in full within the billing cycle.
Furthermore, when choosing what credit card to select for airlines and hotels, think about which ones you use most often (or want to) when you travel. Look closely at the following when making your choice:
- Card perks being offered
- Bonus points offered
- Continued rate of point accrual
- Annual fee
We chose our cards because we used those hotels or airlines already, the perks of the card offset the annual fee and the rate of return of bonus points/continue accrual were better than most. If the payoff for getting the card isn’t worth the cost – it is not a good choice for you.
I know there are other cards out there that offer airline miles but they don’t offer the perks that are important to us when traveling – basically, priority boarding, club passes, and free checked bags. It’s all about what works and is important to you when traveling.
I’ve tried to include every tool or link that I use when I plan our travel. For us, it is all about saving money, getting the best deal and still having our dream vacation. I’ve done the research, shared our secrets and now the rest is up to you. I’ve also got another post I did earlier, check it out here. Hopefully, you will find these top ways to travel free or almost free, plus discounted travel options will help you make all your travel dreams come true.
Just remember, it is never too late to start “seeing the world, sharing the world. Basically, it is time for you to . . .
go get your adventure on!