Travel experts reveal how they get more for less on the road.
Whether you have the money to vacation like a rock star or not, traveling is all about the experience. And while there are plenty of travelers out there who can afford blow-out vacations (we're looking at you, Chrissy Teigen and Pippa Middleton), some of the most seasoned explorers know you can have a life-changing experience without draining your savings account.
Here are a few tips from the professionals on how to get the most value — from dollars saved to experience points earned — out of your vacation.
Find out where the locals eat.
That stylish restaurant/lounge in your lobby may be calling your name, but Christina Pedroni, senior vice president of Liberty Travel, recommends always venturing outside of your hotel if you're looking to save money. Dining off-site, she noted, also adds an air of authenticity to a vacation.
"One of my best tips for customers is to speak to hotel staff and find out what their favorite local restaurants are," she told Travel + Leisure. "I have received some of the best recommendations from hotel bartenders. Finding that local gem gets you an amazing meal without the premium hotel restaurant prices."
Spend happy hour wisely.
While five-star accommodations may not be in the budget for a long vacation, you can still dabble in luxury by visiting an upscale venue around cocktail hour time, advises actor-turned-travel writer Andrew McCarthy.
“If staying in an apartment or cheap hotel, I'll slip into the fanciest hotel around at cocktail hour and order a $20 sparking water and have a great time basking in how the other half lives, and eating the free pretzels and chips — then I'm always glad to leave and get back to the real people,” he told T+L.
Know when to fly.
The founder of The Luxury Travel Expert, who goes by "Xavier," says that by traveling when business season slows down, you may be able to score business class airfare for an economy price. He explained that during school holidays, airlines struggle to fill their business class seats as the demand for economy booms. Watching airfare and deals around those times could be the ticket for an upgraded flight without the added cost.
“British Airways had a sale a couple of months ago in which transatlantic business class seats for summer 2017 were offered at the same price as economy class tickets," he said. "So subscribe to the newsletter of your favorite airlines, and don’t ignore the business class sales. If you are traveling with family or a companion, you should keep an eye out for 2-for-1 business class sales that are occasionally launched by some airlines for a limited time only.”
Jack Ezon, owner of Ovation Vacations, added that timing your flight bookings either well ahead of time or at the last minute can result in savings.
“Booking way ahead, as in one year, allows you to take advantage of early booking bonuses," Ezon said. "On the other hand, booking last minute, as in one to 15 days prior, gives you leverage to negotiate rates on leftover space. Of course, this means you have limited options, but it can save you big.”
Think about amenities before booking a hotel.
When selecting your hotels, comparing your needs with amenities is an easy way to save money, Pedroni says.
“Not all ratings — or hotel properties — are created equal. In Europe, a five-star rating often indicates a set of hotel features such as a fine dining restaurant, spa, pool, etc. It is not solely based upon the quality of the room and service,” she said.
When booking a stay in Europe or a city, she advises considering a smaller three- or four-star hotel that excels at what you many consider a luxury experience: a large comfortable room with plush furnishings, a great location, and stellar personal service. For a beach vacation, she said to prioritize your desires and book accordingly.
“If you plan on eating and drinking to your heart's content, all-inclusive will be the best value. For those who prefer a nicer hotel and enjoy getting out and exploring and dining in the destination, an EP hotel would be best," she said. "Lastly, for those looking to relax in plush accommodations who don’t mind doing a bit of cooking and cocktail making on their own, check out villa-style accommodations for the best value."
Always visit the local tourism office.
“They know about everything going on in town. They can point you to free activities, special events happening during your stay, and everything in between. Use this resource,” said Matthew Kepnes, founder of the travel blog Nomadic Matt.
He also added that asking local hotel/hostel staff for recommendations on free or budget-friendly things to do will add to your experience.
“They deal with budget travelers all day, every day. They know exactly where to go for cheap meals and attractions,” he said.
Travel to emerging destinations.
Trending travel destinations are popular — and expensive — for good reason. However, choosing an up-and-coming destination can allow you to save big on travel without compromising too much on luxury.
Two words: shoulder season.
Ezon said to look at shoulder seasons for viable vacation opportunities. While traveling in the off season can mean exploring some places in the bitter cold or dodging hurricanes, shoulder season usually has similar weather and experiences to peak season, he said.
“There are amazing values to be had during this time. For example, you can snag a room at one of the best five-star hotels in St. Barts for €800/night in mid December for the same room that sells for nearly €3,000/night one week later,” Ezon said.
However, Pedroni adds that off-season travel is worth considering as well, as it may save you even more money and give you more time to experience a place without waiting in lines and dealing with crowds.
“If your schedule allows, avoid holiday weeks and popular long weekends. Your dollar will go farther when avoiding the high-volume travel times. Because you are traveling off-peak, there will be less crowds at the iconic cultural sites, giving you almost a VIP experience,” she said.
Stay at a new hotel.
New hotels are looking for customers and reviews, said Xavier, and will do whatever it takes to get you to book a stay — sometimes even allowing you to negotiate your own price.
“That’s one of the travel tricks that I have been using for years. I always try to stay at luxury hotels that just opened to make use of their opening offers to lure guests,” he said.