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2012 Cheapest Travel or Free Vacation

Updated on September 23, 2012

Saving Money 101

Tis the season . . . for travel. If you need a break, but don't want to break the bank when vacationing, here's some tips on traveling, accommodations, meals, etc. to reduce your expenses and to travel on the cheap.

How to Get There

The cost of traveling to your vacation destination can represent a sizable portion of your travel budget. Follow these steps to reduce your costs.

By Plane

1. Book your flight on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Generally, you can snag cheap airfare airplane on Tuesday or Wednesday. Also, check fares late at night and early in the morning.

2. Use a travel aggregator to seach multiple sites., and are three well-known sites. Also, include,,,, and in your search.

And, don't forget to check individual air carriers sites directly. Many of these now have a fare calendar you can use to find cheaper fares during year. Some carriers such as Southwest and Airtran offer consistently lower fares. (As of September 2012, Southwest Airlines does not charge for baggage).

The key is to getting a good fare is knowing the going rate and conducting some research. Also, when comparing companies make sure the listed fare includes taxes and any additional charges such as a booking fee. These extras can make a seemingly good deal unpalatable.

3. Book early if possible. Generally, flights are cheaper three weeks out. However, airlines prefer a full flight to empty seats, so you can still snag a last-minute deal. Use to place a realistic bid on last-minute seats. Don't expect to get a cross-country seat for $50.00; check for the cheapest fare on the airline's fare calendar and place your bid close to that amount.

4. Consider flying into another airport. Find an airport close to your original destination and check on the fare. It may vary considerably. If you plan on renting a car, you may find flying into a cheaper destination worth considering.

For example, recently a family of four saved $800 on airfare by flying into San Antonio instead of Houston. They opted to extend their vacation by a day, rented a room in San Antonio for under $100, did some sightseeing in San Antonio, and then drove on to Houston. Make sure you check on the mileage between your destination city and the airport before embarking on this option.

5. Limit the amount of luggage you bring. Most airlines are now charging $15-$40 for checked luggage. Needless to say, you want to pack as lightly as possible and pack some items in a carry-on for the plane. Also, weigh your bags before leaving to avoid the overweight fee. Check with your carrier or on their website to get their baggage weight limit.

6. If you don't have to arrive at a specific time, you can try to get a free airline ticket. Fly into a major airport during a rush hour flight time period--such as Monday morning or Friday late afternoon/early evening. Sunday afternoon flights also offer a bumpable opportunity.

Occasionally, these flights are overbooked and the airline will offer incentives for booked passengers to take a later flight. Incentives will range from $100 off a future flight to a free ticket voucher. (Ask about any travel restrictions).

Plan to arrive early for your flight, inquire if the flight is heavily booked, and if so, ask to be placed on the "bump" list. If the flight is overbooked, you will be called first. Make sure you know when the next flight is leaving. Delaying your flight could result in an overnight stay. If you are okay with that, bargain for a discounted or free hotel stay.

7. Investigate air courier tickets. Carrying important packages and documents for companies across the country was once a good chance to travel cheaply. There's still opportunity, but you need to check out this out carefully. Basically, you contract with a company to carry their document to a location and they cover the transportation costs at a reduced rate.

The downside of this type is travel is that you have travel lightly, often with only the clothes you are wearing, and you have to travel solo. But if you can score this gig, it's a good way to cover airfare cheaply or for free. Check with the International Association of Airline Couriers for more information.

By Bus or Train

Consider taking a bus or train to your destination. Once again, you should check the carrier's website for discounts. Check,, and Megabus and Bolt Bus are relatively newcomers to the travel marketplace. Megabus operates in the UK, Canada and the US. Both carriers offer sharply discounted fare--in some cases, $1 fares for early-bird bookings.(Yes, that's one dollar). Even if you don't book early enough to get one of these promotional fares, you can find finds fares for $10-$20. For example, the round trip fare for a September 11, 2010 trip from St. Louis to Chicago, Illinois is only $20.00. Both of these carriers have comfortable, reclining seats and are outfitted to accommodate the latest electronic gadgets. Note, travel by train or bus may take more time so take a good book to enjoy on the ride.

By Car

Another option is to take your own car or rent vehicle. To determine if this route is cheaper for you, add up the cost of every-one's airfare and then go to a mapping site such as This will calculate trip mileage as well as gas consumption. If you rent a car, shop around to get the best rate. Some companies offer a cheap 3- or 4-day weekend special. Peruse for rental car deals from various companies.

Local Travel

Once you arrive, traveling between attractions can consume a lot of your vacation fund. Consider taking local transportation such as the public bus, tourist trolley or subway system. You can get schedules at the Visitor Center. Some cities are walker friendly; don't assume you will need a ride for every destination. Before you get in a taxi, ask about the fare to popular attractions (hotel staff usually can estimate for you).

Hotels, Motels and Others

Sleeping accommodations represent another major vacation expense. Here's how to slash your hotel/motel costs.

1. Take a timeshare tour. Yes, you can really get almost free accommodations via this route. Typically, travel organizations offer you a free four- or three- day stay in a hotel of their choice. Usually, this only covers the room, any extras are on you. Travel agencies market these freebies over the phone and via the internet. There are a few eligibility requirements including household income (usually $35,000 or above).

So what's the catch. You have to commit to attending a sales presentation during your trip -- typically, 90 minutes to 2 hours in length. You will find these tour operators in most popular travel destinations such as Orlando, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; New Orleans, Louisiana, etc. Once you arrive, sign up for the earliest presentation of the day. During the presentation you will be paired up with a sales agent whose job is to sell you membership in a timeshare or similar venue. Note, if you and your spouse are easy pickings for a good sales pitch you may want to skip this option unless you really want to purchase additional travel accommodations.

2. Sleeping accommodations can be had on the cheap by checking out individual hotel and motel websites and/or any of the travel discounters mentioned earlier. In addition, you can check on and for discounted rooms. Lastly, you can call the hotel directly--using the local number--and ask for the best deal of the house. Don't hesitate to inquire again if this is the "best rate" available. Use your Corporate, Student, AAA Motor Club or AARP discount. Also, consider limiting your hotel stays to one particular hotel chain such as Hilton or Marriott with hotel brands with differen price points. This strategy will allow you to capitalize on hotel loyalty points more rapidly.

3. Rent a condo or vacant timeshare unit. If you are staying over 5 days, this can be less expensive than a hotel stay. The internet is overrun with timeshare units. This can prove to be an economical choice for family travel. This choice offers more room, plus a full-size kitchen and often even a washer and dryer. Try and

4. Consider staying in the suburbs. If you are traveling to a large city such as Chicago, you can pick a hotel on the outskirts and then take the train or subway downtown for all the action.

5. Go the Hostel route. Hostels offer cheap rates for minor inconvenience. Check out, and for info. Amenities vary greatly so you will want to ask about bathrooms (private vs. communal) and any additional fees.

6. Exchanges and freebies! There are websites devoted to housing/room exchanges or simply free sleeping space., and are worth looking into.

Attractions and Food

Funding your vacation food and fun can constitute another hefty hit to the wallet. Here's more saving tips.

1. Get discounted coupons. At least 8 weeks before your trip, order a vacation guide from the Visitor's Bureau of your destination and inquire about any discount cards and coupons.

2. Visit your local travel agency such as AAA Motor Club for brochures and discounts.

3. Purchase a coupon book for your destination city from; this thick book will have gobs of coupons for casual, fine and fast food dining, travel and attractions. Many of the coupons are 2 for 1 or offer a 50% discount.

Also, visit and for discount certificates. For example, you can get a $25.00 certificate for $10.00. They offer certificates in denominations up to $100.00. Frequently, offers sustantial discounts off of their rates -- 70% or 80% off, so you can get a $25.00 restaurant certificate for $3.00 or $4.00. Make sure you examine any certificate restrictions before purchase. For example, for many $25.00 certificates, you have order two entrees and spend at least $35.00. So, with some judicious meal planning, you can get two meals at a nice restaurant for around $10.00-$15.00 plus the cost of the certificate.

4. Make sure your accommodations include a fridge and microwave. Once, you settle in, find the nearest low-cost grocery and buy some basics. Plan on eating at least one meal in and pack some goodies to avoid buying overpriced munchies and save a ton of cash.

5. If you are attending any timeshare presentations, ask about free or discounted tickets to popular attractions. For example, Orlando theme park tickets or Vegas show tickets are common add-ons. Also, check with the AAA motor club, websites and your employer for discounted tickets.

6. Check on free admission days at popular attractions such as museums or attend matinee productions which are usually less expensive.

7. Join an audience. Tickets to TV shows and game-shows are free. If your vacation plans include a trip to New York City or Los Angeles, request tickets via the network website.  Plan to spend considerable time at the show, so if your schedule is tight, you may want to skip this freebie.

Cheap Travel - California

Additional Travel Savings

Get a debit or charge card that awards points for purchases and use that card extensively for all bills. Use it for gas, clothes, food, doctor bills, etc. The key to this strategy is using the same card for everyday expenses, staying within budget and paying off the balance each month. One exception to this rule -- big ticket items that you are going to finance anyway. One thrifty shopper charges his car to his low interest charge card and uses the points for his travel budget. If you aren't able to use the points for your airfare or hotel due to time restrictions, you can always cash them out for a gift card ($25-$200) and use this money for your incidental vacation expenses.

And, one last bit of advice for cheap travel -- always be prepared for last minute travel.Great deals are available for those who require little planning time for a quick getaway. Check out, and You may need to be flexible with your destination when scouting for great last minute deals.

Incorporate these travel gems in your travel lifestyle and you should reap the benefits of cheaper travel. Plan, pack your bag and have fun!


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    • ExpandYourMind profile image

      ExpandYourMind 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Thanks for your comments and good tips, PeggyW. Buying and even picking your own fresh fruit along the way is a great idea.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Will definitely bookmark this hub. Thanks for all the great tips!

      More tips: If traveling by car, pack a cooler with edibles before leaving home. Often it is more fun to picnic by some beautiful scenic area than trying to find a restaurant which uses up more of one's time and money. One can restock the cooler along the way as needed.

      Also...stop along the way when finding roadside stands selling fresh produce from that area. We have purchased apples from a lady's front yard in Arkansas; strawberries at a roadside stand in California and we actually picked our own apricots and paid for them (honor system) in Utah. In each case we had the freshest of local home grown fruit for many days of our trip. Yum!

    • ExpandYourMind profile image

      ExpandYourMind 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Yep. Great deals for those who plan. Thanks for visiting.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Great idea especially for a family these cost savings go a very long way. The aggregator tip is very useful it is amazing the difference in fairs.

    • ExpandYourMind profile image

      ExpandYourMind 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Yep. Booking early and researching will save considerably. Thanks.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Useful Tips - Thanks. It's amazing the amount you save if you book early. Regards.

    • ExpandYourMind profile image

      ExpandYourMind 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Certainly. Thanks for stopping in.

    • annmeadows profile image

      annmeadows 7 years ago from Mobile, Al.

      Great information. If it's okay with you, I'd like to post a link in my blog and hub.



    • ExpandYourMind profile image

      ExpandYourMind 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Great idea. Smokey Mountains -- wonderful!

    • profile image

      hamburghotels 7 years ago

      That really the cheapest one..........nice from your side

      enjoy the place

    • profile image

      William Catton 7 years ago

      For a truly inexpensive vacation, try backpacking in one of our national parks. It can be a great family experience. For a vicarious experience of family backpacking in one of America's loveliest national parks, read the book UPS AND DOWNS AROUND RAINIER by Nancy Catton, ISBN: 0-7596-4658-9