Vacation on a Budget – Tips for Saving on a Luxury Vacation

Margalit Sturm Francus Avatar

Photo Caption: Decrease the effects with these tried and true jet lag cures. Photo: Pixabay
Photo Caption: Decrease the effects with these tried and true jet lag cures. Photo: Pixabay

It’s true that being rich is better than being poor, especially when it comes to travel. Flying first class is waaaay better than being stuck in economy. The Red Roof Inn doesn’t even compare to a Ritz-Carlton. And that James Beard award winning restaurant? Yeah, it’s better than Burger King.

And, yes, staying at the Red Roof Inn, eating at Burger King and flying coach are better than not traveling at all. But luxury travel is better. Always.

But here’s the secret travel experts know: You don’t have to be a billionaire to travel in style. These tips will help you have a luxury vacation on a budget.

Planning Tips

Long before you board that flight, think about where you want to go and how you want to get there. Then start looking for ways to make it cheaper and easier.

  • Join associations, credit unions and groups like AAA and Costco to take advantage of their travel discount programs.
  • When traveling abroad, check banks as well as online sites for the best exchange rates for foreign currency. The exchange rates can vary based on the institution you’re using.
  • Apply for a credit card that doesn’t charge currency exchange fees
  • Apply for a credit card that provides car rental insurance.
  • Look on sites like or that offer travel packages that bundle airfare, cruises and hotels. But always price the trips ala carte too, to make sure you’re getting a deal.
  • Check out all inclusive resorts so you’ll know before you go exactly how much the vacation will cost.

Read more: These are our favorite all inclusives!

Packing Tips

  • Buy refillable carry-on size bottles for your shampoo, conditioner and lotions. It’s much cheaper to fill them from your big shampoo bottles at home than to buy the already-filled mini travel bottles.`
  • Become an efficient packer and learn to travel with carry-on bags only, to avoid those stiff airline luggage fees.

How to Save on Air Travel

  • If you travel frequently, get access to the airport lounge through credit card or airline status. That will give you access to some pretty yummy snacks and save you from buying food at airport restaurants with their inflated prices.
  • Apply for a travel reward credit card to accrue airline miles. Then book an economy ticket and use miles to upgrade to a comfy first class seat. Barclays US Consumer Bank has loyalty programs with Breeze Airlines and Jet Blue, among others. The 2024 Travel Rewards and Loyalty Report from Barclays found that over 75% of travelers would have to downgrade their travel style without loyalty programs.
  • Set a price watch for airfares through or other websites to be notified if the fare drops.
Save on hotels to get a luxury vacation on a budget.
Photo credit: Margalit Sturm Francus

How to Save on Hotel Stays

  • Join the free hotel loyalty program before you book a hotel. Membership gives you access to the best rates and often means perks during your stay like free wifi and bottled water. Plus, you’ll accrue points for free future stays.
  • Apply for a credit card that lets you accrue hotel points to be used for booking rooms. Make sure to compare card benefits and fees, as well as reward redemption benefits before choosing one.
  • Shop at the hotel chain’s virtual mall to accrue extra points. Some stores can give up to 10 points per dollar spent.
  • Call the hotel directly — not the company’s toll-free reservation number — and ask for discounts and upgrades. That can include larger rooms and even executive lounge access. If you aren’t successful before you arrive, ask again when you check in. Being nice to the front desk clerk can go a long way toward getting you what you want. The worst they can do is say no. And you might end up with a suite for the price of a standard room.
  • Consider buying executive lounge access with points or cash. It might save you money on breakfast, snacks, drinks or even dinner, especially if you are traveling with ravenous teens.
  • Book a room in hotel chains that offer a fifth night free when you redeem on points to maximize the value of your reward points.
  • If you don’t have enough points, look for chains that let you book with a combination of cash and points, such as IHG.
  • Look for Internet surveys you can participate in to accrue additional hotel points.
  • Bring along your Amazon Firestick or other streaming device to plug into the hotel TV so you don’t have to pay for those pricey pay-per-view movies. Note: Always make sure the hotel offers free wi-fi before streaming.
  • If you’re going to Disney World, book your hotel through David’s Vacation Rentals. It allows you to “rent” the points of Disney Vaction Club owners and book luxury Disney resort properties at significant savings.

Read More: How to rent DVC points and save.

How to Save on Dining

  • Look for advertised local deals for restaurants on sites like Groupon, Yelp and Travelzoo to use at your intended destination.
  • Find venues that offer a happy hour menu as an alternative to an early dinner.
  • Visit the must-try restaurants for lunch rather than dinner. You’ll get the same great food at lunch portions and lunch prices.
  • Check for restaurant coupon books or 2-for-1 offers through your hotel, if offered. Also check for any available reservation or deal mobile apps that run promotions and/or offer discounts.
  • Book a condo with a kitchen so you can eat some of your meals in the room.
  • Seek out restaurants that offer prix fixe or “menu of the day” deals.
  • Check for places that offer “kids eat free” deals.
  • Purchase ‘take out’ food at the local supermarket if you have one nearby. Or check for local food trucks in the area. These can offer delicious options that are often more affordable than full restaurants.
Save on dining to get a luxury vacation on a budget.
Photo credit: Margalit Sturm Francus

Save on Things to Do on Your Vacation

  • Buy package tickets like a CityPASS, online before you go. They will save you big bucks on attraction entry fees. But even better, they will save you time because having the pass in hand means you can skip the long lines of people waiting to pay for their admission.
  • Consider purchasing passes for several days instead of just one day for theme parks; they are cheaper with parks like Disney, Universal Studios and SeaWorld. SheBuysTravel recommends Get Away Today for discounted Disney tickets and vacation packages. Not only does the company have the lowest prices, it offers a best price guarantee. If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it.
  • Research the destinations you plan to visit ahead of time and read forums for tips from locals.
  • Remember to bring student cards and membership cards during travel. Check for family rates and disabled rates as well as AAA, AARP and other discounts.
  • Download free info and mobile apps about sites instead of taking paid tours.
  • Many museums offer free entry on certain days.
  • Buy a yearly museum membership that offers a reciprocal entry program for other museums across the country.
  • Take free walking tours like the Chicago City Greeters tours.

Save on Car Rentals

  • Join the major car rental company loyalty programs and sign up for promotions.
  • Call the local car rental branch directly and ask for discounts.
Luxury vacation on a budget by touring museums for free.
Photo credit: Margalit Sturm Francus

Save on Cruises

  • Stay away from sodas, coffees and alcohol as much as possible since those charges can really add up.
  • Don’t be tempted to buy souvenirs onboard. You can find most items cheaper in the ports of call.
  • Crave logo souvenirs? Participate in any available on-board games for a chance to win.
  • Don’t buy the photographs and video sold by the cruise line. Bring your camera and take your own.
  • Consider booking your own port excursions rather than booking through the cruiseline. You’ll like save money. Just be sure you book one that will return you to the ship on time!

Save on Cell Phone Charges

  • Block data roaming on your phone while you are still on US soil and check continuously that it stays off!
  • When traveling internationally, check with your wireless provider to see what kind of international plan they offer. Or look into buying a local phone card when you arrive at your destination.
  • Online services like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber allow you to communicate via wifi instead of phone service. Also check your wireless plan to see if it gives you free wi-fi calling and texting.

Save on Souvenirs

  • Never buy souvenirs in ‘touristy’ areas or airports as they are usually priced higher than in small mom and pop stores and local markets.
  • Establish a set budget and stick to it, especially when traveling with kids.
Margalit Sturm Francus has lived in five different countries on three continents, where she exposed and educated her own children about the world through. In 2009, she established a nonprofit website, Autistic Globetrotting, to inspire and encourage autistic families to explore the world. Her articles have appeared in many media publications, including The Friendship Circle, SATH, HuffPost and Blogher. By communicating with both the autistic and travel communities, she aims to raise autism awareness and facilitate the implementation of much-needed accommodations for special needs travelers.
Read full bio

2 responses

  1. My family and I are planning to go on a vacation in California, that’s why I’m currently looking for a luxury vacation home in St. Helena. I’m glad you shared this; I’d make sure to apply for a credit card that does not charge any currency exchange fees. I’ll also keep in mind to look for restaurants that provide family platters.

  2. Great tip about executive floor access. We’ve used that many times to save money on breakfast, snacks – plus have a relaxing space for downtime that isn’t our room.