I am a budget minded traveler which means that I try to save money on the big costs so I can spend more on the fun stuff. This also lets me travel more frequently than I might otherwise be able to. That being said, I use a few easy tools to cut costs for travel.
Money Saving Tools
- Loyalty Programs for hotels, car rentals and airlines
- Travel Credit Cards that earn points or miles
- Rebate and Reward Apps
My rules for sticking with any of these tools is that they don’t take too much time or preparation to use, the process needs to be user friendly, the accumulations must be accurate and when I am redeeming for a reward the program must be reliable.
These programs are pretty self explanatory. Just sign up for the Loyalty Programs for any air/hotel/car rental company when using their services and earn points from your spend. Even the Airport Parking Lot I frequently use now has a loyalty program. After the points build up you can start redeeming them for free or discounted hotel stays, airfare or car rentals.
Sign up for ALL Loyalty Programs whenever you use a company that offers one even if you don’t think you will use them again right away. You never know what may come up later on that you could use those points for. For most Loyalty Programs the points are generally good if you earn or redeem any amount of points within 2 years. If you are really close to an award you hope to use, there is usually a way to buy additional points or transfer them from a partner program.
Two years ago, while attending the wedding of my friend in Baltimore, I earned quite a few Hyatt points. Since there aren’t many Hyatt’s near us, those points were just hanging out until I needed them. I was recently able to use them for a discount on my upcoming hotel reservation. Although I didn’t have enough for a full reward stay, the points I had still saved me 50% off the room cost.
I recommend that you have hotel, air and car rental Loyalty accounts with at least 3 different companies. That will give you more flexibility when making a reservation regarding what is available for your destination, the best program cost or promotion, and which program(s) you have enough points in to be able to redeem a reward.
Rewards Credit Cards
Rewards credit cards come in many different varieties.
- You can earn points that can be redeemed later to offset travel costs that you book with that specific card. Example – Capital One Venture
- Branded cards give you miles or points designed for you to use for that specific company. Examples – Delta, Southwest, IHG or Marriott Bonvoy
- Universal reward cards give you flexible points that can be easily transferred for redemption from one of many different affiliated travel related companies. Examples- American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You Points
- Basic reward cards offer points that you can redeem for gift cards, statement credits or cash back. Example – Discover
Last year I used a basic reward card and chose Travel as my quarterly 3 times rewards category. We paid for all of our European Tour Excursions with that card and earned a $200 statement credit plus the card had no Foreign Transaction fees which saved us even more money.
Make your card work for you! Become very familiar with your cards benefits so you can take advantage of all the available perks. If you have more than 1 card, know which one is has built in Car Rental Protection, Airline Credits, 4th Night Free Hotel deals or the highest points back for whatever you are purchasing.
Rebate and Reward Apps
I have tried out several different rebate apps but not all of them meet the specifications of my rules. Through trial and error, I have come up with just 3 Rebate Apps that I feel are worth my time for the rewards I receive.
Ebates – Great to use for anything I am ordering on line. If I am not in a hurry, I try to strategically take advantage of high rebate percentages to maximize my savings. In addition to online shopping, this is a great app to start your travel reservations from. I booked my most recent Holiday Inn stay on a day with a 12% Rebate and got a $36.48 Rebate from Ebates. Plus I was still able to collect my Loyalty points from the hotel and from my credit card.
Payment from Ebates is made quarterly via check, Pay Pal or you have the option to set it up to pay out as American Express Membership Rewards points. Although you can easily change between check and Pay Pal, if you want Membership Rewards make sure to set it up when you start your account because you cannot add the Amex option later on.
Ibotta – This is a fairly easy to use Rebate app. You can use it in the same way as you do Ebates for online and travel purchases. I choose to stick to the groceries because I find the other rebates to be more robust and easier to track with Ebates. Ibotta is the best of all of the grocery apps that I have tried. I spend a few minutes a week selecting items I may potentially buy then adding them to my Offers Wallet. There are often Bonus offers that give you additional cash back when you have used a predetermined number of rebates in a specified period of time.
You can collect payment at any time as long as you have a minimum of $20 in your account. For payment you can choose gift cards, or a deposit to your Pay Pal or Venmo account. The turn around time is about 24-48 hours.
Fetch – This is the absolute easiest of all of the grocery apps. There is no need to go into the app and select items before shopping. After you get home, just scan your receipt and it looks for items that qualify. There is a tab on the app that shows you 10 to 15 items that have high bonuses. I usually take a peek at it before shopping to see if I can take advantage of any additional savings.
You can cash out to a gift card whenever you have the necessary number of points saved up. There are many categories of gift cards that you can pick from and the redemption process is almost instantaneous. I actually picked a restaurant gift card once as we pulled into the parking lot and it was ready to use by the time we paid our check.
Redeeming Rebates for Travel Savings
The way to use Rebate Apps for travel savings is to either deposit your cash back earnings into your travel account to use for future trips, collect the Membership Reward points to use toward travel related purchases or select gift cards for gas, air travel, hotels, Uber or even cruises.
I suggest you familiarize yourself with the rewards available on any apps that you use so that you know what you can turn your points into. I like to save the points up until I have a travel need or stockpile gift certificates that I know I will use.
While I was qualifying for my Companion Pass with Southwest Airlines, I redeemed $25 in Rebates from Ibotta and 25,000 points from Fetch each for $25 Southwest gift cards. I applied those gift cards to my my recent $180 flight reducing the cost to $130. I also decreased my hotel costs on that trip by utilizing the Points plus Cash Rate at Hyatt for 3 nights of our stay and used 25,000 IHG hotel points for 1 free Rewards night. This dropped the cost for my hotel stays for this trip from $800 to $300.
You can shave a lot of money off your travel costs by taking advantage of a few of these super simple ways to save. All of these tools discussed here are useful in their own way at reducing your travel costs and it is good to have a blend of several things so that you have what you need when you want to plan a trip.
Never put all your eggs into 1 basket.
Dream, Plan, SAVE, Adventure!
If you are interested in signing up for any of these programs, you can find Referral Links with associated sign up bonuses by going to my Money Saving Links page from the menu.