So many times I’ve heard things like, “How can you afford to travel so much?! You must be loaded!” I travel on average about once every 2-3 months. The truth is, I’m definitely not loaded, but I do think that working in the travel industry has taught me a few tricks of the trade and loopholes that help me (and can help you too!) to make travel happen.
Get a credit card that gives you points or miles for everyday purchases.
You should never ever buy anything with cash or debit. I know this may seem counter-intuitive, but you’re not spending any extra if you pay the debt off every month before the bank has a chance to charge interest on it. If it makes you feel better, you could even buy anything you would normally buy with a debit card or cash on your credit card and immediately transfer the money from your checking account to your credit card using a mobile app or the banks website. That’s one of the beautiful things about online banking. Then, it’s just like you’re getting something for nothing! You’re getting reward points for something you would have needed to buy anyway.
Recently I opened a Delta SkyMiles American Express card, and I’ve got to say, I haven’t regretted it for a minute. It has an annual fee of $99, but that fee is waived for the first year. Not only that, but if you travel with just one other person even one time in the year, the card more than pays for itself. Check this out: a checked bag on a domestic Delta flight (as well as on most other airlines) is $25 per person each way. So let’s say you and a companion fly one round-trip voyage in the span of a year—that’s a $100 savings on luggage alone! You’ve already paid the annual fee back. You don’t even have to use the card to purchase the airline tickets if you don’t want to—you just have to show it when you get to the airport.
But wait, there’s more! (And no, I’m not getting paid from American Express for this “advertisement”, I’m literally THAT excited about it.) Just for signing up for the card, you get 30,000 bonus miles for spending a set amount (and it’s not an unreasonable amount) within the first couple of months you have the card. That’s enough miles for a round-trip flight from Detroit to Florida! American Express really should pay me for my promoting them, though, so be sure to let me know if this post prompts you to go apply for the card because I get bonus miles if I “refer” you. 🙂
Delta’s not the only one that’s in on this action—every major airline has a similar offer. So you don’t have to fly to get miles, you just need to go grocery shopping, get gas, or pay bills. A flight ticket is such a huge chunk of a trip, this could be the difference between taking that dream trip and staying home. Sometimes you can even use credit card points for hotels, car rentals, and more. It really opens up the possibilities for your next vacation.
Other ways to earn miles.
The holiday season is upon us. That means that whether we like it or not, we’re going to be doing a boat load of Christmas shopping. If you’re like me, you like doing your shopping online—avoid the lines, the hassle, and the steep prices most of the time. Almost everywhere you look there are offers for free shipping, and don’t you think searching for something is much easier when you simply have to type it into a search bar instead of wandering around a huge department store for hours? Me too!
Many of the airlines have other ways to earn miles thank simply travelling a lot. With Delta, they have what’s called SkyMiles Shopping. All you need is a Delta SkyMiles number (free to sign up) and you can log into your account and see all of the online stores they offer. There is everything under the sun—from Kmart, to Backcountry, Sears, Old Navy and hundreds more—anything you want, you name it. Turn your Christmas shopping into a plane ticket for you! There are even promotions where you can get up to 10 miles per dollar spent on a certain site. You just have to make sure you click on the store’s link from Delta’s website and voila! You’re getting miles and benefiting from something you would have had to buy anyway.
Another tip: Don’t book your hotel and your flight separately if you can help it–book them in a package. That way, you’ll get discounted rates and also bonus miles you can put toward your next trip. Southwest Vacations gives you extra Rapid Rewards points for booking your hotel in a package with their flights. Delta Vacations, American Airlines Vacations, and United Vacations does the same thing.
Sometimes just the channels by which you make your reservations or do your shopping can make a huge difference in how much you’re saving toward your next vacation. It just takes a bit more thought and creativity when spending your money. Make less into more at no extra cost to you.
Don’t eat out!
The next time you feel that urge to go grab Taco Bell on your lunch break or don’t feel like cooking dinner after a long day at work—think again! It’s tempting (trust me, I know), but you could really save so much money by packing a lunch for work or cooking dinners in the evening. Go grocery shopping every week or two and make that your primary go-to for meals.
Think about this: a fast food meal these days is typically around $7. Let’s say you eat fast food for lunch 3 out of 5 days of the workweek (many people even eat out more than this!). That’s an average of about $21 a week. That’s over $1000 a year that could be going into your travel fund!
If you like to stop on the way to work and grab a Starbucks or a Tim Horton’s iced cappuccino, DON’T! I understand the need for coffee more than anyone, but a large tin of Meijer brand coffee will go a long way. If that Starbucks coffee were only $3.50 each time you bought it (and I’m fairly certain that Starbucks charges much more exorbitant prices than this), then that’s almost $550 a year if you bought a coffee just three times a week. Invest in a portable coffee mug and you’ll basically be investing in the next travel experience of a lifetime.
ADDENDUM: This was added months after I originally posted this. I just found out that Delta has something called SkyMiles Dining. You can sign up for it even without the SkyMiles AMEX card. You simply create a login and password and link any of your credit cards to the account, then use that card at any of their participating restaurants and you can get up to 5 miles per dollar spent! So if you love eating out anyway or there is a special occasion, it may not be such a bad thing after all!
Change the way you spend in day-to-day life.
If you have a gym membership, CANCEL IT! There are plenty of ways to stay fit at home. If you have Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Netflix, there are free workout videos on there you can use. Get a jump rope, run outside, or do sit ups on the living room floor. Yeah, it may take a bit more motivation on your part when you don’t have your hard-earned money riding on it, but this should be a small price to pay for more gorgeous beaches and faraway places in your future.
Other things you can do to help build a cushion for some of the travel fantasies you’ve always dreamed of is try to get as much use out of your things as humanly possible. Use your laptop until it’s literally unusable because of all of the wear and tear it’s undergone. Wear your socks until you can see every toe sticking out. You don’t need to go shopping every week and when you do, try Salvation Army, Craigslist, or hand-me-downs. A bit of high maintenance tendencies may have to be sacrificed in order to save every penny possible for that dream trip.
Get a high-yield savings account (many of these are online accounts, not brick and mortar banks) and have $25-$100 depending on what you would feel comfortable with per pay period auto-deposited into that account. Forget about it for a while and before you know it you will have enough for a plane fare in there. These types of online accounts are usually super easy, with no minimum balance or annoying fees.
I do agree, to put all of these into practice may be challenge at first, but in time it will seem frivolous to spend money on unnecessary things when it could be going toward amazing experiences like visiting a temple in Cambodia, walking around a Christmas market in Austria, or cruising along the Italian Riviera.
I hope this post will help you to work smarter, not harder when it comes to saving for your next trip!
Forever & Ever,
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS