Top Hacks to Save Money on Holiday Travel

‘Tis the season—to go broke. If the stress and inherent hustle-bustle of traveling during the holidays weren’t enough to pull your hair out, factor in the costs. Not-so-fun fact: Americans spent an average of $1,003 on holiday-related costs in 2016. Yikes.

Whether you’re traveling to visit family or to enjoy an end-of-year getaway, here are our tips to avoid getting sucker-punched with holiday debt hangover (hey, it happens to the best of us). Take a look at our top holiday traveling hacks:

Book early

Just like there are last-minute gift shoppers, there are last-minute travel bookers, says Ben Luthi, travel enthusiast and money writer for Student Loan Hero. As the demand increases for holiday travel, so will the prices. “Of course, booking early won’t mean you’ll get screaming deals,” says Luthi. “Holiday travel is usually more expensive than average regardless of when you book.” But the sooner you do it, the less of a premium you’ll have to pay.

Be flexible

Flexibility is key when it comes to snagging the best travel deals. For example, if you’re flying for the holidays, be willing to potentially fly in early and stay a bit longer to miss the rush, says Luthi. Here’s another tip: the least busy travel days are often Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, according to personal finance and travel writer Robyn Parets. In addition, you’ll often find a bargain airfare if you’re willing to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday rather than on other days during the week. These two days, along with New Year’s Eve, tend to be the lowest priced days to travel during the holiday season, says Parets.    

Road trip it

If you can spare the time and your destination isn’t too far away, consider driving, taking a bus, or traveling by train – instead of flying, suggests Luthi. For example, Luthi and his wife are driving from Utah to Portland for a two-fold purpose this holiday season: to attend his sister-in-law’s wedding and to spend time with the family over New Year’s. While Luthi originally booked a flight, it was ridiculously expensive, so he canceled it and plans to drive instead.

Hold off on holiday shopping

Instead of hauling gifts on a flight or shipping them, wait to buy gifts when you reach your destination, suggests Jessica Garbarino of Every Single Dollar. “It makes your travel less stressful and saves money,” says Garbarino.

Here’s a solid reason why traveling with wrapped gifts can cause anxiety and cost you money: if a TSA agent decides to inspect your bags, he may decide to unwrap your presents to see the contents. This will not only hold you up and stress you out, but you’ll spend money on more wrapping paper to re-wrap those gifts when you arrive at your destination, says Parets.

Another tip: avoid traveling with gifts altogether and buy your present online. This way you can take advantage of free shipping deals or have them directly shipped to your destination via Amazon Prime.

Consider flying out of another airport

If you find flights are outrageously priced from your home airport, try considering alternatives, suggests Holly Johnson, personal finance and travel writer at Club Thrifty. For instance, while the Johnsons live in Indianapolis, they frequently drive to Chicago for better airfare deals. It’s occasionally $300 to $400 less per person per flight, which nets a grand total savings of up to $1,600 for the family of four. Johnson says the savings make up for the three-hour drive to the airport.

Use your reward points and travel on a budget airline

If you’ve racked up a significant number of reward points on a credit card, consider redeeming them for airline travel, suggests Ruby Escalona of A Journey We Love. Some travel credit cards also let you redeem points for buses and trains too. Just make sure that, if your credit card comes with an annual fee, you gain enough in travel perks to offset that cost.

Get a co-branded airline credit card

When traveling during the holidays, airplanes are more packed than usual, which makes it more challenging to find overhead bin space. To save on checked luggage fees, consider carrying the co-branded credit card of your preferred airline, says Lee Huffman, a travel blogger at Bald Thoughts.

This helps in two ways, says Huffman. First: most airlines don’t charge you to check bags when you book a flight on its credit card. Second: if you prefer to travel with a carry-on-bag, these cards often offer priority boarding. This means you’ll enjoy earlier access to overhead bin space.

Search for online deals for food and fun

Want to have fun on a dime when you arrive at your travel destination? Scour deal sites to find deals on food and entertainment using apps like Groupon and Goldstar before you leave home, suggests Huffman. You should also always carry your membership cards like AAA and AARP to secure discounts at participating locations. In addition, sometimes public transit may offer discounts to nearby attractions and restaurants. For instance, in Los Angeles, you can score “destination discounts” with a Metro transit card.

Seek gourmet food halls

To save on food when traveling, be on the hunt for gourmet food halls, suggests Amy Rutherford of Go With Less. “Think mall food court with ambiance and inexpensive, delicious options,” says Rutherford.” They’re popping up everywhere!” Some gourmet food halls include the Time Out Market in Lisbon, Chelsea Market in New York City, Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, and Mercado Roma in Mexico City.

Ready, set, go

While holiday travel can get expensive, keeping these travel hacks in mind can help you save big bucks while avoiding serious debt hangover in the new year. Your pocketbook and budget for 2018 will thank you.

 

How to Save Money During Wedding Season

Wedding invitations are piling up on your desk and all you can think is: “How will I ever afford this?” You want to support your friends and celebrate love. But let’s face it, wedding season can wreak havoc on your wallet — especially if you’re attending multiple weddings in the span of a few months.

According to data from the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, wedding guests in 2016 were expected to spend $703 — per wedding. Even worse, millennials spent about 27 percent more, or an expected $893 for every nuptial. With Americans slated to attend an average of three weddings per year, the costs of being a wedding guest can easily surpass the $2k mark.

So what can you do to save money during wedding season? Read on to learn more.

Save money on airfare

Traveling costs to get to the wedding can take the biggest chunk out of your budget, especially if it’s a destination wedding. To save money on flights, timing is everything.

Based on research from CheapAir.com, the best time to book travel is between one and three and a half months prior to the wedding. You can also use Yapta and Hopper to track prices so you can be sure you’re getting the best deal.

Lower costs on lodging

Do you have other friends attending the wedding as well? If so, share an Airbnb and split the cost. If you’re flying solo, see if you have any friends in the area that are willing to host you or let you stay at their place. You may be in luck. Last year I attended a wedding and stayed at my friend’s place while he was out of town. It worked out perfectly.

You can also use sites like Orbitz, Hotwire, Trivago, and Travelzoo to look for the best deals. If you’re willing to wing it, you can always use the Hotel Tonight app, which offers discounts on unsold rooms booked at the last-minute. For those looking to seriously save on lodging, consider a hostel or CouchSurfing.

How to gift on a budget

Wedding gifts are a big part of the wedding process.  But if you don’t play your cards right, you could be paying the price — literally.

Many wedding registries have tiered-prices — some low priced gifts, moderately priced gifts, and higher priced gifts. Guess which ones go first? If you don’t want to get priced out of affordable gifts from the registry, purchase a gift early on!

If you don’t act fast, you could also give cold hard cash and choose an amount you can afford. Based on the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, cash came in second place for wedding gift preferences, behind gifts from the registry.

If neither a registry gift or cash fits your budget, you can always make a gift yourself. In the digital age, a printed photo and frame can go a long way. Check out more DIY wedding gifts for a boost of inspiration.

Dress for less

If you’re attending several weddings in a short period of time, the last thing you want to do is to be caught on the ‘Gram or Facebook wearing the same outfit again and again. But if buying several dresses or suits is just not an option, what can you do?

For starters, consider buying a staple like a black dress which you can accessorize with different cardigans, shawls, jewelry or shoes to give it a new look. An affordable place to shop is actually Amazon. Sure, you can’t try on outfits but in most cases, you can return clothing within 30 days.

To save even more money, see if you can get a little help from your friends. Your friends might have clothes in a similar size that you can borrow. I did this a few years ago with no problem. I didn’t have to spend any money and I borrowed a dress that was sitting in my friend’s closet.

Looking for something a little higher end? You can also check out Rent the Runway to get serious discounts on designer wear. This way you can rent a different dress for each wedding.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out your local thrift shop where you might find some hidden gems.

Just say no

With wedding season in full swing, you may feel pressured to say “yes” to every invitation. But if you’re struggling to conquer debt or save money, consider politely declining. This is especially true if attending the wedding may send you into debt. Yeah, it’s not fun or ideal to sit out, but sometimes saying “no” is the best thing you can do for your finances. Here are some tips from The Knot on how to send your regrets.

Bottom line

Attending multiple weddings can add up fast. But with a little planning and creativity, you can lower costs as a wedding guest. By doing so, you can celebrate the nuptials of your closest friends, while keeping your financial life in good standing.

 

How to Save Money at Music Festivals

Music festivals are a great excuse to round up a group of your best friends, see your favorite artists and hang out with thousands of other music lovers in a beautiful location.

Unfortunately, these events – often held over several days – can be expensive. Not only that, but the recent Fyre Festival disaster elevated the term “buyer beware” to a whole new level. In the case of Fyre, festival-goers paid $1,200 for tickets to what they thought would be a luxury music experience in the Bahamas. They arrived to find sparse unassembled tents, cheese sandwiches, and canceled bands. If these festival-goers learned anything, it was this: Do your research and choose a festival with an excellent reputation and track record. You can start your search on a site like The Festival Guy, which offers up information on a variety of festivals and performers. It’s also a good idea to check reviews on sites like Consequence of Sound (COS) and of course, ask your friends which festivals they like the best.

Once you’ve done your due diligence, it’s time to plan an affordable trip to a music festival. Before you do this, however, here’s a dose of reality: The $1,200 ticket price to Fyre isn’t that much higher than a frugal Coachella experience, which will run you about $1,006, according to Time Magazine. But, if you’re mindful of your money and follow these 7 steps, you can still get the VIP festival experience on a budget. Take a look:

Step #1: Decide on A Budget

As a first step, decide how much you’re willing to spend on the festival. Maybe this is your big splurge of the year and you want to go all out, or maybe this is merely the first of a summer filled with music festivals. Once you’ve come up with your max number, you can then decide how much you want to spend. If you don’t want to cut back on any festivals or travel costs, all is not lost. Perhaps you can work a side hustle for a few months beforehand to cover the extra expenses.

Step #2: Plan Ahead to Save on Ticket Prices

One of the biggest expenses associated with music festivals is the admission ticket. In fact, Coachella 2017’s general admission ticket was $399, while the VIP ticket was $899. Yet, with a bit of planning, you may be able to avoid paying for tickets altogether. Here’s how: Festivals run on volunteers. By volunteering, you get free admission. In return, you help check people in, clean up after performances, or work in another capacity. The trick is to apply months ahead of time as volunteer spots fill up fast.

As a volunteer, the perks are plentiful. For starters, you get access to areas and events that the average ticket holder doesn’t. Sure, you might be at the Kendrick Lamar private party because you’re there to pick up empty bottles. But, at least you’re at the Kendrick Lamar private party!

If volunteering is not an option, planning ahead can still save you money as some festivals offer early bird discounts for tickets purchased months in advance. At the very least, buying early means you can snag general admission tickets, which are often hundreds of dollars cheaper than VIP packages. For example, ACL General Admission tickets are $255, whereas the VIP passes are $1,100. General admission tickets often sell out in the first few days of sales, so acting fast saves you big time.

Step #3: Skip Festival Food and Drinks

Everyone knows festival food tent prices are inflated and generally not so healthy either.

So, why not skip eating the food sold there altogether? You can do this by brown-bagging it. Although some festivals may not allow you to bring in your own food, you can often get away with this by putting small snacks in your pockets, like granola bars and fruit. Also, if you plan ahead, you can eat before arriving at the festival. This way you won’t crave the tent food and spend money unnecessarily.

If you’re camping at the festival, you can certainly bring your own food and this makes perfect sense. You can cook what you want and save money. If you drove to the festival, you can even shop ahead of time at low-priced grocery stores so that you can avoid shopping at more expensive convenient stores near the festival grounds.

Step #4: Plan Your Travel Wisely

Depending on how far away you live from the festival, transportation costs can vary widely. If you have to fly, be sure to research flight prices on comparison sites like Kayak or Priceline. Southwest Airlines is not part of third party flight aggregator sites so be sure to check Southwest flight deals separately.

If you can avoid purchasing airline tickets, explore bus fares and train ticket costs. You’re best bet: carpooling. Getting four friends in a car together means you can split parking and gas costs.

Step #5: Fashion on a budget

Let’s face it: music festivals are an Instagram free-for-all. You’ll want to frame the perfect shot and load it up with the perfect hashtags.

In order to get that perfect shot, you might think you need to spend a ton of cash on clothes and photo tools. Yes, a shot of you in a Free People top, paired with your Ray-Bans, might score a lot of likes. It can also wipe out your budget. To save money on the clothes you’ll be rocking to concerts during the day, skip the name brands. Festivals are a no rules playground. Pick up your threads at a thrift store, or borrow from a friend. Better yet, pair clothes you already own together in new ways to make your outfits feel fresh.

By saving money on your fashion-forward clothes, you can spend a bit extra on important outerwear that you may need, especially if you’re camping. For deals on outerwear, be sure to check out sales at stores like REI and L.L,Bean. This way you may be able to score some high-quality outdoorsy clothes that last for several music festivals.

Step #6: Where to Stay

If possible, camping at a music festival will give you the VIP experience. Tent camping at Coachella, for example, costs $113/night. You might think of camping as roughing it, but you’ll be on festival grounds 24/7. That means any pop-up parties, shows, or random dance parties will be yours for the taking.

If you prefer to stay off-site and camping isn’t your style, check out nearby options on  Airbnb. You and your friends might be able to score an affordable house rental and split the cost or perhaps you can split up and rent a couple of rooms with local Airbnb hosts.

Step #7: Festival Insurance

If you’re concerned about protecting your investment in your music festival experience, you might want to consider purchasing travel insurance. Yes, it’s an added expense, but it’s also a good way to ensure that you won’t lose your money if you get sick and can’t attend. Or, if the festival is canceled or a complete mess, like Fyre, you can file a claim with your travel insurance company to try to get your cash back. To shop for affordable travel insurance, check out InsureMyTrip.com and Smartmouth.com.

 

How to Save Money While Traveling Abroad

Planning a trip abroad is both an exciting and time-consuming process. However, if you’re willing to put in a few extra hours to find ways to create a budget and save money on your trip, you may be able to make your dream vacation a reality.

A budget, for example, will not only make your trip more affordable but also more memorable. Why? If you overspend on your trip, you may be faced with huge credit card bills when you get home – overshadowing your favorite trip memories. You may also feel guilty if you spent too much. With a budget in place, however, you’ll hopefully think back on only the good times and all the ways you managed to score great deals.

Once you’ve got a budget in place, here are some examples of how you can plan and save money on your best trip yet:

Travel During Off-Peak Times

Although it might be easier for you to travel during the summer or over Christmas, these are usually peak travel times and prices are generally higher. So, you might want to try traveling during off-peak times when crowds are thinner and prices dip down. You’ll save on hotels, plane tickets and even excursions. Plus, if you have available airline points, you’ll be able to find fares for fewer points, hopefully leaving you with leftover air miles for your next trip. To start your airfare research, check out this great resource.

Location, location, location

Although finding a great deal on a hotel room is important, you also want to take the location into consideration. Remember, even if you find a nice hotel that seems like a bargain, it might not be worth it if you have to rent a car, take public transportation or even take a taxi to get around. You might be surprised that staying in accommodations that are slightly more expensive might actually save you money in the long run if they are walkable to popular tourist destinations and sites.

When looking for accommodations in a walkable location, it’s a good idea to research all of the available options, include hotels, bed and breakfasts, and rentals on Airbnb and HomeAway. To start your research, go to Trivago, where you can compare hotels from 200 plus booking sites. You can also click around on Google Maps as this syncs with Google to show you hotels in your preferred area. When you zoom in and click on a hotel, the hotel’s website and room prices will typically pop up on the sidebar.

Also, be sure to read reviews before you book anything so you can see what other tourists think about the various accommodations you’re considering. My go-to website to read travel reviews and view actual pictures of accommodations (vs. the pretty ones by professional photographers) is TripAdvisor.

Exchange Your Cash Currency At Home

Many people exchange currency at the airport when they arrive at their destination, but this will usually mean you’ll spend more money on higher exchange rates than you’d get at your bank at home. To avoid this, consider getting currency before you travel at a local bank. If you’re crunched for time, you can still avoid exchanging money upon arrival overseas by using an ATM to get cash in local currency.

Use a Card With No Foreign Transaction Fees

One of the easiest ways to spend money while traveling is by using your credit card. It’s not only more convenient, but you don’t have to worry about someone stealing your cash. However, not every debit or credit card waives foreign transaction fees, and these fees can add up. To avoid this, use a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, even if it means getting a new card before you depart.

If you prefer using a debit card, Chime is one of the few banks that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (they actually don’t charge any fees at all.) This makes it easy for you to use your card for most purchases abroad without extra charges.

Figure Out Cell Phone Expenses and Options

One thing that still perplexes many travelers, even tech-savvy millennials, is how to use a cell phone abroad without getting charged exorbitant fees. Again, it’s better to be proactive than to be stuck with a big cell phone bill.

The best thing to do is talk to your cell phone provider ahead of time. Most cell phone companies now have global plans and you might be able to get onto a plan that will save you money abroad. You’ll also want to be aware of roaming charges or any other fees that might arise if you use your phone while traveling.

Another option is to get a cheap phone abroad or order a foreign SIM card ahead of time. This will enable you to make local calls while you’re traveling. Also, keep in mind that your smartphone should work on WiFi and depending on where you go, WiFi may be readily available as you roam about. If you need a bit more WiFi reliability, you might want to consider renting a portable wireless device. I traveled abroad for a month last May and used the company Tep Wireless so I could blog on the go.

Protect Your Investments

There is nothing that will derail a trip faster than losing your passport, wallet or something else that’s important. Trust me, you don’t want to waste a whole day of your trip sitting at an embassy getting an emergency passport. You also don’t want to go through the hassle of contesting credit card purchases or dealing with identity theft. This, above anything else, can cost you big bucks.

It’s important to keep your passport on you at all times and not leave it in your hotel room. You can also wear a money belt, which is sort of like a fanny pack but more discreet and less awkward. For more options, a quick search of “portable safe” on Amazon will show you a variety of items that may suit your travel needs, from small hard safes to backpacks that double as secure safes.

Your belongings aren’t the only things you should think about protecting. What about the cost of the trip itself? Perhaps the best way to protect your trip investment is by buying travel insurance. This way, if you have to cancel your trip or your luggage gets lost and you have to buy clothes, you may be able to recoup your costs. And here’s a tip: before buying travel insurance, research and pick the type of coverage you want on sites like InsureMyTrip.com and SquareMouth. If you’re a savvy comparison shopper, you’ll be surprised at how little you’ll spend for peace of mind.

Use Travel Apps to Help You

Lastly, don’t forget to use free travel apps. These will help you find restaurants, tours and other information about your destination. Some good options include Triposo, which can help you plan a trip based on your budget, Yelp, and Healthy Out (for the health conscious.)

Ultimately, if you take the time to research your trip ahead of time, you’re much more likely to save on your travel costs. This, in turn, can help free up spending money on your trip and even help you save up for your next adventure.

 

Holiday Hacks: 5 Ways to Save Money on Last Minute Travel

“Do I really love my family this much? Is it socially acceptable to Facetime home for the holidays?”

When I wait too long to buy a flight home, I start entertaining some sad questions like this.

If you’re like me and waited until the last minute to buy a flight home for the holidays, you’re certainly in a tougher spot than you were a few weeks or months ago. But you don’t need to completely go into panic mode. Talk yourself off the cliff and act now — there are a few surprisingly easy ways to save a few extra bucks.

Explore all of the things

Google Flights recently got a clutch update that made it unquestionably the best tool to track flights. Plug in your destination cities and Dr. Google will show you a calendar with aggregate prices, featuring the cheapest flight each day. Perhaps best of all is its flight price tracker, which sends you notifications when prices drop. The search engine also draws from historical flight pricing data to give you an idea of the best time to buy.

If you want a true travel hack, try Skiplagged. Their biggest trick is what they call “hidden” flights: say I want to fly from Denver to Chicago but direct flights there are astronomical. Sfbrekiplagged knows that there’s a flight from Denver to Chicago, and after that, the flight is going from Chicago to St. Louis. Often these multi-city trips are much more affordable and all I have to do is get off in Chicago. The catch is that you cannot check a bag for these “hidden” flights, but for a last-minute hack, you can’t get much better than this.

Try an alternate airport

This past year I was in a wedding in Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s kinda hard to get there unless you want to pay big bucks to fly straight into Magic Valley Regional Airport. Your next best option is an expensive flight into Boise followed by a two-hour drive to Twin Falls. I did love my friends enough to bite the bullet on a Boise flight, but with a little digging, I found an even better option.

As it turned out, flights into Salt Lake City were cheap. It added another hour to the drive, but it saved me a heap of dough. Score one for not breaking the bank. Keep in mind that most flight-price-search aggregators may not suggest alternate airport options. If you’re willing to drive a little further to save money, look around for major airports within driving distance of your destination before you book.

Be flexible about when you fly

This is somewhat of an obvious one, but it’s worth serious consideration. Does it really matter that you fly out the day before the holiday celebration? Can you take a red-eye flight instead?

When you travel on the day of a major holiday, you’ll tend to get the most affordable airfare, plus the added benefit of the least traffic in the airport. That lower stress could pay off as you prepare for heated political debates at the dinner table.

Get creative to avoid paying baggage fees

Airlines collect billions annually from baggage fees. To avoid taking on that extra $25–75, consider wearing your bulkiest clothes to the airport. The person next to you might think you’re a nutjob, but the benefits are myriad. It could be the difference between a small carry-on bag and a heavy, pricier suitcase.

You should also, of course, pack as smart as possible. “Overpacking commonly begins with too much clothing,” says the excellent packing resource website OneBag.org. Consider: do I truly need this extra outfit, or can I wear the same one twice and do laundry at my family’s house? Also, try to bring practical shoes that function in both dressy and casual situations.

Eat meals before or after you get to the airport — and pack snacks

Pass the airport security lines and something magical happens the price of every food item doubles! The dollar menus all disappear, too! Fascinating stuff. I know how easy it is to just eat away the stress with a Cinnabon. But why not just avoid airport food altogether? Odds are you’ve already been forced into buying a pricier flight. Don’t let the system game you any further.

Eat a light, healthy meal at home beforehand. Pack some trail mix in your purse or backpack. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at the drinking fountain. On a round-trip flight, a little restraint can save you a nice chunk of change. And it’ll make a big holiday meal taste that much better.

Bring your own entertainment

Yes, that shiny Michael Crichton book or Cosmo can be an attractive impulse buy at the newsstand. But can a podcast suffice? How about a free classic book on your Kindle? There are many ways to be entertained without spending $7.99 on a glossy magazine that’ll quickly end up in the recycling bin.

Plan ahead for ground transportation

Try to figure out ahead of time how you’ll get to your destination from the airport and you’ll avoid that impromptu taxi ride. Any chance a relative can pick you up from the airport? Play the “family sticks together” card and hitch a ride instead of dropping money on a cab or an Uber. If that fails, roll with public transportation. If you must hire a car, try uberPOOL, Uber’s carpool service, which will take a little longer but save you a few extra bucks.

Knowing a handful of hacks can go a long way to save money on last-minute travel. What are your travel hacks to save during the holidays?

Learn more about how Chime can save you money, automatically.

 

Plan Less and Save More this Weekend

Who says you have to plan a weekend getaway far in advance in order to get a great deal? Thanks to HotelTonight you can spend less time shopping for deals and more time living in the moment.

At Chime, we’re all about helping you put more money into savings so you can do more. That’s why we’re partnering with HotelTonight to help you save time and money when you book your next escape.

The HotelTonight app lets you find last-minute deals at some of the best hotels around the world, and their new Escape feature allows you to effortlessly plan quick trips close to home. Download the HotelTonight app, book your escape and pay with Chime to save $10.00 when you spend $100.00 or more.

Spontaneous adventure and serious savings can be yours, starting tonight. Get the app now at HotelTonight.com.