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What would you say if I told you that you could score luxury travel savings so huge that you could take a swanky vacation for pennies on the dollar compared to what other people are paying?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Adventurers. I kind of hate budget travel.
At least, I hate the traditional expectation of budget travel. Hostel dorms that smell like sweat socks, eating nothing but ramen noodles and hauling a backpack around the world? I mean this with all the love in the world, but no… no thank you.
I’m too old and cranky to face a hostel bed, much less someone else’s sweat socks. I love fine dining and my back would never forgive me if I tried to haul one of those giant packs around. I love nice hotels. I adore room service and fluffy robes and I love having priceless experiences all over the world. But here’s the thing- I don’t want to pay more than those hostel-loving backpackers.
Many people think it has to be one or the other- take a budget trip with zero splurges or go all out with a luxury vacation that breaks the bank. Impossible? Not at all. Let me show you how to live the Ritz Carlton life on the Motel 6 budget.
Not only will I spill my secrets on scoring huge luxury travel savings, I’ll also show you how I plan a luxury travel itinerary and link to an example you can follow (or just go ahead and steal, if you’re headed that way!)
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #1- Let Someone Else Do the Planning
I once read that Burger King spends $0 researching where to open new restaurants. They let McDonald’s spend millions on market research and then just build in the same vicinity.
Likewise, you don’t have to spend hundreds of hours researching how to put together a trip. Somewhere, a luxury travel company like Abercrombie & Kent has already done all the hard work for you.
When I’m planning a trip, one of the first things I do is look at all of the luxury tour companies and check out their itineraries for the location. I mean, these are the luxury travel experts and their trips have to satisfy an extremely well-heeled clientele. I assume they’ve done a ton of research and know all the best things to see, places to stay, etc.
All you have to do is take their carefully curated itinerary and tweak it to suit your needs and budget.
Having spent three months in Sri Lanka,that was the first destination I looked up on Abercrombie & Kent’s website to see what they recommend for an itinerary. They have this incredible looking 14 day tour called Tailor Made Sri Lanka: Leopards and Tea Country for an equally incredible $10,595.
Listen, if you have $11,000 lying around that you can spend on a two week vacation, this is where to spend it. A&K are the undisputed masters of luxury travel experiences and I know you’d get your money’s worth if you traveled with them.
But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you *don’t* have that kind of pocket change to spare.
Does that mean you can’t have an amazing trip and you need to just stay home and cry over travel shows on Hulu? No. No, it does not.
Check out the super swanky A&K itinerary here…
…and my $2000 remake here: 2 Weeks in Sri Lanka- How to Have a $10,000 Vacation for $2,200
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #2- Points, Points, Points
Just like Burger King doesn’t pay to replicate research McDonald’s has already done, I don’t feel the need to create a huge guide on using credit card points to pay for travel when the definitive guide already exists.
You’re probably already familiar with The Points Guy, but if not, you should be. If you have any interest at all in maximizing rewards points for travel, he has written the book on it.
Check out his beginners guide here.
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #3- Get Paid to Travel
I mentioned this method in my post You are NOT Too Broke to Travel! but I feel like it bears repeating here.
Mystery shopping companies desperately need people who can travel to hotels and resorts and spas all over the world and pose as a normal guest in exchange for writing a detailed report and sharing surreptitiously taken photos after their stay.
Scrolling through some of my regular mystery shopping websites just now, I saw schedulers looking for people willing to have dinner at the Capital Grille, spend the night at the Hilton in Costa Mesa, California, and spend several nights at a luxury hotel chain in Boston, New York City, Washington DC, Maui, and San Francisco.
Other companies specialize in international luxury travel and will pay you to fly to Fiji and stay in an overwater bungalow, order room service, and drink fruity umbrella cocktails every day.
It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
If you have an eye for detail, a good memory, and can express yourself well in writing, you probably have what it takes to be a good mystery shopper. Check out the list of mystery shopping companies in this post as well as my method for planning an entire trip where I get paid to stay in nice resorts, eat in upscale restaurants, and shop in high end stores.
The caveat, of course, is that you have to be able to book and pay for these places ahead of time and wait 30-60 days to be reimbursed, but many of the super high end mystery shops pay enough for you to reward yourself with a non-working vacation.
Getting paid to travel the world in style and stay in some of the nicest hotels and resorts on the planet? Now that takes luxury travel savings to a whole new level.
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #4- Upgrade
I’ve found that it’s much easier to get a killer deal when you pay for a basic option at first and then upgrade. Most companies make their best deals available to people who are already customers!
For example, I rented a car to take a road trip from Florida to New Mexico. As much as I wanted something comfortable for the ride, even the mid-range cars were crazy expensive for the week I was traveling. So I booked a basic econobox and crossed my fingers when I showed up at the rental counter, hoping they’d have something nicer for me to upgrade to.
An additional $10 a day later, I was cruising to Carlsbad Caverns in style in a brand new Cadillac Escalade.
I use the same technique when it comes to flights. I’m a cheapskate at heart, so I never look at anything beyond economy when I’m booking a flight. Many airlines will email you an offer to upgrade your seat before the flight, and these upgrades are always way less than it would have cost to choose the better seat from the beginning.
Currently my best score has been upgrading to Emirates Business Class (with lie flat seats and champagne!) for $200 after I booked a killer economy class flight to Dubai. Booking Business Class from the start would have cost thousands more than I paid.
I’m always on the lookout for the cheapest travel deals, so I subscribe to loads of newsletters and deal alert services. Scott’s Cheap Flights is the best, hands down, but you can also find gems with Travelzoo and Secret Flying. Secret Flying, as the name suggests, is mostly flight deals, but they occasionally have a ridiculously rock bottom hotel deal, like 14 Euros a night at a brand new Greek island resort.
When you scored a round trip flight for $200, it’s a lot less painful to fork out another couple hundred to upgrade to business class, right? Much easier to swallow than paying thousands for that business class seat up front.
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #5- Borrow a Mansion
What do you think it would cost to spend a month as the sole occupants of a 16th Century English manor house nestled among acres of exotic gardens?
What if you wanted to spend six months drinking wine and basking in the sun at a sprawling chateau estate in the French countryside without any other guests around to spoil the mood?
How about a few weeks in a London brick mansion a stone’s throw from the royal family?
What if I said you could do all of those things for free?
If you have a membership to TrustedHousesitters.com and a compelling profile, you’re well on your way to scoring free accommodation around the world in exchange for looking after the homeowner’s residence and pets.
If you could spend six months in an oceanfront mansion in the Caribbean free of charge in exchange for feeding some goldfish and walking a spoiled dog twice a day, how hard would you have to think about that?
There is a charge to register with TrustedHousesitters. It’s currently $119 for a year-long membership, but that won’t even get you a halfway decent budget hotel room in a large American city most of the time. If you’re planning to travel at least a few days a year and have the flexibility to plan your travel around the needs of the homeowners, you can be staying in lavish surrounds for next to nothing. Luxury travel savings don’t get much better than that!
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #6- Work(away) Smarter, Not Harder
Looking to travel long term but don’t want to sleep in sketchy hostel dorms and constantly fret about how long your money is going to last before you have to go home and get a job again?
Wouldn’t you rather sail around Malaysia on a 50’ yacht or spend your days in a luxury boutique hotel on the Aegean?
For the uninitiated, Workaway is a website that matches up people and businesses looking for workers with long term travelers looking for a place to work part time in exchange for room and board.
Many people think it’s all backpacker hostels and organic farms looking for labor. There are plenty of those listings, but there are hundreds of luxury boutique hotels looking for front desk help and yachts looking for sailors and other really very cushy gigs that can be yours for the asking.
My favorite listing I’ve seen so far is a Greek island family in need of a house sitter and cat sitter for a few months a year- apparently they even stock the pantry for you before they leave.
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #7- Groupon is Not Just For Oil Changes
If you aren’t familiar with Groupon Getaways yet, you’re missing a huge piece of the luxury travel savings puzzle. If you didn’t manage to score a mansion to house sit on your vacation, don’t think that the next option is paying full price for a hotel.
Gah, just typing that makes me queasy.
I just glanced at Groupon Getaways to see what’s trending, and I spotted a 4.5 star Cabo resort for $53/night, a 12 day tour of China with airfare for $599, and tons of Vegas hotels for $20/night.
Once you’ve got your flight and hotels sorted, hop over to the main Groupon page to score deals on fancy restaurants and concerts and all the other activities you want to do on your trip.
The best part is, since it’s Groupon, you can earn Groupon gift certificates through all the points programs like MyPoints and Swagbucks and YouGov. If you do enough surveys and click through enough email offers, your whole trip could be free.
In my experience, lots of people use Groupon at home for getting cheap oil changes and dog grooming, but never think to use it when they travel. I’m glad my DuoLingo French lessons are paying off, since I just scooped up some 50% off Paris spa Groupons and I’m eyeing a half price wine dinner at a fancy bistro on the French language site.
Now think about all the dinners and activities you’ve paid full price for on vacation because you didn’t check Groupon first.
Finally, you know what else you can score on Groupon that you’ll be kicking yourself for not knowing about earlier? Airport lounge access. I just spotted a priority pass for $7, which has to be the travel deal of the week, y’all. Grab one before they’re gone!
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #8- Get on the List
The email list, that is. As soon as you know where your next trip is going to be, or if you like to travel to the same places on a regular basis, sign up for every email list that the local destination marketing organizations offer.
If you like planning “staycations” around your home state, sign up for all of the local ones as well. I’m on every Oregon visitor bureau email list I can find.
Every month my inbox is filled with giveaways from at least 10 DMOs from around the state for bed and breakfast weekends, Oregon coast getaways, ski trips, fancy restaurant gift certificates, and other luxury travel prizes. For the most part, these trips don’t include transportation so they’re geared toward locals, but if you’re already planning a trip somewhere, why not try to win part of your trip as a prize?
Unlike the huge national giveaways sponsored by airlines and other mega corporations, these little local giveaways don’t have nearly as much competition so you have a much better chance of winning.
Visitor Bureau newsletters are also great sources of local coupons and specials.
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #9- Be in the Right Place at the Right Time
If you’re a veteran traveler, you’ve probably heard about repositioning cruises. For the uninitiated, that’s where a cruise line needs to move one of their ships from one part of the world to another between seasons. A cruise ship might sail in the Caribbean for half of the year and then move to the Mediterranean for the other half. Obviously the ship is going to sail from one part of the world to another, but it wouldn’t make sense to sail an empty ship.
That’s where repositioning cruises come in. Cruise lines offer them at rock bottom prices just to get bodies on the boat. You get the same amenities as a normal cruise- great food, service, entertainment- without stopping at a bunch of ports along the way. You could pay around $400 for a 12 night cruise from Spain to the Caribbean on a luxury cruise liner- that’s $33 a night, y’all.
Check out RepositioningCruise.com and see what kind of deals you can come up with for the dates you want to travel.
That being said, cruise ships aren’t the only modes of transportation that need repositioning. Car rental and RV rental companies also need their stock shifted with the seasons. Companies in the northern US need their RVs and vehicles moved to Florida and Arizona in the winter for the snowbirds, but you’ll find vehicles needing to be repositioned all over the world.
What will it cost you?
Are you sitting down?
Rates for repositioning cars and RVs start at $1.00 a night.
I know. I KNOW.
Planning a campervan excursion across New Zealand? You can move an RV from Auckland to Christchurch for $1.00 a day and they’ll give you $100 worth of free fuel to boot.
Check out imoova.com to see what other deals you can find.
(If you don’t get a deal that gives you free gas, hit the surveys page on MyPoints.com before your trip and you can earn free gas cards!)
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #10- Figure Out What You Really Want
Everyone dreams about staying in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives, right?
Is that because you want the luxury experience of the accommodation or because you’re really interested in the culture of the Maldives and want to experience it firsthand? If I was a betting woman, I’d say the former.
So would you be just as happy staying in the same overwater bungalow if it was on a Caribbean island and cost about 80% less than the one in the Maldives? Only you can answer that, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a great many people would say yes.
If you want a luxury ski vacation, does it have to be Vail?
If you want to see the Northern Lights, does it have to be in Iceland?
If you want that Instagram photo of you gazing over the edge of your infinity pool into the crystal blue sea, does it have to be in Fiji?
Case in point: a friend of mine has been talking for ages about wanting to go to Tahiti to lounge on the beach with a cocktail in her hand, but between the flights being so long and the resorts being so expensive, it just wasn’t happening. I showed her a flight deal to Puerto Rico from her home airport and said, “I know it’s not Tahiti, but the flight is only 6 hours and tickets are only $300.”
She just about fell out of her chair. She had never considered anything closer than the South Pacific because, in her mind, that’s what she pictured when she envisioned vacationing in a tropical paradise. Once she gave it some thought, she realized that, while Tahiti would be dope, it wasn’t the only place she could find the sunny tropical getaway she was after.
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #11- Aim for the Shoulder
You’ve probably heard that traveling on the off-season is the best way to save money, and you’re not wrong. But what if you’re traveling somewhere that off-season means monsoon rains or freezing temperatures or other really sub-optimal weather conditions?
Aim for the shoulder.
The shoulder season is the brief period on either side of the high season where prices have dropped to at or near low season rates, the high season traffic has dropped off, but the weather conditions are probably still perfect for your trip.
Case in point: the end of May begins monsoon season on the southern Sri Lanka coast. The heavy tourist numbers from winter and early spring dry up and many businesses board up until fall when the torrential rains have passed.
All I heard was “fewer tourists” so I jumped on that. What’s a little rain, anyway?
Several of the hotels and resorts I visited in the south were about to close for the season. In at least one place, I was the only guest on the property. Imagine staying in a gorgeous luxury resort on the beach, lounging in the tropical pool, and enjoying all of the other amenities without a single other guest in sight.
All of that luxurious solitude *and* the prices are almost half of what it would cost in the high season when that same blissful pool would be filled with screaming children? Sign. Me. Up.
Also, I was on the south coast for the entire month of May, and there were only a few days of really heavy rain. Afternoon showers happened here and there, but what better excuse to go take a nice long nap? On heavy rain days I would stay curled up on my balcony with a book or my laptop and relax or work while watching the stormy ocean.
It didn’t suck.
To find out when your travel destination’s shoulder season is, check out some of the hotels and resorts in the area and look for a rate sheet. The first week you see prices drop from the high season rates, that’s the time to aim for. You’re saving a ton of money, the tourist hordes are probably gone, and it’s doubtful that the weather is going to be tremendously different than the week before when it was still considered the high season.
Luxury Travel Savings Secret #12- Ask (Nicely) for More
Some of the best luxury travel savings I’ve ever gotten while traveling have been because I asked (nicely, of course).
Working in the travel and hospitality industries has to be tough. I get the impression that people are rude and demanding and unreasonable a lot. Flight attendants constantly get blamed for delays beyond their control, hotel clerks have abuse heaped on them left and right, and we won’t even talk about what restaurant employees have to deal with.
So when a customer is kind and patient and polite and appreciative, most people in the service industry have no problem hooking that wonderful ray of sunshine up with a little something something.
Not that you should only be nice in order to get your way, of course. You should be nice because you’re a nice person and no one likes dealing with a jerk. But still. It doesn’t hurt.
While booking a last minute cruise, I was prepared to settle for a less luxurious cabin than I really wanted just to keep the trip in my budget, but then I thought, “Why not ask?” I called up the cruise line reservation number, made some pleasant small talk with the nice lady on the other end of the phone, and asked if there was anything better she could do.
20 minutes later I had myself a balcony cabin, premium drink package, and onboard credit to use toward a shore excursion for quite a bit less than what that same cabin was selling for online.
Another time, I mentioned to an agent at check in that I was flying for a special occasion and found myself in an upgraded seat with a glass of champagne in my hand before take-off.
Never hesitate to let a hotel, airline, or cruise line know that you’re celebrating a special occasion and/or ask if there’s anything they can do to make your experience more memorable. People typically enter the hospitality industry because they enjoy making people happy and helping them create positive memories, so most of the time they’re happy to go out of their way for you if it’s within their control to do so.
Before you ask for a room upgrade or another perk, make sure you’re signed up with the hotel’s loyalty program or the airline’s frequent flier mile program (which you should be anyway because, hello, points!)
So there you go- my 12 best luxury travel savings secrets to help you travel the world in luxury without breaking the bank. If you’ve found these tips helpful, leave me a note below in the comments and let me know about your best bargain luxury travel deal!
Do you have a luxury travel savings secret I didn’t mention? Share the love and tell the rest of us in the comments!