Taking your family on vacation is awesome, but let’s be honest – it can get expensive! If you have money falling out of the sky into your lap, you can probably skip this post. If not, keep reading for my best money saving tips for family travel.
Money Saving Tip #1: Choose The Right Hotel
Choosing the right hotel can save you money! Some chains offer free breakfast as part of the room rate. If you have a whole family to feed, this can really help keep your food costs down. I have found that these tend to be pretty full buffets with enough to fill you up. I always take a piece of fruit or granola bar from the buffet with me for a snack later in the day, too.
If you need some more space or a separate bedroom so you can close the door to let the little ones sleep, look for a hotel where every room is a suite! We stayed at a Hyatt House in Scottsdale, AZ and thought it would be a great hotel for family travel. Every room is a suite with kitchen and separate bedroom. There was a pool, fire pit and grills available and, best of all, breakfast is included!
Hotels That Offer Free Breakfast:
- Hyatt Place
- Hampton By Hilton
- Holiday Inn Express (IHG)
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
All Suites Hotels That Offer Free Breakfast:
- Hyatt House
- Homewood Suites By Hilton
- Embassy Suites By Hilton
- Staybridge Suites (IHG)
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott
- Towneplace Suites by Marriott
- Residence Inn by Marriott
Money Saving Tip #2: Get The Right Credit Card
Having the right credit card in your wallet can bring huge travel benefits as long as you use your credit wisely! (You must promise me you will pay off your bill every month with no exceptions). Even if you don’t want to go full force into the world of miles and points like me, you can still get some amazing benefits from having only 1 or 2 cards. There are a lot of options, but here are a few of my favorites for family travel.
The Hyatt Visa
This card comes with a 40,000 point bonus, and has a $75 annual fee. You will earn 3x points at Hyatt properties, 2x points at restaurants, on airline tickets and at car rental agencies as well as 1x points on all other purchases. This card also comes with a free anniversary night each year (after your first year; at any category 1-4 Hyatt hotel).
IHG Rewards Club Select:
This is a great card to keep in your wallet because you get a free night at ANY IHG property each year after your account anniversary. The annual fee is only $49 and it’s waived the first year. There is an 80,000 point sign up bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. You can earn 5x points at IHG properties, 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases.
Chase Sapphire Preferred:
This card comes with a 50,000 point bonus and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. You will earn 2x points on all dining and travel purchases and 1x points on all other purchases. Chase Points transfer to partners like Marriott, IHG, Hyatt, Southwest and United, or can be used to book through the Chase Travel portal at 1.25 cents each.
This no annual fee card comes with 10,000 membership rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. You can earn 2x points at US Grocery Stores (up to $6,000 per year) and 1x points on all other purchases. American Express Points transfer to partners like Hilton, Starwood Hotels, Jet Blue and Delta.
Hilton Honors American Express:
This is a no fee card that currently comes with a 50,000 point bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. You will earn 7x points at Hilton properties, 5x points at US restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations and 2x points on all other purchases.
Money Saving Tip #3: Choose Your Airline Wisely
If you are flying to your destination, be sure to pay attention to any additional fees the airline might tack on in addition to your ticket price. My favorite domestic airline by far is Southwest. Their prices are usually equal to or lower than other airlines and you can still bring 2 checked bags for FREE. That’s a huge money saver if you are bringing the whole family on vacation! You can also make changes to your flights without a fee. If you are traveling with children under 6, you are able to board with Family Boarding to ensure you will get seats together, without paying for priority boarding.
Many budget airlines like Spirit charge for bags, seat assignments and ticket changes as well as not having a great customer service reputation. Most domestic airlines like Delta, United and American charge for baggage, and many basic economy tickets don’t include seat assignments ahead of time. So, you are left with either higher ticket prices or totally random seats that might not be together.
The good news is that some airline credit cards can get you perks like priority boarding and free checked bags!
Gold Delta Sky Miles Card:
This card currently comes with a 30,000 point bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year. If you have this card you are eligible for 1 checked bag for you and up to 8 companions on the same reservation.
AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard:
This card comes with a 30,000 mile bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year. This card includes 1 free checked bag for up to 4 people on your reservation on domestic flights.
Money Saving Tip #4: Bring Your Own Snacks and Drinks
Whether you are going on a road trip, day trip or flying across the country, packing some of your own snacks can help keep your expenses low. For road trips, I like to pack a cooler with sandwiches (PB&J for everyone to keep things simple) as well as lightweight stainless steel containers with cut up fruits and snacks (grapes, apple slices, pretzels, goldfish, etc.). Bring a couple of extra water bottles filled with ice to keep your food cool and to refill your water bottles.
When I am flying I always bring an empty stainless steel water bottle with me through security that I fill up once I am in the terminal (don’t forget you can’t bring beverages with you through security). Most airports have water bottle filling stations right next to the drinking fountains. This way you can have water with you on your flight without having to purchase it or wait for the flight attendant. Even if it’s a short flight, I bring snacks because it’s a general rule that kids will want snacks if it’s been more than 3 minutes since they have last eaten! I bring a gallon ziplock bag with different granola bars or fruit bars, plus small containers of Goldfish or raisins (or whatever your kids will eat!)
Money Saving Tip #5: Don’t Buy Souvenirs
You will get more joy out of your money when you spend it on the actual vacation rather than crap you find at a souvenir store. Set the expectation ahead of time with your kids that you won’t be getting any souvenirs. Instead, use that money for a special meal together or a fun activity that you can do as a family.
During your trip, have your children all take photos from their point of view. Then, once your trip is over, make a photo book as your family’s souvenir. Let each family member get involved by making their own section of the photo book. There are lots of services out there but I personally use Shutterfly for my photo books.
Money Saving Tip #6: Look For Free Activities At Your Destination
There are lots of great free things to do most places – you just have to find them. Do a quick Google search or head to Pinterest and search for Free Things To Do in _____. Pinterest is a great search tool to find activities, restaurants and hotels! Try finding some of these activities on your next trip:
- Public Art Installations
- Go On A Self Guided Walking Tour
- Find a Great Hiking Trail
- Playgrounds or Splash Pads
- Do An Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
- Make Use Of Your Hotel’s Pool
Money Saving Tip #7: Look For Discounts Online
So many times, we have bought tickets for an excursion or tour only to think afterwards that we should have looked for discounts. Often, you can find a Groupon deal, CityPASS ticket (which lets you save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to great attractions) or even just a discount online vs. at the door. And if you are like us sometimes and wait till the last minute to decide what to do, it’s worth a quick search on your phone before you purchase tickets at the door.
Money Saving Tip #8: Make A Great Packing List
Sure, most everything you would need could be bought once you are at your destination, but it will probably be more expensive. If you make a great list ahead of time, you won’t forget any of the necessities and have to resort to purchasing them at inflated prices in a gift shop. I usually start a list at least a week ahead of time and leave it out so I can keep adding to it. When it comes time to pack, I refer to my list so I don’t forget anything.
Pro Tip: If you are traveling with young children, throw in some children’s Tylenol just to be on the safe side. You probably won’t need it, but you will be thrilled to have it if you do. My daughter came down with a fever while we were in Mexico. We ended up having to try to translate the Spanish on the bottle at the hotel gift shop!
The Bottom Line
Most people think traveling is expensive and can only be done once a year at best. While it can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. There are lots of ways to cut down on expenses, but still have a memorable family vacation. I hope you can use some of these money saving tips for family travel on your next vacation. What are some of the ways that you have saved on a trip?
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