It’s embarrassing how many times I hashtag “#BallaOnABudget” in my daily communication (or say it out loud to waitresses when I question the price difference between the standard mixed drink and the drought beer).
In other words, my checking account matches my coffee order—skinny. My flight privileges, however, make it possible for me to live a lifestyle (on the weekends, at least) that doesn’t match my budget-conscious weekday life.
But—as most of us know—travel isn’t exactly the cheapest hobby, even if your flights ARE free (and your bags, if you’re on Southwest). :)
These are a few money-saving measures I’ve learned from being on the “inside” at an airline. Disclaimer: I’m plugging some cool Southwest products here because (a) I’m biased, duh, and (b) I truly believe it’s the best option for people who don’t have money to blow on extras.
Use the low fare calendar.
It blows my mind how few people know about this hack. The low fare calendar is for people with flexible travel plans (i.e., you could leave Thursday or Friday, or early or late) and it shows you an overview of the cheapest fares for a given route (for the entire month!). It looks like this:
This calendar is for Dallas-New Orleans for the month of August, but you can see any route.
Consider renting a car instead of using Uber.
This one surprised me. I always thought renting a car was for adults with 401ks and that people my age couldn’t afford the luxury of a 2011 Toyota Corolla on vacation, but Kylie and I actually tested this one out for ourselves in San Diego. Granted, we rented a boujee 2017 bright red Chevy Camaro convertible, so we paid through the nose for it—but there were incredibly economic options available as well.
To test which was cheaper, Kylie and I looked up the (would have been) Uber price for each leg of our trip and calculated the grand total. We went from the airport to Pacific Beach, from Pacific Beach to La Jolla, from La Jolla to downtown and from downtown to Hotel Coronado (then back to the airport). Our grand total for Ubers would have been around $120 total. Our fun and totally-worth-it convertible was about $125.
Even with the most expensive rental car you can get from Thrifty, it was still only about $5 more than Uber—and we got to drive a sports car up the coast of California, which, in my opinion, is #priceless.
Join a loyalty program.
If you’re traveling a lot, join the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. You can earn points every time you fly (and by booking your aforementioned rental car through Rapid Rewards). Joining a loyalty program should be a no-brainer, but for whatever reason, some people don’t bother to do so—it just makes sense to earn credit for every time you fly, book cars or hotels.
If you’re someone who’s open to getting a new credit card to help subsidize travel, consider getting the Chase Visa Rapid Rewards Card—Southwest is running a deal where, if you spend $1,000 on the card in the first three months, you get 40,000 Rapid Rewards points (this is about the equivalent of a free roundtrip, depending on where you’re flying; right now the offer is 40,000 but I’m sure the 60,000-point offer will come again as it was offered a month ago).
There’s a $69 annual fee, but if you’re a big traveler and put big-ticket items on your credit card every month (like rent), you’ll spend $1,000 on your card in three months with ease. You also earn Rapid Rewards points on every purchase you make on the card—for the older folks reading who may be paying for, say, college tuition, I have a friend whose mom pays for her out-of-state tuition on their card and earns enough points to fly her daughter back and forth from school. That’s the kind of savvy spending I aspire to.
The key with loyalty programs is to book your whole vacation through the loyalty program's portal so you can take advantage of your hotel and rental car spending as well.
Travel hacks and must-sees from a broke frequent flyer.