Deals and Rewards

Secrets to Snagging Travel Deals: Get Frugal Travel Guy's Step-by-Step Guide

Filed Under: Budget, Deals, United States

When Rick Ingersoll started his website, Frugal Travel Guy, he had one goal: for every traveler to see the world at prices they can afford. For Rick, a big focus has been demystifying the often intimidating world of miles and points. 

“You can do this,” Rick says, “and see the world at prices you can afford.” It’s something this retired mortgage banker knows first-hand. “I never thought it would be possible to have seen all my wife and I have seen on our budget -- 70 countries, and counting!” 

Check out Frugal Travel Guy’s top tips to save big and travel far and wide. 

1. Read, Read and Read Some More. 
“All the deals are online these days,” Rick says. Sign up for newsletter alerts with all the major hotel loyalty programs (Starwood, Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group and Hyatt, to name a few), and the major airline programs (United, American, Delta and US Airways, among others). When a deal opens up, a message arrives in your inbox – sure, that translates into a lot of emails, but it may be worth it once you snag a steal of a vacation. (Tip: Open a separate email to receive these deals emails.) Rick also recommends developing a network of websites to follow. In addition to Frugal Travel Guy, check out discount travel like Priceline, and Kayak

2. Be Willing to Invest the Time. 
Taking the time to learn deals and rewards inside out will payoff for a lifetime, Rick says. “Frequent flyer programs and hotel and bank rewards points programs [like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards] make the world available to almost all of us – who have just a little patience to learn the game,” he says. “I snagged a last minute flight from Savannah to New York City that was priced at over $1,200 for 25,000 miles -- not real flashy but a great use of miles when I needed to go and prices were way too high.” 

3. Travel on Actual Holiday or During Off-Season. 
“Try that early morning flight on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas,” says Rick, who’s uncovered savings as high as 20 to 30% in some cases. “And if traveling in a big group, be willing to split up,” he says. Also be open to redeeming your miles during off-season. “Being flexible can save thousands on travel expenses,” Rick says. US Airways, for example, has an off-peak award chart; from October through May, that allows travelers to redeem economy roundtrip flights for 35,000 point miles instead of 60,000. 

4. Sign-Up for the Right Credit Card. 
“My 2 favorites are the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the American Express Starwood Preferred card,” Rick says. The Chase pays out double points on travel and the popular dining category. In addition, the rewards can be transferred to dozens of airline and hotel partners, such as Hyatt Hotels and United Airlines. Starwood points can be redeemed for as little as 2,000 points per night, making it easy to get a free night. Cardholders can also transfer points to airline miles and get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. Also pay attention to credit cards with generous signup bonuses, such as the British Airways Visa Signature card; it occasionally advertises a 100K offer, which presents a great value for domestic travel. 

5. Pay Attention to Category Spending. 
Make sure you’re maximizing your card’s rewards- and points-earning power by maximizing spending categories, Rick says. For example, Chase's IHG Rewards Club card and the American Express Gold card pay out 2 points per dollar on grocery store spending -- a great way to capitalize on an everyday expense. Rick has seen big payouts as a result. “Our annual trip to the Grand Hyatt in Kauai where oceanfront rooms runs $700 per night, is all taken care of with managing our credit card spending and using the right credit card,” he says. There’s one very big caveat, he adds: Pay off balances in full every month. 

6. Volunteer Your Airline Seat. 
Volunteering your airline seat on a full flight can lead to big rewards. “I get numerous free flights for volunteering to take the next flight when the airlines are oversold,” Rick says. And don’t worry, you won’t have to crash on the airport floor. “Most hotels offer a Best Rate Guarantee where they will give you a huge discount or free night if you find a cheaper rate online than the one they are offering,” he adds. IHG, for example, will give you your first night free if you find a cheaper rate elsewhere, such as on Priceline or Kayak.

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