The term luxury travel can conjure up images of overwater bungalows, private beach clubs, and Michelin Star meals. For many, that’s a reality well beyond their financial reach. As luxury travel writers we are constantly balancing our roles as guests, clients, and travel hackers. Over the years, we have found some powerful ways to achieve luxury on a budget. These travel hacks may just help turn your luxury dream getaway into your next holiday. Here’s your key to luxury travel for less.
Luxury on a Budget
Timing is Everything
The difference between blowing out your budget and curating your perfect holiday in luxury on a budget could simply come down to timing. Timing is everything in travel, as it is in life.
Research everything you can about the place you are travelling to; from the experts, to guides and online forums like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Asking simple questions like, Which is the busiest season to go? Is there an event in the city that will inflate accommodation and transport prices? Is a new airline, hotel, or tour company operating to that destination and providing super cheap deals? Are there specific package deals that are appropriate for you (student, senior, off-peak)? Simply becoming informed about your destination could save you thousands of dollars on a single trip.
Choose to be flexible with your travel days. Oftentimes travelling on a Tuesday or a Wednesday could be the cheapest option. Also, travelling in off-peak times may also mean a cheaper ticket or a cheaper upgrade on your ticket (and when you are sleeping in that lie-flat you won’t mind that you had to wait to board in the middle of the night).
Consider travelling in the shoulder season. The shoulder season refers to the travel windows outside of the peak season before the off-peak begins. So you still get to experience the destination; its seasonal attractions, restaurants, best transport options, and accommodation, without having to pay super inflated prices on peak season hotel tariffs, transport, or activities. There is more room for negotiation with everyone from tour operators to tuk-tuk drivers. This is one of the reasons travel professionals travel in the shoulder season. If you are bound for a European summer, book your ticket for April to mid-June, drop into Southeast Asia before the peak surge hits into July (after the rainy season settles in March). You’ll also find you won’t be competing with colleagues at work to get that time off as most people take a holiday in the traditional peak season breaks throughout the year.
A Travel Budget is Essential
It’s not just budget travellers who have a budget. All travellers should have a budget before they travel. At 18, I was on an extremely tight budget and I used to carry a tiny notebook and pencil with me and record everything I spent, down to the centimo. While our budgets now span a number of spreadsheets and feature custom formulas, we wouldn’t travel without one and we definitely wouldn’t have managed to travel in the luxury market for a year without having our eyes on those details, as we did. You could use a travel budget calculator, an app, a spreadsheet or simply fill out a notebook and work backward as I once did. The more control you have over your finances while travelling the more relaxed you will be on your holiday. It also means that when those extraordinary events happen (as they often do while you’re travelling) you will know whether you can book that extra flight, jump out of that plane or stay on the road longer, without too much number crunching.
Travel Insurance is a Non-Negotiable
You cannot afford to travel if you cannot afford travel insurance. It’s cliche but very accurate. Travel insurance shouldn’t be limited to countries like the USA either.
Medical costs may be extreme there, however, the health or safety risks may be greater in another country. The answer is to cover yourself on every trip you take. We also compare a number of policies to find a good travel insurance policy relevant to the particular trip and what I am carrying on it.
For example, try International Health Insurance for health and medical coverage. Also, we never hire mopeds or jet skis, but we do carry a lot of expensive electronic equipment with us, so a policy heavy on electronic and luggage cover is essential but we won’t pay the add ons for motorbikes.
If, like us, you travel with expensive jewellery or electrical goods your home and contents insurance may also give you a bridge of coverage (to make up for the amount that a basic travel policy may not cover). So that is also worth talking to your policy provider about.
Carry a Travel Kitty
A cash safety net or kitty is important for any traveller. A little local cash will be useful to cover those additional costs that tend to pop up while you are on the road such as unexpected transfers, laundry money (we tend to go off-site for laundry as it’s cheaper and supports the locals), upgrades, damage to a rental car, costs for changing flights, visa charges or simply money to buy the essentials should your luggage go missing.
Most travellers aren’t aware that their travel insurance coverage for lost luggage doesn’t take effect for anywhere from 24-48 hours after the fact. In the meantime, you may need clothing, underwear, shoes, or just a toothbrush.
Credit Cards and Travel Cards
A credit card is a great trip extra and the perfect way to earn some points while travelling if you are smart about when (cashback offers, lounge access, small shop deals, bonus points) and where to use them. Don’t use a credit card for holiday spending if you wouldn’t use it for spending at home. There is nothing that will bring on the post-holiday blues and a great deal of stress more than a huge credit card bill after you return from your holiday (and with exchange rates and surcharges everything you bought may just be cheaper at home).
For regular everyday transactions, we use the Qantas Cash Card and the 28 Degrees MasterCard while travelling. That way we aren’t bleeding money on international transaction fees and we know we are spending money that is already ours.
App Track Your Spending
Using a receipt app or simply photographing your receipts and saving them in an expenses folder in dropbox or another cloud is an easy way to keep tabs on your real expenses. It’s easy to forget all those coffees or shopping side trips you take during the day and snapping a quick photo means you also quickly forget documenting it and get on with enjoying your getaway.
Get With the Program
We are big fans of the SPG Preferred Guest program. They offer travellers the ability to gain Platinum status in just a few months through their Platinum Challenge. If you have a long trip coming up and you love their hotels, it’s a good way to reach the otherwise quite elusive Platinum level quickly. Other companies like Hyatt offer the Hyatt Diamond Challenge which works in a similar way.
Once you reach the higher status you are guaranteed upgrades, late check out, access to club lounges (including breakfast), free wifi, and more points with each stay. In the long run, that saves you a lot of money on all those additional items (that can add up very quickly at a luxury hotel).
Booking.com has a good loyalty program too, particularly if you are on a tighter budget.
You are rewarded for each booking you make through the website, whether it’s a luxury hotel or hostel. Once you reach Genius status you are rewarded with discounts on further bookings and extras like the option for late checkout.
We also use our American Express card for access to their participating lounges around the world. A Priority Pass (from $US99 annually) will also give you access to more than 1000 airport lounges around the globe. We use the benefits of both every time we travel internationally. Save 10% on a Priority Pass Membership.
Enjoying a holiday with all the trimmings often comes down to your spending priorities. Saving money on seeing the sights and doing activities can mean your budget for gourmet meals and luxe add ons suddenly grows. It’s about being smart at sightseeing.
If you are one of those people that have to work your way through the “must-see” list of destinations, look into a City Pass before you arrive. You can often purchase one online (at a cheaper rate). City tourist offices should be your first port of call too as they will be able to give you the inside tips on the best value activities on offer and any special entry deals that are on offer.
In Barcelona and Paris. most of their museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. Expect to battle the crowds so make sure you get to that line early, coffee in hand. It is well worth the saving, that you can later spend on a very special afternoon tea or put towards an epic hotel stay.
Exploring the world’s natural wonders is often a free and very fulfilling way to see a new country. Many hiking and bike riding trails are free to use around the world. In Norway and Italy, hikers can access cabins on the mountain for a small fee or even free of charge in some cases cabins for hikers to use during your journey. Stay on the mountain for a night for a once-in-a-lifetime experience and return to your 5-star palace for some pampering the next.
Do Lunch, Not Dinner
Dine out for lunch, not dinner. In Europe, it is often cheaper to dine at an expensive restaurant for a set menu lunch, rather than a dinner. The food, wine, and service are the same, you will often be eating with locals (order what they are having). It’s simply less expensive. Dining outside of the dinner rush also you will find you have more time to talk to a waiter or owner about the menu (and ask them for their other favourite restaurant recommendations for the following day).
Eating at the local markets or even just in a family-run restaurant for dinner is a great and very cheap way to experience a part of the culture that you may miss at a luxury hotel. It’s also a great way to feed the local economy and connect with the local people.
While you are at the markets, grab your favourite healthy snacks and cold drinks for the mini-bar. Ask your hotel to empty the mini-bar before your arrival so you aren’t tempted to eat any of the expensive (and unhealthy) treats (most will do it for you on request, other may charge a small fee) and fill it with your market haul instead.
Organising airport transfers or tours through your 5-star establishment are often a little more expensive. Negotiating with a local guide or a driver can be more cost-effective and the experience more unique than paying a larger, mainstream company for a tour or even a hotel transfer.
The drawback, of course, is that you don’t have the security of working with a professional company or the accountability that can come with booking through your resort. Travelling in a tuk-tuk, on the back of a motorbike or a stranger’s car has its own risks (get that travel insurance).
Make sure you agree on a price before you go, confirm there aren’t any hidden costs that will pop up later (tips, additional entry, local taxes) and don’t pay your guide until you have completed the tour and you are back at your hotel or agreed to drop off point (then you should tip them).
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.