Southern Belle in Training

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle Blog || Est. 2012 || Virginia Beach, VA

April 11, 2019

My Best Budget Travel Tips!

     Travel is one of my favorite things in the world! Whether visiting somewhere domestically or abroad, I truly believe that every destination has something that makes it unique and awesome to be discovered. The major downside to traveling of course? It can be expensive. Over the past few years, I've been figuring out tips, tricks, and methods to travel cheaply, but still comfortably. While this isn't the stage of life that I can be jetting off on two-week long global adventures, I have learned how to maximize weekend and long weekend trips, and get the most bang for my buck! Sharing the travel tips that have worked for me in today's post!

     I should also note- none of my tips have to do with "travel hacking" (aka using mileage or travel points credit cards to be able to rapidly earn free travel). While I am interested in getting into the travel hacking game in the future, for my current stage of life I didn't think it was financially smart to open a bunch of credit cards, especially ones with annual fees! (I currently use two general rewards credit cards with no annual fees, that both have points that can be redeemed for travel, but aren't travel specific.) So none of the tips in today's post have to do with opening credit cards! If you're interested in travel hacking though- check out The Points Guy website- it's filled with useful info.

     1. If possible, make your destination visiting friends or family: The number one tip to travel cheaply! Visit a friend that lives in another part of your state, out-of-state, or even out of the country! Even the best hotel deal will never be as good as staying for free with someone you know, plus there's no better way to catch up with someone that by visiting them. While I usually prefer staying with friends while traveling, staying with family can also be a way to travel cheaply. A few of the destinations that I've been to in past years to visit and stay with friends include Northeast Tennessee, Indiana, and Washington DC!
     2. Join loyalty programs for airlines and hotel chains, and determine whether to use or save the points: This is a MUST for any traveler! You're missing out on free rewards if you don't. I am a member of four airline rewards programs, and a hotel loyalty program for one of the larger hotel chains as well.
    Since graduating college, I've flown each year between 4-6 times annually. Flying annually at the rate I do means that it will take me awhile to accumulate enough points with one of the airline frequent flyer programs to get a free ticket, but even if you don't earn enough miles to get a free flight, you can still use them for other cool things, like magazines or gift cards (FOR FREE!). Ideally the best decision is ALWAYS to save your miles/points for free travel, but if that's not an option, be sure to redeem them for other things. For example- I had some United miles that were expiring this summer, as I haven't flown them in awhile and won't be again soon. I redeemed them recently for a Sephora gift card!

     3. Determine if focusing on loyalty for specific airline carrier or hotel brand is worth it for your travel style: Continuing on with the loyalty program tips- it's important to determine if you should focus earning points/miles with certain programs. First and foremost, learn whether your local airport is a hub or focus for any airlines. (FYI: most small airports are not.) Charlotte, where I went to college, is a huge American Airlines hub. I got my own AA miles account when I was a freshman or sophomore in college, and tried to fly them exclusively for trips home and other travels during those years. Even though I still wasn't flying a ton, because I always chose AA from Charlotte when I lived there, I had earned enough miles for a free round trip flight by the time I left Charlotte! The same thing could go for hotel loyalty programs. If you travel a lot for your job, or travel to the same destination frequently, look into racking up points with one specific hotel group.
    At the same time, your travel habits or location might not be the best for focusing on one loyalty program. The two airports closest to me, Charlottesville and Richmond, aren't hubs for any airlines, so I've had to use multiple airlines for trips since I moved to this area, and that's okay too! You won't accumulate miles as quickly when you're flying on different airlines, but sometimes that's how it has to be when your local airport isn't a hub.

     4. Utilize the right tools for cheap flights: There are a ton of different travel book websites out there- some are legit, some not so much. Over the past few years I've developed what I think is a decent system for finding flights! I begin each flight search with Google Flights, it's always the best way to get an overview of the average costs for your travel dates and destination. Next, I double check to see if budget airlines fly to my destination as well, as most of those don't pop up in Google Flights. If the price looks good- I head over to Skyscanner and Expedia, and see if I can find a better deal on either of those websites than Google Flights or through the airline itself. If the price isn't looking good on Google Flights, I use the Hopper app to track the flight and notify me when the price drops!
    Some travel experts say that you should exclusively book flights through the airline itself. For me personally, I prefer to book through Expedia (if it's an airline that is on there). You're able to save all of your personal information as well as frequent flyer information for multiple airlines to Expedia, so it makes it very easy to purchase flights repeatedly. I also usually buy travel insurance for more expensive flights, and Expedia makes that easy as well to add to your purchase. Expedia has their own rewards program as well, which you can earn points for when booking flights through them (as well as miles for the airline you're using). With that said- before I book on Expedia, I usually check the airline website itself to verify the price is still the same.
    There are a lot of rumors out there about the "best" time to buy flights... whether day of the week or hour of the day. I personally have found that 3-5 months out seems to be a sweet spot for good deals on airfare, but it's not a hard and fast rule. You can also find great deals way in advance sometimes. Google Flights will tell you the average price for your destination, so if you think it's too high when you're first looking, that's where Hopper comes in to track it for you!
    Here's the full order I use for you:
     Google Flights -> Skyscanner/Expedia -> (Book then if at good price) -> Hopper (to track if not at good price) -> Expedia/Airline website (check both to verify price is the best) -> book with Expedia.

     5. When you find a cheap flight or cheap lodging... make sure the other costs associated with the trip don't outweigh the savings: There's nothing more exciting than finding an incredible hotel or airfare deal to a fun destination! The only thing that can make booking that less fun? When you realize that the other costs for the trip will be high, and outweigh what you just saved. A personal example: I was so excited when I got an amazing airfare deal for my NYC trip for Fashion Week a few months ago. However- I seriously underestimated how much ground transportation and food costs in NYC. While I'm thankful for the cheap flight I found (and still glad I went to NYFW!), it was still kind of a pricey weekend trip due to other necessary expenses there!

     6. Always remember to check budget airlines: In full transparency- I haven't had a ton of experiences with budget airlines, but the two trips that I have flown Allegiant on were both very positive experiences! The big budget airlines in the US are Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, Sun Country, and Southwest (I think Southwest is still considered budget?). These airlines typically don't show up on travel search platforms like Google Flights, Expedia, etc, so you have to check directly on each carrier's website to see if it services your destination. These airlines provide very cheap fares compared to the larger airlines, and it's worth it to take the time to see if they're flying where you need to go! Side note: budget airlines often have a lot of additional charges associated, like paying for carry-on luggage, no free food or beverages on the plane, and some even charge to print boarding passes at the airport. But even with these extra charges, they are often still more affordable than other airlines. I recently flew Allegiant to Nashville- and even with the checked luggage fee my ticket was still under $250 (for a nonstop flight- which had a surprisingly big amount of legroom in my seats!).

     7. See if there are cheaper airports than your local one: My local airport here in Charlottesville is very small, which means that destinations are limited, and it's often very expensive to fly out of there. Since I moved here last year, I've mostly flown out of Richmond. That airport is about an hour and a half from where I live, so you do have to factor in the cost of gas to get there (and possibly airport parking too), but most times it's still cheaper to fly from there even with those extra costs! If your local airport is also very small, it can be very worth it for your wallet to search flights to nearby airports.

     9. Determine if flying is cheaper than driving: For international trips or destinations across the country, it's pretty much a given that flying will always be cheaper than driving. But for destinations across your own state or a few states away, sometimes it's hard to tell what's better. I really like using this travel cost comparison calculator to get a ballpark idea of what each would cost! Obviously the numbers are never specific, but it will give you a general idea of how much driving vs. flying would take to get to your destination. For destinations 6 hours or under, I usually drive. For those more than 6 hours, I tend to fly, as my car is pretty old and I don't love taking it on super long trips anymore.

     10. PACK SNACKS! I don't know about you, but I'm often hungry! It can add up so quickly when you're traveling to have to buy breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as drinks and snacks. If possible, bring as many of your own food and beverages as possible! If you're traveling by car, this is super easy. When I'm going on a road trip, I love to bake something like cookies or muffins the day before, and then enjoy them during the trip. It's also easy to bring your own alcohol or water bottles when road tripping! There is a bit less flexibility with food that you can bring while flying, but most packaged and unopened snacks should be fine, and will save you money!

     11. Accept that some trips might just be more expensive, and weigh your options: Sometimes you might have to take a trip on specific dates, and you'll find that it's very hard to travel cheaply then. For example, you might have limited PTO at work that restricts when you're able to travel, or have to be somewhere at a certain time for a party, wedding, funeral, etc.  Maybe there are no other airports near your destination to choose from to look for cheaper fares, or staying with family/friends isn't an option and hotel prices are skyrocketing. Definitely still try all of your options, but sometimes it's just not happening. That's when you have to weigh out if this trip is absolutely necessary (I'm assuming you'll say yes!). At that point, try to find the cheapest route of the more expensive prices, and pat yourself on the back for doing all the research to try and find deals. Also remind yourself that next time you travel, it'll probably be cheaper! 😊 I shared on Instagram Stories a couple weeks ago that I recently struggled to find a cheap flight home to New England for my cousin's wedding this summer. I had Hopper flight alerts on for a few weeks, and finally just booked one! It was more than I hoped to spend, but I'm not willing to miss the wedding, and I know that my usual cheap flight tips will work for me again on future trips!

     Wow- that got long! Travel is definitely something that I love to do, so therefore it's very easy for me to write about it. I am sure though there are lots of you that travel more frequently than I do! I'd love to hear your tips in the comments below!

     God Bless,

     xoxo Annaliese



  1. Love the tip about budget airlines! They really aren't as bad as people think they are! My husband and I fly Frontier at least a couple times a year because it's often the cheapest option to get back to Austin to see his family. To avoid the hefty luggage fees, we'll pack in one larger suitcase rather than 2 carryons (it's less to check a bag!). And, YES, always bring your own snacks!!

  2. Love these tips! I've only flown Allegiant once but I didn't find it bad at all! They recently put more routes through my local airport so I'm hoping it'll make traveling a more regular thing for me.

    Nicole | What Nicole Wore

  3. Great tips! I confess that I still use a travel agent for international trips at least. He is amazing at putting together packages that save me money. For domestic travel I do my own thing so these suggestions are helpful.

  4. I'm always trying to travel on a budget, so these tips are super helpful! Travel hacking is way over my head. Also, Skyscanner is my favorite for saving on flights!

  5. When it comes to travel I have enjoyed a variety of flights, we recently used KLM airways and REALLY enjoyed the service, really very kind-hearted.

    Some great tips suggested here, and you look so pretty in your photographs.

    Laura xox

  6. These are such great tips! We drive as much as possible, since it usually does save us $. We’re going to Destin this summer because we have a free place to stay at Jake’s great aunts. We do hotel points too. All of our Europe hotels were paid for with points. We also ALWAYS pack snacks and drinks. It saves us sooo much money not having to pay for expensive water bottles at a gas station and snacks.

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