You Should Never Pay Full Price for a Vacation

You Should Never Pay Full Price for a Vacation - picture of family of four walking in water at beach

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Yesterday, I turned 35-years old, and today I’m on a plane heading to St. Maarten to celebrate.  I’m really excited, and not only because I’ve never been to St. Maarten, but because we are heading to a brand new resort that just opened on December 25th.

We are only staying for five days, but we plan to make the most of it by spending quality time together, snorkeling, and probably eating and drinking more than we should.  My plane lands at 2:00 p.m. EST and I cannot wait to take off these winter clothes and ease right into vacation mode.

You Should Never Pay Full Price for a Vacation

A lot of people ask how we travel so often, and the answer shouldn’t surprise you.  We never pay full price for a vacation.  Ever.  Our trip to St. Maarten is a great example of our travel strategy.  Here’s how we paid for it:

Our Flights

Our two round-trip flights from Indianapolis to St. Maarten came in at 70,000 American Airlines miles and $161 for airline taxes and fees.  We saved points by booking in economy for all four legs of our trip and benefitted from the fact that the fuel surcharges levied by American weren’t too crazy for the flights we chose.  (If you want to earn 50,000 American miles with no annual fee the first year, you can sign up for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard at Frugal Travel Guy.)

Our Hotel

Because we’re visiting a new hotel in St. Maarten, I got one hell of a deal by booking early.  I used $750 in cash-back from one of my Capital One Spark Business cards to book our resort for five nights.  This was a targeted offer, so I don’t have a link for that one.  Sorries. 

So at this point, I’m out a total of $161 for a five-night trip to St. Maarten.  However, I will need to spend money while I’m there.  Here is a breakdown of everything else I budgeted for:

  • Transportation: Zero. Our hotel is a ten minute walk from the airport and I am not going to take a taxi there.  We’re going to hoof it.
  • Snorkeling Excursion: $200. We booked a three island snorkeling tour with Captain Alan.  This excursion was my husband’s Christmas/Wedding Anniversary present.
  • Food and Drink:  Nothing.  We are staying at an all-inclusive resort.  The resort also offers free wifi so I can work while I’m there without paying for the privilege.  Yay me.
  • Tips: $150. We’re visiting an all-inclusive resort, but we still need to tip everyone who serves us.  I probably overestimated how much we’ll need, but I would rather bring extra cash than mess with ATMs in another country!
  • Miscellaneous: $100. We can take a bus into Phillipsburg for $2 per person, so we plan to.  I’m not sure what we’ll end up doing, but I thought I should budget some money for it just in case.
  • Airport Parking: $54. It costs $9 per day to park at the Indianapolis Airport.  I hate paying for this.

Grand Total: $665 including airport taxes and fees

Here’s How to Save on Everyday Travel

Credit card rewards pay for the bulk of all of our travel expenses, but they can’t take care of everything.  And to be honest, I don’t mind paying for some of our adventures with real money.  We don’t have any other expensive hobbies, and I plan on spending a certain amount of money on travel each year and budget accordingly.  But certain strategies help us stretch that money as far as possible.  Here’s how we do it:

  • We sign up for all of the best rewards cards- Since we pay for most of our airfare and hotel stays with rewards points, we have to sign up for cards that help us earn those points.  Some of my favorites includes Southwest Airlines credit cards (we also have the companion pass), my IHG credit card, my Marriott Rewards credit card, and of course my American Airlines credit cards.
  • We pursue cash-back rewards too- In addition to focusing on earning points and miles, we also pursue cash-back offers too.  In fact, I currently have 6 or 7 cash-back cards that accrue funds on them when we use them for everyday purchases and bills.  I also love cash-back sign-up bonuses above all else.
  • We price shop for all travel paid out-of-pocket- Sites like and make it easy to find travel deals for acceptable prices, as well as shop around.  Meanwhile, is a great place to find crazy airfare deals if you’re paying out-of-pocket.  I check a ton of travel sites for deals almost every day.
  • We sign up for online promotions and newsletters- I am generally willing to tolerate spam email from travel agencies and my favorite hotel chains and airlines.  Occasionally, I even get notifications about special promotions and deals for doing so!
  • We stay flexible in our travel plans- One of the most important things to remember if you’re trying to save on travel is that it is important to stay as flexible as possible.  That might mean keeping your dates open and being willing to travel during the week instead of on Saturdays.  Or it could mean being willing to go anywhere.  I actually chose St. Maarten for this trip just because the flights were so good.  Hey, anywhere in the Caribbean is fine with me.

With all of the ways you can save on travel, it makes almost no sense to pay full price…..ever.  To travel on the cheap, all you need do is shop around for the best deals and perhaps sign up for a rewards card or two.  Doing so can mean the difference between taking one vacation per year or taking several, and saving a boatload of money in the process.

How do you avoid paying full price for vacation?  What are your favorite savings tips?

Additional reading:

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  1. Happy belated birthday!!! You’re just a spring chicken :-). Maybe the title should be “You should never pay full price for a vacation IF you live in the U.S”. .. Enjoy your vacation, and how lucky..a brand new resort too! We had that luck of being one of the Bellagio’s first guests when it opened in Vegas..great room rates and awesome service. Can’t wait to hear about l’m jealous !!! 🙂

  2. Thanks for your tips Holly! I will have one vacation set by the end of this February. I will start looking for promos and deals I can get to catch up with the date and to save some money. I will also try to look for deals presented in travel magazines.

  3. I’ve been to that beach! It’s so crazy to see one of those enormous planes barreling down on you. We went to St Maarten last year when hubby’s employer paid for him to go there for work. So we just had to pay for my expenses. Anyway, happy birthday Holly!!

  4. Happy belated birthday!!! Can’t wait to read a recap – that’s where I want to go for my 30th bday in July!!

    Are your kids coming with?? That’s one of the harder things for us – if the kids come, it obviously is more expensive…but if they don’t come, we would have to fly out my mom to watch them which is another plane ticket. Definitely one of the disadvantages of living so far from family!! 🙁

    Hope you have a wonderful time!!!!

  5. This is a great post for me because I am planning on moving to London after I retire from the military. You know I haven’t thought it out that far, but after reading this I realize that immediately after I become debt free, I can start working on some of these tips to help lower the cost of all the traveling I plan on doing while over there. Thank you very much. Happy Birthday and I hope you enjoy your vacation.

  6. Awesome. I envy your travel hacking, Holly! I truly aspire to follow your ways :). Also, I seriously love that you’re walking from the airport to your hotel–that’s 100% something Mr. FW and I would do.

    We’ll walk anywhere and we’ve found ourselves in rather hilarious situations around the world trying to walk everywhere. We don’t care, we just walk. Have a fabulous time and soak up sun for me! I think it’s a whopping 0 degrees here in Boston today…

  7. Wow! Looks like a great vacation and you picked the perfect time to escape this frozen wasteland up her. Enjoy!

  8. Oh what I wouldn’t give to escape this winter cold! In general, I try to have work trips lined up for late winter/early spring (when the snow ends and the nonstop rain begins), which helps scratch that travel itch on a dime. No dice this year though, so I’m stuck in the frozen tundra. Hope you enjoy your vacation!

  9. Have a great time! My wife went there for our honeymoon as well as Anguilla. It was a great time! Two things to note: Phillipsburg was nice, but it is where the cruise ships come in. The majority of the stores (90%) are jewelry and people stand on the street trying to talk the women to come into the stores. It was OK, but we were happy to head back to our quite beach.

    Even though you are staying at an all inclusive, you should sneak down the road to Lee’s Roadside Grille. The food is just plain AMAZING!

  10. Excellent work. I love reading about your travel adventures. Don’t get too tanned and don’t work during the trip! I groaned when I saw the free wifi/work sentence. Yuck!

    1. I have to work on vacation! Not a lot, but a little! That’s what happens when you take 8 weeks of vacation per year!

  11. Happy Birthday Holly! Enjoy the trip. I’m just getting my feet wet on the whole travel hack concept, get information. Thanks!

  12. Nice work Holly and Happy Birthday! We’ve been to St. Maarten, but only while cruising and want to go and stay just there. We fund our traveling with rewards as it only makes sense to do so. We put aside cash each month for travel as well but that mainly just covers incidentals as we can get the bulk of our traveling covered somehow with points.

  13. Happy Birthday Holly and enjoy St. Maarten! Thank God you can’t bring your laptop in the water, otherwise I swear you’d work while swimming. Back away slowly from the laptop or just drink enough to forget that you even brought it!

  14. Happy Birthday and have fun! It is freezing in the northeast…and pretty much most of the US I think so good for you. I also like credit card bonuses to get travel points but I’m still learning how to redeem them properly. A lot times when I check AA reward flights, the available flights require connecting flights (even when it’s a close destination and it doesn’t make sense) and the times are kinda crazy.

  15. Oooh can’t wait to hear about this one. St. Maarten is really expensive from what I have heard so I’m glad yall are doing all inclusive. I def want to hear how the resort it! Enjoy and happy birthday!!

  16. ONLY five days?!?! Poor thing! lol! Seriously though, have fun and happy birthday. My goal is to always fund traveling as much as possible with rewards!

  17. I’m looking forward to redeeming the travel rewards I accumulated last year. Question, how do you decide which cards to keep and which to cancel? Last year I applied for 4 and they all have yearly fees but I still haven’t booked my travel.

  18. Happy Birthday, Holly! Have a wonderful trip to St. Maarten and enjoy your all inclusive resort, although I don’t think that will be a problem at all! And you’re smart to budget a little extra and have cash on hand because dealing with ATMs is such a pain and generally incurs way too many fees. Can’t wait to hear about the trip when you get back. 🙂

  19. We put aside cash each month to pay for our vacations. Just got back from The Keys/Miami because we had saved all year. Being flexible and looking ahead for deals are the biggest things we do. Have fun on the trip to St. Maartin. (That airport/beach are a blast…literally!)

  20. Ben Luthi says:

    I love it!

    I also LOATHE paying for parking at the airport.

  21. I’m so jealous of your trip! I hope you have a great time.

    Paying full price for a vacation is just crazy. There are so many ways to get an awesome vacation for super cheap.

  22. Happy Birthday Holly!!! I hope you guys have an awesome time in St. Maarten! I am a huge fan of all-inclusive resorts because you know when you budget, you will stay within your budget.

  23. I can’t believe you are skimping on the taxi! That’s crazy!

    Hope the trip is a good one and relaxing [take that taxi!]

  24. Happy belated birthday! Definitely some great tips on how to save for traveling. Very jealous of your trip. It’s great that there are so many ways to save on traveling cost. Have fun on your trip!

  25. We’re planning a big trip for later this year, and I’m hoping I can pull it off like this! Happy b-day!

  26. Can I just pay you to do this for me? 😉 No, but seriously we want to take that whole month-long RV trip this coming June and I could benefit from your tips. We donated a car in 2014 and got a free hotel stay. Now why would one use a hotel stay if we’re going by RV one would ask? We booked it for Maine (we live in MN) and this commits us to our trip:-) Also, we’ll probably be happy for a hotel bed and shower after awhile on the road;-) Now I just need to find a cheap RV or network with the right RV company to sponsor us…know anyone? 🙂 HAVE FUN!!!!

  27. Happy Birthday! I can’t wait to hear about your trip, it sounds amazing! I recently looked into the AA credit card but the flight options were horrific. When booking on AA, do you typically have multiple connections or am I unlucky due to where I live? Which Southwest card do you recommend? Thanks for sharing!

  28. Sounds like a fantastic trip, Holly. My wife and I have never stayed at an all inclusive resort, but the free food & drinks do sound tempting. 🙂

    Our upcoming hack is for Central & Eastern Europe (Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, and then back to Vienna)…all in 16 days! We’ll be tired but we want to see a lot. And free flights & hotels, of course. 🙂

  29. I want to be on that beach with the plane flying over! Happy birthday! I try to never pay full price for any travel even if not using points. Our thanksgiving hotel was pretty cheap but I still got 10% off by buying Hyatt gift cards when they were on sale. It takes time to search for ways to save but it’s worth the effort.

  30. I agree! There are so many ways to save some money on vacation. All it takes is a few weeks or months of planning and a nearly free trip is within your grasp. Happy Birthday!

  31. Luis Perez says:

    Sorry to be commenting on this so late, I meant to comment on it last night but ended up being too busy lol. Have fun on your vacation Holly. Enjoy it. I have never been to St. Maarten but do plan on going there next year. Have a great time snorkeling. It would be amazing if you could take underwater pictures with all the sea life in the Caribbean.

  32. Happy Birthday! Right now it’s about 10 degrees here so I’m jealous of weather you are probably experiencing in St. Maarten. At the moment I can’t afford to visit any exotic (or spending enough to meet credit card bonuses), but I take advantage of doing a lot of research before camping trips to find the best value for my budget.

  33. catherine says:

    My husband is NOT a heat/beach person at all but he’d a HUGE airplane buff and dreams of going to that beach. Have a great trip!

  34. Another tip for saving money on travel is to pick up a foreign exchange free credit card.

    Whenever you charge a foreign currency to your regular credit card your provider will charge you a fee of 2.5-3%. A foreign exchange free credit card will charge you just the spot rate.

    You could easily save a few hundred dollars on your trip with this trick.

  35. I haven’t been able to travel hack because my credit is still recovering my medical debt years but I still refuse to pay full price for a vacation so I travel like a cheap college student while I still can. I stay with friends and family, price match hotels and sign up for frequent flyer programs like Southwest so I can still cash in on free flights at least twice a year. I also try to only do one or two pricey things per trip and then cheaper or free activities for the rest of the time. While some travel is expensive, it’s still something you can barter with. You just need to be creative and resourceful!

  36. Awesome ideas, Holly! I just booked an all-inclusive vacation to Cancun. I’m lucky that I can take the train from work in downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac airport. I avoid rush hour traffic AND parking fees – although lugging a suitcase on public transportation isn’t exactly ideal.

    Are there any offsite parking lots in Indy that might be slightly cheaper? I know Milwaukee airport has a few lots that offer transportation shuttles to/from departures/arrivals. You should look into it for your next vacation! I hope your having a great time in St. Maarten. Safe travels!

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