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

You should never pay full price for a vacation. Here are a handful of money-saving strategies you should try the next time you're planning a trip.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 Expedia.com and Priceline.com make it easy to find travel deals for acceptable prices, as well as shop around.  Meanwhile, TheFlightDeal.com 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?

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