How we saved over $1500 on our last trip!

budget, cut expenses, expenses, frugal, how we win, personal finance, travel

We saved over $1500 (or 40% of the overall cost) on our latest trip. Here’s how:

  1. Points redeemed for flights
  2. Points redeemed for some hotels
  3. Rental car price reduction
  4. Staying domestic

While we love to save and tend to be naturally very frugal, we love to travel. Ever since we met back in 2010 we have been planning for and taking trips together. We blew it out of the water last year with our trip to Italy. (We tried our best to save, and the Euro being down helped, but it was still costly.)

This year we took our Great American road trip to the many National Parks in Arizona and Utah. If you want to stay on track with your savings while still enjoying all the the world has to offer, try some of these techniques for your next trip:

Points Redeemed for Flights

As we mentioned several months ago, Mr. Winning Williams took an online course in “Travel Hacking.” The course exposed him to many new ways to save for travel. After completing the course we took action and started churning to earn more travel points. (We recommend this FREE course and if you want to take it go to TravelMiles101).

Through the process of churning we were able to generate a hefty amount of points relatively quickly. When we booked our flights through Southwest we redeemed a portion of our points so that our tickets, originally $668, cost only $22 in fees. BAM: Savings!

We did quite a bit of research before spending these points though. We knew that we wanted to see the Grand Canyon and the Mighty 5 Parks in Utah. Originally we planned to fly into Salt Lake City, head south through the Utah Parks, and end in the Grand Canyon. We looked at the flights into Salt Lake City and out of Vegas, and then again out of Phoenix. And then we flipped the entire trip and looked at flights arriving into Phoenix and leaving from Salt Lake City. Finally we decided on a Friday evening flight into Phoenix and a flight out of Denver 16 days later. This was the best option to maximize these points AND our time. We utilized two important tactics for realizing inexpensive travel: 1) being flexible and 2) doing our research.

Points Redeemed for Hotels

We didn’t save as much here as we wanted; however, we still utilized some points. We saved $287  on hotels using our points through Hyatt for our first and last nights of the trip. We ended up spending $1367 on lodging for the trip which works out to $85 per day.

As you might imagine some of the stops on our trip didn’t have a lot of options for hotels. While there were chains hotels, we didn’t have points with each of them. Cashing in our Chase Ultimate Rewards for each hotel along the way didn’t make sense given the points to dollars ratio. We decided to save those points for a later trip and saw that it made sense to spend on some of the small hotels. Fortunately, some were local non-chain establishments so we could feel better about supporting the community we stayed in.

Our best value was the Best Western that we stayed in during our visit to Page, AZ. We paid less than $70 that night and were upgraded to a Deluxe King Suite because it was our anniversary and we were Rewards Members. We didn’t really need to additional space, but it was nice to feel like we got the royal treatment. Bonus tip: become award members at each of the chains (hotels, airlines, etc). Sometimes surprise upgrades result. 

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Our first fancy hotel room. We spent $0 for this first stay thanks to our Hyatt points!

Rental Car Reduction

As you might imagine, we had to put a little bit of effort into saving $1500 on our trip. The biggest savings by-far were on the rental car. We knew that we would need a vehicle so that we could drive from Phoenix, AZ through all of the parks and then out to Denver, CO for our flight home.

After we researched and did a price comparison on all the major rental car services we landed on Enterprise. They had a decent rate, allowed for unlimited mileage, and offered a slight discount through USAA. We knew not to book our pick-up at the airport. Instead we booked our pick-up at an Enterprise local not even 2 miles from the Hyatt that we stayed at for the first night of our trip. The complimentary hotel shuttle dropped us off right as the branch was opening.

Our original rate was $678. UGHHH, but it worked out to less than $48/day so it wasn’t too horrible (we picked up the car on Day 2 of the trip).

Because Mr. Winning Williams took the course on Travel Hacking he knew to subscribe to AutoSlash. We received emails on several different occasions letting us know that Enterprise was offering a lower rate. Each time we verified the lower rate on the Enterprise website and contacted their customer service team directly to adjust our booking.

The final cost of the rental car was just $130. That’s less than $9/day and savings of nearly $550! We were able to drop off out of state, kept the unlimited mileage, and also upgraded from a Basic to Full Size rental which helped when Mr. Winning Williams was navigating snow-covered roads. BAM: Savings!

Staying Domestic

While traveling abroad has many benefits, we were happy to spend our anniversary trip this year in the comfort of our own beautiful country. We knew the road signs, we knew the language, and we knew what to expect at the grocery store.

Food

On previous trips we relied on local cafes and restaurants for meals.

  • Of the 16 mornings for our trip, only 4 were without a provided breakfast.
  • We also made our first stop on our Great American roadtrip : Walmart! We stocked up on tortillas, avocados, tuna packets, trail mix, jerky, and other food items so that we could prepare our lunches and dinners on the road.
  • We bought just enough to last for the first few days, then restocked the next time we found a Walmart.
  • We ate most of our dinners in. We enjoyed dinner out 4 times on our trip
    • Burger King- we had coupons so we both ate a very unhealthy feast for only $7.77
    • Grand Canyon- we had hiked over ten miles that morning in Flagstaff, AZ. When we arrived at the Grand Canyon we were exhausted and HUNGRY! We ordered a meal thinking that the portions would be tiny and expensive. What we found was that the portions were more than we could eat. We packed up the left overs and enjoyed those another night.
    • Anniversary- We enjoyed a wonderful meal in Page, AZ. The food was great, the chips and salsa were impeccable, and again the portions were enormous. We had another night of leftovers.
    • Moab- About three years ago Mr. Winning Williams was gifted a ridiculous amount of money to spend through Restaurant.com. We have exhausted the Tampa/St. Petersburg market so we make a point to check for opportunities when we travel. One restaurant in Moab seemed to fit our price range and preferences. We redeemed our $10 off of $20 voucher and, you guess it, had left overs the following night.
    • We anticipated all of these leftovers and had cross referenced all of our hotels to confirm that we would have access to a refrigerator at each stop and a microwave at all but one stop. Again, a little preparation and research goes a long way in stretching your budget (and saving your waistline in this case).
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One of our meals, artfully crafted by Mrs. Winning Williams. 

Activities 

Most typical American  vacation spots (New York, Las Vegas, Disney) are wrought with overpriced attractions and touristy gimmicks. However, we avoided that on this trip. For a one-time fee of $85 we received the America the Beautiful Annual Pass. This gets us (or at least our vehicle) into any of the National Parks and Recreational Lands for 1 calendar year. And it feels great to support these beautiful lands.

We paid for one additional tour on our trip and that was Ken’s Tours of Lower Antelope Canyon. The rate was more than fair for the value and we got to spend the morning walking through some of the most magnificent structures we’ve ever witnessed. ($40 total for both of us and $16 for the permit to enter the Navajo Reservation). This was the only way to visit this unique site and was well worth it.

Other than that we did our research and planned our hikes carefully. We didn’t do any Jeep tours or anything of that nature. We enjoyed just setting out from the trail heads and walking to beautiful vistas that included Angel’s Landing, Hickman Bridge, Ooh-Aah Point of the South Kaibab Trail, Delicate Arch, Sunset Crater, and Upheaval Dome. Each view was breathtaking and totally worth the couple of hours that we spend looking through the National Park Service website to figure out what to do on the trip.

Q: How can you save 40% on your next trip?

A: PLAN AHEAD!

Sure, a spontaneous trip can be very fun and romantic. But a well planned trip will save you much more 🙂

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Lower Antelope Canyon !!!

 The two videos from this epic trip:


12 thoughts on “How we saved over $1500 on our last trip!

  1. Wow! I love the tip about AutoSlash. It is crazy how expensive car rentals are so that was awesome information! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. “While traveling abroad has many benefits, we were happy to spend our anniversary trip this year in the comfort of our own beautiful country. We knew the road signs, we knew the language, and we knew what to expect at the grocery store.”

    I can relate to this mindset so much. The main reason I went to Canada, New Zealand and Aistralia first on my own was in fact the lack of a language barrier. Though having gone to Europe, I didn’t really have a problem there either.

    When I got back from Australia and New Zealand back in the end of 2012, I was very jealous of all the folks I had met who were younger than me and taking these gap years and going all around the world (probably fueled by debt, but who really knows). I wanted to start planning for my own round-the-world backpacking trip. As it got closer to that sort of thing becoming a financial reality, for whatever reason, extended time abroad started to sound less interesting to me. I feel like there’s just so much of my own country that I haven’t seen yet and the geography is fairly diverse. I also love that I won’t be limited to the schedules of airplanes or have to sit in the airports.

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    1. First, we can’t wait to hear about your cross-country U.S. trip. Have you heard of Mr. and Mrs. Adventure? They recently did a cross-country U.S. trip and documented quite a bit of it. https://mrandmrsadventure.com/ We’ve enjoyed their blog and it helped us find some ideas for our own trips. Have you priced out the difference between a US trip vs. International? Potential to save and extend travel in countries that aren’t as expensive vs. what you mentioned about no need for flights if you stayed domestic?

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  3. I have not heard of that blog! Thanks, I will definitely go check it out. A fantastic resource that i have used is: http://somethingsarecool.com/how-to-plan-a-road-trip-faq/

    He did ALL of the national parks solo and slept in his Honda Element. It’s a pretty cool looking rig. That link is super comprehensive road trip FAQ with lots of photos. You guys will love it.

    As far as abroad vs domestic, I think too many variables to tackle that question with a simple answer. I think if I had a partner or travel buddy, I might feel more inclined to do that.

    I think it’s also easier for me to justify investing the time and $$ in a long term domestic travel adventure because it doubles as researching my next place to call home. I guess living abroad doesn’t interest me right now, but good news is I can still do some pretty sweet geo arbitrage within USA if that’s where life takes me.

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