Things You Should Never Do to Save Money on Vacation Travel

We get it: Travel can be expensive. In order to afford the trip of your dreams, you may need to pinch a few pennies. Racking up credit card points, flying budget airlines, and opting for public transit over cabs are all good ways to save on your next vacation. But there’s a difference between being frugal and being foolhardy. From taking advantage of other people’s generosity to falling for travel scams, here are some things you should never to do save money on vacation travel.

1. Be an ungrateful mooch

sleeping on a couch

A man sleeping on a couch |

Combine an adventurous spirit with the generosity of others and it’s possible to travel the world without spending much money at all. Blogger and activist Rob Greenfield has traveled around numerous countries for free by biking, camping, and dumpster diving, among other tricks. If sleeping under the stars isn’t for you, you can find people offering a free place to stay on Couchsurfing or work on an organic farm in exchange for room and board.

However, it’s possible to take the free travel ethos too far. If you are constantly accepting (or expecting) freebies from others and never giving back or showing proper gratitude, you’re not a travel genius — you’re just a jerk. Don’t be like the French hitchhiker in New Zealand who starting screaming at people and trashing road signs when no one would give him a lift. If your friend puts you up in his spare bedroom for a week, offer to cook a few meals or take him out to eat. When sharing rides, offer to chip in for gas. Such gestures are a matter of simple politeness.

2. Skip something on your bucket list to save money

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower | Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

From zip-lining in the rainforest to riding the world’s largest Ferris wheel in Las Vegas, attractions and activities can really do a number on your travel budget if you’re not careful. Money-smart travelers know how to get off the beaten path and find cheap or free things to do that are way cooler than the usual tourist traps. That said, be careful not to let stinginess stand in the way of something you’ve always dreamed of doing. If you can’t imagine a trip to Paris without a visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it’s silly to let a 17-euro entrance fee stand in the way of your dream.

“Especially for us budget travelers it’s easy to get in a rhythm where we try to keep expenses as low as possible to be able to travel longer, but skipping the actual things we are there to see is foolish,” Roger Wade writes on the Price of Travel. “On my first visit to Istanbul I went through the Blue Mosque, which is free, and then saw a U.S.$15 ticket price (and a long queue) for the Hagia Sophia next door, so I skipped it. That landmark mosque is Istanbul’s number one attraction and I regretted skipping it the moment I left.”

3. Choose a hotel on price alone

hotel receptionist

Hotel front desk |

Travel websites make it easy to search for hotel rooms by price, but choosing the cheapest option can backfire if you’re not careful. You may end up with accommodations in a distant, hard-to-reach suburb rather than the city center, and you could spend your savings and then some shuttling back and forth to major attractions. Before booking, check a hotel’s location, proximity to transit, and online reviews from other travelers, which can give you a better sense of how long it will take to get to key destinations.

“Budget travelers in particular have a tendency to choose a hotel in a far-flung location that’s 5 euros cheaper than one in a more central neighborhood,” Tom Meyers writes on Eurocheapo. “I’m a strong proponent of paying a bit more for something more central, as you’ll save time and money on transportation (especially if you wind up taking taxis).”

4. Fall for a scam

boarding passes on keyboard

Boarding passes |

Budget travelers on the hunt for bargains can easily fall prey to travel scams. Letters offering you “free” airline tickets are fake, as are similar deals you might see on Facebook or other social apps. The scams are so pervasive that airlines, such as Alaska, have had to start warning customers about fake promotions and contests. Scams involving Southwest, Emirates, and Delta have also been spotted.

Random calls or letters telling you you’ve won a free vacation to a Caribbean resort, Disney World, or other hot destination are also scams. Usually, you’ll receive an automated message explaining you’ve won a raffle (that you don’t remember entering). To claim your prize, you just need to pay some kind of fee, or perhaps attend a presentation for a timeshare. If you bite, you’ll ultimately discover the “free” vacation is non-existent or comes with tons of hidden fees, consumer advocate Brian David Crane explains in an article for The Huffington Post.

When reporters at Nightline tried to claim a complimentary trip in 2014, they were met with pushy sales pitches and requests for more money. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

5. Hack your airfare without a backup plan

man at the airport

Man at the airport |

When it comes to saving money on airfare, there’s no more controversial trick than “hidden city” ticketing. This hack involves buying a one-way ticket with a stop at your actual destination in between. You get off when you make the connection, and the plane goes on without you. Travel website Skiplagged is primarily responsible for popularizing the money-saving travel strategy.

Hidden city fares can save you money, but they come with risks. For one, you’re violating the airlines’ contract of carriage, and if they catch you, they may take revenge. That could mean revoking your frequent flyer miles, denying you boarding, confiscating your remaining tickets, or charging you the difference between the fare you paid and the fare for the route you actually flew.

And there are other dangers. Flights are sometimes rerouted, and when an L.A.-to-Chicago-to-New York flight turns into an L.A.-to-Denver-to-New York flight, you could end up spending the weekend in the Mile High City rather than the Windy City. And while it should be obvious that you can’t check luggage on a hidden-city ticket, even carry-on bags can be a problem if you end up in a regional jet where’s there’s no room for even small suitcases in the cabin and you’re forced to check your bag.

If you’re feeling adventurous and really want to save, hidden city tickets might be worth it. Just make sure you bring your credit card and have a backup plan in case things go awry.