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How to Hack Your Next Trip

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thai food

Get a free meal using your language skills. Photo courtesy of veganLazySmurf.

Travel hackers. It’s a term used to describe travelers who will do anything to earn extra miles, gain elite status and enjoy complimentary hotel stays. They know the tricks to beat the system, and their research and time is rewarded with free and discounted travel. To help you hack your next trip, try the following tips:

1. Use Your Language Skills for a Free Meal

You’ve probably heard countless tips on how to save money on dining: Eating street food, choosing local restaurants, opting for hostels with kitchens so you can cook your own meals. But, what about if you want a completely free meal? If you speak fluent English and are in a country where English isn’t the first language, you can use your language skills to obtain complimentary meals at local restaurants. Go into a restaurant that claims to have an English menu. Typically, these menus are littered with grammar mistakes, spelling errors and bizarre terminology. Tell the owner that in exchange for a free meal you’ll proofread and correct his English menu so it makes perfect sense. You’ll be surprised at how many restauranteurs will be delighted by the offer. Bonus Tip: Another way to get a complimentary meal is to attend free events with refreshments, or even open houses at for-sale homes. Many times, there are drinks and food are these showings for interested buyers. Even if you’re not actually buying a house you can easily pretend to be, and it can also give you a glimpse into the local architecture and design.

2. Book a Business Class Flight for Less Than Economy

While Business and First Class tickets are typically the most expensive, this isn’t always the case, especially on weekends and holidays when business travelers aren’t usually flying. has an “All Airlines” tab that makes it easy to compare airlines and classes in one spreadsheet, so you can see if Airline A’s business ticket is cheaper than Airline B’s economy ticket. Moreover, if you do end up buying an economy ticket remember you can always try to upgrade once you’re at the airport with cash or airline miles. Just make sure to get there early to be one of the first on the upgrade standby list.
Cruise Ships

Cruise ships. Photo courtesy of coopgreg.

3. Book Your Cruise At The Port For Big Discounts

Typically, travelers book cruises months in advance to secure a spot. The downside to this is you end up spending full price when you could actually save by booking last minute at the port. Obviously, if there is one specific cruise you’re dying to go on you may want to book it in advance to secure your spot; however, if you’re open to jumping on another cruise if your first choice fills up this is a great tactic. Do a bit of research to make sure there is more than one cruise leaving from your nearby port so you’ll have a backup choice. Call the cruise lines to verify what the latest possibly day to book is and — typically about three to five days before the cruise is set to sail — head to the port and book your ticket. You can save about 80% on the listed price by using this travel hack.

4. Book Your Travel Legs Separately

While this hack may be a bit time consuming, it’s worth it for the money you’ll save in the end. Instead of simply searching on an airline site for a flight and booking all the trip sections at once, break the trip down and purchase each leg separately. The Wall Street Journal highlighted this travel hack in a 2013 article, giving this example: “The tactic can work best in summer when discount airfares are harder to find. For a June 11 to 18, the lowest round-trip airfare from Atlanta to Berlin was priced on Friday at $1,541. The New York to Berlin fare was $680. With discount competition between New York and Atlanta, the lowest round-trip are to JFK was $258. That is a savings of 39%, or $2,400 for a family of four.” Bonus: Doing this does not break any airline rules, so you don’t have to feel like you’re doing something sneaky.

Melbourne, Australia. Photo courtesy of Stockie8me.

5. Tour The City For Free

Instead of automatically booking expensive tours on big brand tour company sites, see if the city you’re visiting offers a complimentary tour service or greeter program. Some examples of companies that provide free tours to travelers include SANDEMAN’s NEW Europe (throughout Europe); I’m Free (Sydney and Melbourne); Buenos Aires Free Tour (Buenos Aires); Free Tours by Foot (Various US cities, Canada and London); and more. Many cities also have greeters to show visitors around the city for free, which you can check at the Global Greeter Network. You can also log on to sites like CouchSurfing and Triptrotting to connect with locals and have them show you the sights.

6. Get Upgraded

One travel tip to keep in mind when trying to get any type of upgrade is that dressing and acting like a VIP can get you places. The more you look and act the part, the more people will treat you like you deserve first class. That being said, there are other tactics you can use to get an upgrade. In terms of car rentals, reserve the lowest rate sub-compact. Usually car rental companies are out of these cars and will automatically upgrade you without a fee. If they do try to charge you, smile and say “no, thank you.” You’ll most likely still walk away with the upgrade. To get upgraded at your hotel, check-in around 4:30pm — when the manager is still there and the staff have a good idea of which rooms will go unbooked — and ask if there are any upgrades available. You may want to also add in that it’s a special occasion, like an anniversary or husband’s/wife’s birthday, for a better chance. You’ll most likely get a free or inexpensive upgrade. And even if there’s nothing available you’ll most likely be granted some free perks in order to make up for the fact they couldn’t meet you request. If it’s a flight upgrade you’re looking for, Gary Leff of Conde Nast Traveler suggests telling the gate agent you have an important business presentation that’s due that need and need to get a lot of work done or your boss will kill you. “Generally speaking, airlines want to keep business travelers happy, even those in coach, since those frequent travelers represent repeat revenue,” he says. Have a great travel hack of your own? Please share in the comments below. Featured image courtesy of Sucker

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is a New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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  1. Lauren Meshkin on at 8:09 pm

    Great tips! I especially like #3 and #5 and will be trying them out on my next trips. Thank you for sharing.

    Happy travels 🙂

  2. Jessie Festa on at 8:16 am

    @Lauren- You too! 🙂

  3. Alyssa on at 12:28 pm

    I will definitely be trying that free meal tip! I wish I had thought about it when I was living in Martinique…so many poorly translated menus!

    Yours in Travel,

  4. Charu on at 4:03 pm

    I like the thought of getting upgraded because of the way you dress 🙂 Happened to me in Rome…bumped up to first class

    • jess2716 on at 5:00 pm

      @Charu- Nice! 🙂

  5. Sally on at 6:36 am

    Loved that first tip and I’ll be sure to pack that business casual for a shot at the last tip. Unfortunately, I also look like I’m still 17 so it may not work so well… haha.

    • jess2716 on at 10:19 am

      @Sally- I think it still could. It’s all in the attitude 🙂

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