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20 Tips For Traveling Like A VIP On A Budget

Vacation rental/villa in British Columbia
Vacation rental/villa in British Columbia

Just because you’re traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you need to sleep in hostels and eat street food the whole time. In fact, it’s very possible to have a luxury vacation without breaking the bank. You just need to know a few tips and tricks, such as:

Opt For A Vacation Rental

Booking these types of properties through sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey will allow you to browse different styles and classes that fit within your budget. Jetsetter is particularly good about offering flash sales and deals for world-class vacational rental properties that are hand-curated by their staff and correspondents. With vacation rentals, you’ll be able to spend what you would like on a single compartment hotel room on a an entire house, often with amenities like hot tubs, over-sized pools, gorgeous views and more.

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Check Out Flash Sales

There are some excellent flash sale sites out there, for example Spire, TripAlertz, Getaroom, Voyage Privé and Vacationist. You’ll be able to take advantage of unbeatable deals and save up to 75% on properties, packages and more. Additionally, follow Twitter handles like @airfarewatchdog, @jetbluecheeps and @TravelZoo for deals and sales.

Take Advantage Of Daily Discount Apps

Apps like Groupon and Living Social are like flash sale sites, offering daily deals on numerous products and services, including travel. Download the apps right to your phone to check for cheap getaways on-the-go. These tools are especially great if you’re not picky about where you want to travel, but just know you want a comfortable vacation for an affordable price. You can choose between booking just hotels or opting for packages that include airfare, hotel and meals for 50% or more off.

Image via marcos_bh

Travel With Friends

While traveling solo has it’s perks, often times you end up shelling out more money. Having others to travel with means you’ll have people to split the cost of hotel rooms, guides, taxis and rental cars. You’ll also be able to ask about getting group discounts when booking excursions and tickets.

Choose A Place Where Your Dollar Stretches Far

Instead of traveling somewhere expensive where you won’t get much for your money, choose a destination where you can stretch your dollar far. For example, for the price of one night in New York City you could spend an entire week in Kuala Lumpur. Moreover, a soda in Rome costs the equivalent of a nice dinner in Bangkok. For help on choosing a budget-friendly destination for your VIP trip, click here.

Know When And How To Book Your Flight

Travelers should start looking at flights as soon as they know their trip dates. Especially during the holidays, the further away your travel dates are, the more likely you are to find a good deal. It’s also important to know what days of the week to not only book for, but also search on.

“Tuesdays and Wednesdays are typically the best days to search for flights because this is when airlines often release their sale fares,” explains Vice President and General Manager of, Warren Chang. “Also Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are normally the cheapest days to fly. Often flying on the actual holiday, rather than the day before or after, can lead to better prices and smaller crowds in the airport.”

Moreover, there are other things to keep in mind when trying to save money. For one, if you see a good deal, act on it. Some offers are only good for a few hours, and you’re not going to want to miss it. It’s also not unheard of for airlines to make errors when posting their fares, so you’ll want to take advantage of the deal before they realize their mistake.

For more information on saving money when booking flights, click here.

Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates

Continuing on the subject of airline booking, it’s helpful if you can be flexible with your travel dates, as airfare can range by a few hundred dollars from one day to the next. Certain sites like Kayak and Spirit show calendars when you search, allowing you to see which dates will save you money.

“You will also find that flying outside of peak hours can also be financially beneficial,” adds Chang. “Flying late morning through afternoon is often a lot more expensive than catching a red eye or hopping on the first flight of the day.”

You should also opt for a meta search engine or online travel agent – like Expedia, and Travelocity – to search different airlines for you to see who has the best rate. And, browse the package deals. Sometimes, you’ll be able to snag a luxury hotel for $2 when you book it with the airfare.

In terms of accommodation, prices vary depending on your dates of stay. For example, I recently booked a weekend at a hotel in Rhode Island. For the particular hotel I was looking at I first search the second-to-last weekend in March, and then searched for the weekend two weeks after. The price difference was almost $100. If you can travel during the week that’s even better, as hotels tend to charge more on weekend nights.

opus hotel
Opus Hotel in Vancouver

Choose A Boutique Hotel

Boutique hotels are a great way to get a comfortable, well-appointed hotel room for a fraction of the cost of a big name brand. Many times, boutique properties have more character than the latter, as well.

“Boutique hotels can provide a more intimate experience with personalized service and local recommendations for the best places to eat or go on a shopping splurge,” explains Diener, co-founder of and ‘Call the hotel in advance and ask them if they can throw in any extras in exchange for your business.”

Opt For A Budget Airline

Make sure when you use an airline search engine it’s also browsing fares on budget airlines. If not, head to the carriers page yourself and do your own search. This can make a big difference in price, as choosing a budget airline over a big-name brand can save you up to 40% on business class tickets. Budget airlines like JetBlue and Southwest Airlines are continuously rated highly for customer satisfaction. You can also check Spirit Airlines, WestJet and AirTran Airways.

Join Your Hotel’s Frequent-Stay Program

These programs are free to join, and can pay off down the road when you earn upgrades and amenities.

“In Las Vegas, you can obtain free room offers and other discounts by signing up for player’s cards which track your gambling play,” explains Bob Diener. “You don’t have to play much at all to get the most basic offers for mid-week hotel rooms.”

saint lucia
Infinity pool and views at Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort

Travel During Shoulder Season

There are many great reasons to travel during shoulder season; less crowds, easier access to sites, more chances to chat with friendly locals and, the best part, excellent deals on luxury hotels and tours, sometimes up to 50% off. My boyfriend and I traveled to Saint Lucia during shoulder season and were able to snag a great deal on a luxury villa with our own infinity pool. We also had our own private beach because there was barely anyone there. Flights are also usually cheaper, sometimes by 20%.

Get A Traveler’s Credit Card

These credit cards come with travel perks, and can help save money as well as get you free and discounted flights, hotels and car rentals. Some of the top travel cards include Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, BankAmericard Privileges with Travel Rewards and, my personal card of choice, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card. Some perks you may get include no foreign transaction fees, double miles, signup bonuses and opportunities to earn money back and discounts. Do your research so you can make a wise decision which card’s benefits work best for you. And, if the card you want charges an annual fee, know that most of the time if you simply call and ask the credit card company to remove the charge they will.

For more information on choosing a travel credit card, click here.

Join Your Favorite Hotel’s Frequent Stay Program

These are almost always free to join and can help earn you upgrades and free amenities. For example, in Las Vegas you can earn free room offers and other discounts by signing up for player’s cards which track your gambling play.

Says Diener, “You don’t have to play much at all to get the most basic offers for mid-week hotel rooms.”

In addition, if you have a travel brand you really like make sure to signup for their newsletter or follow their social media accounts to learn about current deals and offers.

Skip The Middleman

Going through a middleman, whether it be a travel agent or booking service, almost always means you’re going to be charged a booking fee. Skip the middleman and book straight through the tour company, airline or hotel. Additionally, unless you’re purchasing a tour during a sale, they’re almost always cheaper to book in person, especially because you may be able to take advantage of last minute deals. For example, when I was in Cuzco, Peru, I learned that booking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu beforehand cost some hikers over $600, while those who booked it once they arrived in the city paid around $200. Additionally, when booking a Galapagos Islands cruise you can save about 60% booking it in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz as opposed to in advance.

VIP Luxury

Forget Economy Class

While many economy class travelers often view business and first class as a glamorous world they’ll never know, it’s actually not as hard to get your seat upgraded as you may think. First of all, business and first class seats aren’t always the most expensive. In some instances it is possible to find business class fares that cost less than economy if you do some searching. makes that easy with their “All Airlines” tab, which offers an at-a-glance price comparison between the different types of cabin fares. You can see in the search example above the business class fare on Aeromexico costs less than an economy seat on Frontier Airlines, AirTran and Air Canada.

 Additionally, while economy travelers pay more to travel on weekends and holidays, this isn’t typically the case for business travelers.

“Try searching for business class fares using travel dates that fall on weekends or holidays,” Chang explains. “Prices can be lower because there is typically less business travel demand at those times.”

And if you do end up buying an economy ticket, remember you can upgrade once at the airport using air miles or cash. If you’re a frequent flyer and your economy ticket wasn’t discounted, you may be given a great deal. Just remember to arrive at the airport early to get on the upgrade standby list before everyone else.

Get Dressed Up

According to Diener, you’re more likely to get upgraded at your hotel and when you check in for your car rental when you’re dressed nicely. While you don’t need to wear a top hat and tails, a smart suit and shined shoes will help you play the part of an upscale traveler. And the more you look the part of a VIP traveler, the more hotel and car rental staff will believe you’re a VIP traveler and cater to you as such.

So, what exactly should you wear? For the men, a nice watch can help you really standout in the age of smartphone. Women should opt for polished shoes and a nice handbag. The most important factor, however, is your state of mind and how you conduct yourself. Even if you don’t get the upgrade, you’ll automatically feel like you’re a VIP traveler as looking polished makes you feel better and helps you stand out.

“The key is to dress nice without being too flashy or tacky,” explains Diener. “Have a fancy dinner planned? Dress up more than usual and you’ll swear the food tastes better. In Las Vegas for the first time? A nice Ocean’s Eleven style suit can make your modest bets seem like a high roller.”

Know Tricks When Renting A Car

Along with being dressed up, make sure to book the lowest rate sub-compact. The car rental companies are often out of these cars and will automatically upgrade you without charge.

“They will often try to sell you the upgrade, but just smile, say no thank you and you’ll often end up in that car they tried to charge you more for,” advises Diener.

Moreover, check what kind of insurance is already covered by your credit card so you don’t pay for it twice.

airport lounge
Turkish Air executive lounge at Ataturk airport in Istanbul via j.o.h.n walker

Gain Airport Lounge Access

Even if you don’t have a credit card specifically for travel, other credit cards often offer amenities, as well. For example, the platinum American Express card gets you into American Admirals Clubs for free. Check your credit card to see what amenities you have. That being said, only sign up for certain credit cards for perks if you’re going to really use them. Otherwise, that annual fee could be a waste of money.

Another way to gain airport lounge access is by purchasing Priority Pass. This gives you access to over 600 airport lounges all over the world, even if you’re flying economy — and sometimes even when you’re not flying at all. There are different levels of membership, and all are surprisingly affordable. For example, the basic membership is $99 for the year plus $27 per lounge visit. If you think about what you would spend purchasing a sandwich and soda from the terminal anyway, why not spend a few extra dollars to have access to gourmet food, wine, beer, cocktails, Wi-Fi, computers, comfortable couches and sometimes even amenities like spas and showers.

Decide What’s Important

When planning out your budget, decide what’s most important so you can splurge practically. For example, if staying at a lavish hotel is a non-negotiable, but you’re not too concerned about restaurants and don’t mind taking public transport, you’ll be able to use the money you save in these areas and put it toward your accommodation.

Go Half And Half

On the other hand, if you’re set on seeing the best of every trip aspect, take two trips in one. Spend half your vacation being budget savvy, eating street food, staying in budget accommodations and opting for free activities, and the other half of your vacation living like a VIP. You’ll be able to really live it up while being proud of the money you saved.

Tip: Keep in mind, with a few tips and tricks under your belt you can travel for practically free almost anywhere!

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About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an 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. Great tips Jess! We implement many of these already and yes, it definitely enhances our travel experience and gets more bang for our buck! There are a few we havent tried yet but will now 🙂

  2. jess2716 on at 8:13 pm

    @Nicole: Thank you so much! 🙂 My favorite is the “dressing the part” one. I really feel like when you look great you feel confident, and people tend to take you more seriously.

  3. Thanks for these tips! Have you ever heard of y-ups to get cheap first class airfare?! I recently heard about it and am excited to try it soon! Wrote a whole article about it if you’re interested 🙂 definitely an interesting way to “beat the system”!

    • jess2716 on at 1:30 am

      @Jessica- I’ll have to look up y-ups! Never heard of it. I have heard of crying to get into first class ha. Never done it myself but I know a few people who it has worked for (although they were actually crying about something ha)

  4. Wade on at 4:37 pm

    All of these tips are spot on! I’m fortunate enough to have a partner to travel with, but solo travelers should always be open to teaming up with other travelers to save money on hotels, tours, etc. Hostels are a pretty great place to find other travelers looking to save a buck.

    • Jessie Festa on at 4:42 pm

      @Wade: I’m a huge hostel advocate. Many who haven’t experienced them have this image in their mind of seedy, dirty dorms but there are so many beautiful and fun properties to choose from. I’ve stayed in some that were more luxurious than certain hotels!

  5. Hazel Owens on at 4:27 pm

    I hadn’t even heard about airport executive lounges, but that picture makes them look luxurious. However, as you said, airport food is already expensive, so gaining access to a lounge’s full range of amenities may be worth the few extra dollars. I may have to check out the executive lounges next time I go through an airport. Thanks for the tips!

    • Jessie Festa on at 2:08 pm

      @Hazel: I’m constantly amazed at how affordable certain airport lounges are. In South Africa I just paid about $25 to access a lounge for 4 hours!

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