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Are you visiting a major city this year and need ideas on how to save money?
I can help you with some money-saving tactics that I use when I travel to larger cities.
I’ve been to Paris, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, and most recently New York City.
No, I didn’t spend $50 for all these trips.
Let’s be real. Those types of tips are difficult to replicate for a typical person.
I’m going to share some down-to-earth ways to minimize your spending in some of the common travel categories.
Every little bit helps when you’re planning a once-a-year city travel experience.
Ready to get started?
City Travel: Awesome Tips On How To Save Money
#1 – Hopper, an airfare service.
If you are looking for a solid way to get the best deal on a flight, use Hopper (Available for Android and IOS).
It’s an app that lets you know if you would get a better deal on a flight by waiting OR booking now. Take out the guesswork!
I discovered Hopper when I was planning my trip to Paris. I only had one month to plan and was able to get the best price on airfare considering the circumstances.
Below is an example of how much it would cost to fly roundtrip from San Francisco to Paris this April.
The bunny is checking the prices and the result is that money can be saved by waiting.
Simply click on “Watch This Trip” and be alerted to a price drop. Try it out!
#2 – Travel credit cards.
In the past, I have been able to save on airfare by using credit cards to get free money.
I don’t necessarily churn credit cards for points, but I definitely try to use them strategically.
I am only going to suggest this for the folks that can pay off their credit cards in full every month.
This is how it works. For certain travel and cash back cards, if you spend let’s say $500-$4k, you get points or statement credits that can be applied to your bill or future travel expenses.
I have gotten between $100-$500 cash back each time and a few free airline tickets using this method for over $2k-$3k in value.
You are effectively getting free money for using a credit card.
But again – this only makes sense if you don’t pay interest on the balance!
Here are a couple methods I use to spend the certain amount I need to get the points.
- Align it with paying a large bill that comes around once or twice a year – ie. insurance bill, renewals, etc.
- Pay for the trip using the credit card. Sometimes the hotel, excursions, and restaurants in the location you are visiting will add up to the amount needed.
→ Be flexible.
If you are flexible with date, time, airline, and even location – this is going to help you. This is what I mean by “location” – If you do not have a specific city/state/country in mind it opens up all sorts of options! Book a vacay based on what you can get for the best deal!
Place To Stay
Another large part of planning a trip is figuring out the best place to stay. This is by far the hardest part for me! I can be super picky and therefore SO indecisive as to where I stay for a holiday.
#3 – Book early OR Off-peak times.
If you are using Hopper – wait until you can get the best price for your airfare.
After that, consider booking the hotel.
Booking sooner rather than later is good for value, but also a great way to make sure you get a room at your preferred hotel.
#4 – Find hotel deals.
Use a booking service like Trivago.com to get hotel deals.
If you are like me and want to have full control of where you are placed, seek out deals from TripAdvisor.com and directly on the hotel website.
Always check to see if you can get a free night for staying a certain period of time. (ie. Stay 3 nights and get 1 night free).
If you are already staying more than 3 nights, it makes sense to get a deal for extra time there.
→ Get extras.
Sign up for programs if there is a hotel chain you frequent that offers customer loyalty discounts. This can get you perks that only subscribers would be offered. Maybe free coffee or breakfast? It doesn’t hurt to check!
Ask for an upgrade (when you arrive) if you book a room on the lower end. It never hurts to ask. This way you are getting more value for what you are paying.
#5 – Rent a place.
If you are staying for an extended period of time and are okay without housekeeping and amenities, then consider a short-term rental.
This is what I did for my Paris trip. I utilized a local renting service to book the first 5 nights.
For the last part of the trip, I booked the top recommended hotel in Paris. It is worth mentioning that the highest-rated is not necessarily the highest-priced.
In the end, splitting the time between the apartment and the hotel saved lots of money.
#6 – Public transit system.
If there is public transit, it’s always going to be your best option to save money. I have never rented a car when traveling to a large city.
Not only does it cost money to park the car at the hotel (and just about anywhere else in a big city), it’s also a hassle with all the city traffic.
Check to see what kind of passes you can get for riding on the transit system.
For instance, last time when I visited San Francisco, I purchased a 7-day passport x 2 (1 for me, 1 for my husband).
At the time, it was a total of $80. This was a great value because it could be used on the cable cars as well.
So yeah, we may have gotten our money’s worth and rode up and down California St. a few too many times!
#7 – Trekking on foot.
The best way to explore a city is on foot. My rule of thumb is to always try to stay where it is easier to walk different places. Also, staying near public transit is a plus so it’s not a big deal to walk to the bus stop, subway, and/or rail system.
#8 – Stock-up / Delivery.
Remember when I mentioned in the category “Place to Stay” that I rented an apartment when I visited Paris for a portion of the time I was there?
Another large reason why I set this up was to cut back on meal expenses – especially dinners.
You could easily spend 50-80 euro for a two-person meal. I figured if my husband and I had dinners at the apartment on the nights we stayed there, we could save some money – and that’s what we did.
We actually went to one of the Paris grocers to get meals that could be reheated. I got a recommendation from doing research of a place to get frozen meals that would taste fresh and yummy (Picard’s if anyone is interested).
Well, I wouldn’t say they were THAT GOOD – but I can’t complain too much. The meals were probably 8 euros = ~$10 US.
I know, I know – the whole purpose of visiting a new place is to eat their cuisine. I did – kind of…
Sometimes opting for delivery (rather than eating dinners out or using hotel room service) will save big bucks.
Ordering local delivery from services like DoorDash or Postmates will get meals you can eat alone or share with the whole family.
On the most recent trips, my husband and I have accidentally done this. We either get too tired to go out to dinner or we decide that dinner and a movie sounds pretty good (after a long day of activities).
For the folks that live in small cities and are wondering what your delivery options are, I’ll tell you right now that it’s not there is more than just pizza. You can have all types of food delivered to you for a nominal fee. Chinese, sushi, barbecue, burgers…and so on.
You can pay $40 to feed your whole family versus $100 including tip eating at a restaurant. This is definitely a viable option for one or two nights to save some money.
#9 – Groupon.
Normally their food deals are buy one, get one – so it helps to have a companion with you. I normally peruse the selections and compare to Yelp to see if the restaurant is any good. I have had some luck with this, but it really just depends what type of food you want to enjoy while you are visiting.
• DISCOVER •
With any type of purchase, check out Ebates to get more value for what you are already paying! They offer cash back for the typical online purchases, but also for travel – airfare, hotels, activities.
Activities! There are SO many options. If you are single, married, have a family – the ideas I have are great for everyone.
#10 – Exploration days.
Everything is new and fresh in the city you visit, so it doesn’t take much to find something of interest if you want to factor in a free day to bounce around from place to place. Check the city calendar for local events to add to the fun!
#11 – CityPass (US Major Cities + Toronto).
If you are traveling to a major city in the U.S. and Toronto, then consider using the CityPass. I find that it is valuable if you are new to visiting the city because it covers some of the primary tourist spots.
Some of the selections include museums, exhibits, cruises, observatories…and so on. It’s a great value.
I’ve used it in most of the cities I have visited and it works great. Most of the times you can skip the line which is a HUGE plus. Highly recommend!
Check out CityPass and see if your favorite city is included!
#12 – TripAdvisor.
Use this method to search for activities. I’ve been looking more and more for FREE tours to bulk up the plans.
There are highly-rated options out there.
There’s one in Paris I used, which was VERY GOOD. My husband and I enjoyed walking around for ~2 hrs. learning more about all things Parisian!
FYI – I will be sharing recommendations in future articles, so check back for more specifics!
I booked a free tour in NYC and it was highly-rated. Though, compared to the one in Paris, it was not as good – a microphone makes all the difference!
While the tours are free, they do accept tips. It is still nice to be able to choose your price. As good as these tours are, you will find yourself leaving a generous tip and still feel like you found a great value!
#13 – Viator.
I have used this service in the past. You can scroll through their website or app to find activities that are discounted. Sometimes I use it to find an activity/combo that will give me some value for what I spend. They have a section for “Deals and Discounts” that you can scan through. Also, for initial sign-ups, you can get 10% off.
#14 – Local passes.
Before visiting, check to see if there are passes that can be purchased to the local museums and tourist spots. In the U.S. you can readily use CityPass. If you are traveling internationally, you will want to look for a CityPass-equivalent.
For instance, in Paris, they have a museum pass you can buy for a flat fee. The adult price for a 2-day pass to over 50 museums is ~50 euro/each, so not bad at all.
#15 – Free or Minimal-spend.
To round it out, there are always FREE or minimal-spend activities at each travel destination I have visited. Here are a few ideas:
- Lombard Street – San Francisco
- Pier 39 – San Francisco
- Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market – San Francisco
- Area along the Seine River (sit and have a baguette picnic) – Paris
- Tuileries Garden (relax and people watch) – Paris
- Taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island – Seattle
- Pike’s Place Market – Seattle
- Walk along Lake Michigan – Chicago
- Cloud Gate “The Bean” at Millennium Park – Chicago
- Chelsea Market – New York City
- High-line Park – New York City
- Central Park – New York City
Those are my tried and true tips for saving while traveling to large cities. Whether you are traveling by yourself, with a buddy, spouse, or your whole family – there’s always a way to cut back, add more value for your money, and deals and discounts to consider.
Now, let’s get to planning!
Any future money-saving ideas from my travels will be updated within this article and noted with a last edited date at the end of the article. Visit soon!
Read more about my mission HERE.
Ways to stretch your money further + earn extra cash:
Ebates – receive $10 when you spend $25 (online/in-store shopping)
Ibotta – receive $10 as a welcome gift (grocery in-store shopping)
Swagbucks – receive $5 as a welcome gift (get paid for everyday things you do online)
Visit my resources page for more information on each service and to view other offers!
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Readers, what are your money-saving tactics when embarking on city travel? Do you have any free or minimal-spend tips for the city you live in? Share in the comments below!