Vacation for Free (or Close to It)

couple cuddling on plane
Photo: Getty
Think you need to shell out hundreds (er…thousands) for a cool getaway? Wrong! With these tips and tricks, you’ll be on your way to living the good life for cheaper than you ever imagined.
  1. Free Transportation

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    Fly for free. One of our favorite sites, SwagBucks.com, offers points (“Swag Bucks”) that you can accumulate through surveys, daily polls, offers and more. You then redeem these bucks for prizes from the online “Swag Store.” One of the prizes? Southwest Airlines gift cards. That’s seriously free flying.

    Rack up some points. If you do use credit (assuming you don’t suffer from the whole no-willpower thing), sign up for a credit card that rewards you with travel points for purchases. Check out the best options for you at NerdWallet.com.

    Get a discount. Not enough time to rack up the points? Look for discounted airline gift cards on sites like ABCGiftCards.com to cut down on costs.

    Speak up. Lastly, if you feel your experience on a flight you recently took was sub-par, write to the company! Depending on your experience, you may be offered a travel voucher for your next trip.

  2. Free Lodging

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    Using a credit card to rack up hotel points is easy, but there are other ways to get those free nights:

    Check your frequent-flier miles. Many can be used for hotel rooms, not just flights! And with many flights having more blackout dates, it may be worth your while to use those miles toward rooms. (Hotel chains are generally more than happy to accommodate, with fewer blackout dates.)

    Be loyal. Try and stick it out with one hotel chain for as long as possible. You can gain rewards points, and then use those points toward rooms and upgrades.

    Try renting your place (and staying out of a hotel). If you haven't looked into house-swapping, or staying at a person's home instead of a hotel, it might be time to. Staying at someone's home (either in a spare bedroom or when they're out of town) can be significantly cheaper than a hotel room, and if you rent out your place while you're gone, you can make your money back (and then some!). Don't know where to start? Try Airbnb.com and HomExchange.com.

  3. Free Food

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    Eat in. If you’re not staying in a hotel that offers free continental breakfast, "splurge" on a gallon of milk, yogurt and cereal that can last a few days while on vacay. Check out Coupons.com to snag some money off!

    Advertise a birthday. Going around the time of your own or your spouse’s birthday? Many restaurants, coffee shops and other food places give free drinks, free dessert and -- sometimes -- even free meals, to the celebrant. Just try searching for your birthday month and “birthday coupons.” Another great place to start? HeyItsFree.net (Psst...if celebrating your anniversary, mention it at dinner. You might get a discount or free dessert!)

  4. Free Drinks

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    Seek out open bars and drink specials. Going for a night on the town? Try Openbaronline.com (NYC, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami) and MyOpenBar.com (select cities), or just search for the town and “open bar” or “drink specials.”

    Get cultured. Not finding anything? Also check to see if any gallery openings or exhibitions are happening while you’re in town. Many of these events serve wine and/or appetizers.

  5. Other Ways to Save Some Money

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    Check out daily-deals sites. Plan out your meal schedule around what deals are available. You can often save around 50 percent by buying a voucher through Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com.

    Download an app. The Scoutmob app offers deals in 20 cities. Just download the app, see what restaurants are offering deals, and save. There’s nothing to buy. Just show your server your phone, and you can save 50 percent on your meal.

    Make a stop at the visitors’ center. Often, they’ll offer you coupons for local eats.

    Plan your stay around family. Nothing’s cheaper than staying with family. Just make sure you can return the favor.

    Did we miss anything? Tell us how you save when you’re on vacation.