6 Easy Ways to Squeeze the Most Out of Your Travel Budget (While You Wait to Travel Again)

With the recent onset of COVID-19, the opportunity to board an airplane feels so far away, and so uncertain. But eventually we will be able to explore again. Here are my best money-saving tricks that you can do now to be ready.

Are you independently wealthy? Yeah, me neither. I scrimp and save, and take fantastic trips several times each year. Those trips vary significantly from quick weekend getaways to longer, 10-day adventures to other countries. How the heck do I manage this? Here is the short list of tricks that I've learned, that you can take advantage of too!

1. Miles-Earning Credit Cards

You very likely already use a credit card (or two or three). Does that card earn you airline miles? If not, why not?? There are so many available to us these days, and some offer excellent perks. If you make a habit of paying your credit card balance each month anyway, taking advantage of the additional travel perks just makes good sense!

How do you decide which ones to choose? Consider the airlines you fly most (here in Oregon we take a lot of Alaska flights, so an Alaska Airlines Visa was a no-brainer). In addition to a 40,000 mile welcome bonus, each year you can receive a Companion Fare, which is $99 plus taxes for the second person anywhere, domestic or overseas. Yes, this is huge!

Some cards work for more than one airline, like our Capital One Venture Mastercard, in which accrued miles can be applied to many different airlines. The miles earned don't go as far here as with the Alaska Mileage Plan though, so the value isn't exactly apples to apples.

Additionally, some cards earn you more points or miles for certain categories of purchases. For instance, it's possible to earn 4 or 5 times more points or miles when you buy your groceries with a specific card, or maybe 3 times more when buying your office supplies.

Nomadic Matt has written extensively about this, comparing and contrasting many cards and their perks. He's a great ongoing resource in this department (and I'm not just saying that because of my Nomadic Network affiliation!). Yes, offers and promotions will change, so it's a good idea to reevaluate your strategy periodically.

2. Look for Welcome Bonuses

We all get credit card offers in the mail, and I've recycled a lot of them right along with you. But on occasion, they are absolutely worth taking a closer look. Welcome bonuses of 20,000, 50,000, even 150,000 airline miles! In addition, using the right cards can earn you free baggage, seat upgrades, and perks like free hotel stays.

It does seem complicated, doesn’t it? I myself tend to get a little overwhelmed with all of the options, so I leave it to the experts! Those experts are Nomadic Matt or The Points Guy, and I receive periodic emails alerting me to significant opportunities. These guys are lifesavers.

3. Online Shopping Portals

If you do ANY shopping online you should always be using online shopping portals. And now that most traditional in-store shopping is suddenly off the table due to the effects of COVID-19, we're all going to have to make most purchases online.

What's an online shopping portal? Portals work by directing you to a specific retailer’s site, and from there you do your shopping as normal. Any purchase you make gets tracked, and you receive the extra points shortly thereafter. It costs you nothing extra. The only extra step involved is simply to click through to the retailer's site through the portal, rather than typing in the page in your intern