Here are practical ways to trim trip expenses and incorporate cost-cutting savings strategies to keep more money in your pocket—according to travel pros.
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Credit: Olivia Barr

If you're ready to travel now that you're fully vaccinated and boosted, there's a whole world out there to experience and explore. To get the most bang for your vacation bucks, there are practical ways to trim trip expenses and also incorporate cost-cutting saving strategies to keep more money in your pocket.

We asked travel experts and money pros how you can save $1000 on your next getaway.

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Be flexible.

When deciding on when and where you travel, keeping an open mind and being flexible with your travel plans can result in significant savings. 

Choose a destination on its "off-peak season" to save on hotel, airfare, dining, and entertainment, says Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert. A shoulder season could yield real savings, and off-peak seasons offer better values, less crowds, and likely a more relaxing vacation vibe.

For example, if you are interested in visiting Newport, R.I. or Cape Cod, Mass. during the peak summer season, opt to book a trip after Labor Day. The weather is still delightful, hotels and other lodging options drop prices, and restaurants and attractions are less crowded. So if you're taking a long New England weekend, you'll save money so you can take excursions like boat tours, which are likely less expensive. Over the course of three or four nights, this can add up to a cool $1000 in savings.

While being flexible with your destination and timing, stretch your vacation budget more by being open to picking a place to visit where there are lots of things to do that won't cost money. "Look for destinations that have plenty of free things to do. For example, the beach offers endless hours of entertainment for kids to play on the sand and swim, while the mountains offer hiking, fishing, star gazing, camp fires, etc.—all of which provide plenty of rest and relaxation for cheap," says Woroch.

Get a new rewards credit card.

Search for a new credit card that offers a lucrative sign-up bonus that will award you rewards like free cash back, airline miles, or travel points just for spending a certain amount of money on your card within the first few months of opening your new account. "If you use the card towards monthly bills you have to pay anyway and towards some of your vacation bookings, you could easily meet the minimum spend required to qualify for the bonus," says Woroch. "You could earn some cash to pay for your flights or hotel, or enough miles to cover roundtrip airfare or at least one leg of your flight, saving you a lot of money."

But be sure to read the credit card issuer's terms and condition so you meet the requirements. If you need to spend $5,000 in the first three months of opening your account, be sure to reach that threshold. Another important point to realize is that you need to be in a position to pay off your entire balance in full and on time. If you carry a balance or are assessed late fees, any rewards you earn will be offset. If you are prone to overspending or don't have a steady cash flow, opening a new credit card may not be the best idea.

Woroch points out that not all credit card sing-up offers require thousands in spending. Consider these offers:

With the Capital One Venture One Rewards Card, you will get a bonus of 20,000 miles after you spend $500 in the first 3 months. "Use these miles toward a flight or redeem for a car rental or dining gift cards," Worloch suggests.

The Disney Premier Visa Card from Chase offers a $300 bonus when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months from account opening which can be used toward a trip to Disney.

The Chase Freedom Card offers a $200 cash bonus when you spend $500 in the first three months. "That $200 can come in handy to pay for some meals or activities on your trip," she says.

She suggests analyzing your spending habits to see which type of rewards program and credit card will give you more back for the things you buy the most. Compare offers at sites like CardRates.com, which post detailed reviews, Worloch says.

Realize there's even more value from credit cards.

Sara Rathner, travel expert at NerdWallet, says that depending on the credit card you choose, you can enjoy other perks that will help you save on other travel costs, like TSA PreCheck, airport lounge access, or fees for checked bags. 

And you may already have points and miles stashed away if you haven't traveled much in the past two years. NerdWallet's 2021 Travel Rewards survey found that Americans with travel rewards credit cards have 64,800 rewards points and miles, on average, saved up. "At an average value of one cent each, that's nearly $650 worth of points," she says.

Consider cash back programs—and stack deals.

To save money, you can use cash back programs like Rakuten on your travel related purchases to earn you up to 10 percent cash back or more on bookings, experiences, and more, including 5 percent cash back on dining at thousands of restaurants across the country. "You can also stack deals to maximize your savings by earning cash back on top of sales," says Rakuten's shopping and retail expert, Kristen Gall. Cash back services allow you to earn cash back on top on travel promotions, from deals running on hotels to flights and rental cars to other travel-related retailers. For example, says Gall, when booking a travel deal, use a cash back program on top of promo codes or digital coupons, and use a rewards credit card to extra earn points and rewards for the purchase. Many travel sites and retailers work with cash back programs like Rakuten, including Orbitz, Expedia, Hotels.com, Marriott, Hilton, VRBO, AVIS Car Rentals, and more.

Plan a varied travel itinerary.

Scott Keyes, founder of the cult-following travel hack website Scott's Cheap Flights, says the most reliable way to save $1,000 off your next trip is to take advantage of what he calls "The Greek Island Trick."   

Let's say you're planning a trip to Santorini. "But when you search for flights from your home airport to Santorini, they'll likely come back $1,500 or more," says Keyes. Instead of overpaying, he says an easy workaround is to keep an eye on flights from your home airport to nearby Athens, which regularly drop below $500 roundtrip from all over the U.S. "Once you're in Athens, a flight or ferry onward to Santorini costs just $50 or so," Keyes says. "By splitting up the trip from a single itinerary into two itineraries, you can save $1,000 or more on a big international trip, whether you're traveling to the Greek Islands or anywhere far-flung."

Choose a basecamp city.

Family travel expert Sierra Redmond says her biggest tip for shaving money off a trip is to choose a "basecamp city" to start your vacation.

"A basecamp city is a major city that has great flight deals or hub airlines and that is also easily accessible by car to other desirable destinations," Redmond says. "Examples of this are Las Vegas, giving easy access to Los Angeles, Utah National Parks, and Arizona's major cities, or New York City giving easy access to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., etc."

Redmond shares that cities like these generally not only offer cheaper airfare to and from, and great stand-alone attractions worth exploring, but also allow travelers easy access to travel outside of that via car, tour buses, trains, and more. "Not only could this option save many travelers $1,000 or more, it gives travelers more bang for their buck essentially," Redmond adds.

Dive deep into cruise specials.

If you're a cruise lover, and are ready to book a voyage, now is a great time to snag a deal on the high seas. Through March, the cruise industry holds its annual "Wave Season." 

"It's the cruise industry's equivalent to Black Friday, when cruise lines offer significant savings on future cruises en masse," says Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic. In addition to discounted fares, cruise lines often offer add-on bonuses like free beverage packages, specialty dining packages, and WiFi packages. "Without the discount, travelers would pay extra for each of those items on a cruise, on a per person basis," says McDaniel. "So for a family of four—or even a couple—you could score $1,000 or more in savings." And McDaniel reports some Wave Season deals are extending into April this year, so you might have a little extra time to score some savings. Just make sure you understand the health requirements of your cruise line as well as cancellation policies.