Tag Archives: saving money while traveling

NYT Travel Show: Budget Travel Guru Matt Kepnes Offers Easy Ways to Save Big Money When You Travel

Free sightseeing with a local and cheap eats: Athens with a Native, a free program through MyAthens, matches visitors with a volunteer who takes you on a walking tour. My guide, Constantine E. Cavoulacos introduces and the owner/chef of Panagiotis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I first Eurailed across Europe when I was in college, I was among the minions clutching Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on $5 a Day.” A new budget travel guru, Matt Kepnes, has come on the scene with a tome for today, “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day (Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter)”.

Kepnes shared his strategies for traveling on a shoestring at the 2017 New York Times Travel Show, in his talk, “12 Easy Ways to Save Big Money When You Travel” to a standing room/sitting wherever you could find floorspace audience, in which he shared tips on how to bank smart, save on flights, book quality budget accommodations, eat for cheap, and save on transportations and attractions.

Budget travel guru Matt Kepnes offers easy ways to save when you travel to a packed audience at the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are Kepnes’ key strategies:

Use  Your Money Wisely:

Avoid ATM fees

Buy in the local currency

Never exchange money in airports (Travelex is bad)

Never use travelers checks

Never use random ATMS

His recommendations: CapitalOne, Fidelty, CharlesSchwab (open an account and get a card), Global ATM Alliance

Collecting points or miles to fly free is an art that lately has stymied even travel experts. There is even a term for it, Kepnes says: Travel Hack is the art of collecting points/miles that can be used for free flights and hotel rooms (see nomadicmatt.us/HackTravel)

Kepnes offered these strategies, beginning with the notion that you can get 50,000-100,000 points as a bonus just for signing up. He says he recently took a flight from Germany to Austria for just $7 out of pocket.

Get a Travel Credit Card

Get a card that gives something back, even if you only travel once a year

That offers consumer protection

That avoids foreign transaction fees

Use everyday spending to amass points or miles

Pay your taxes to the government on a credit card (to accumulate points).

Get a new card and pay your taxes on it

His favorites: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink, American Express SPG, Barclaycard

Find Cheap Flights

Be flexible with date/time/destination

Fly budget airlines: WOW, Norwegian Airlines (Ny-Oslo-Bangkok for $400)


Ignore the “myths” (such as the best day of the week to book is a Tuesday)

Search in other currencies (choose a weak currency, like New Zealand and search in that currency; often, prices cater to a local market)

Search as one person

If you are a student or educator, you can take advantage of discounted travel at such sites as. STATravel for students and teachers; ISIC  (he says he traveled Athens to Bangkok for $350).

Best sites to find flight deals:

HolidayPirates – great for Europe

The FlightDeal – out of US

SecretFlying-flights anywhere

Cheap Flight resources:


Kayak (Don’t book through kayak, he says, just use for reference and get a second opinion)

Momondo (search websites around the world)

SkyScanner (search websites around the world)

Stay Cheaply

Stay in Hostels:

Hostels are budget friendly

Made for socializing and meeting people

Have a kitchen to cook your own food

Usually offer the option of a private room and private bath

Centrally located

Knowledgeable staff (know what’s going on, where to go)

Great source: Hostelworld

Green Tortoise hostel in San Francisco: Staying in a hostel isn’t just inexpensive, but provides for social interaction, let’s you save on eating out by cooking your own meals. Green Tortoise also organizes dine-arounds and tours © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hostels have really upped their game, Kepnes says. They are nicer, typically offer WiFi, rooms are cleaned daily, offer breakfast, and even organized tours

Hostels offer a social aspect even if you are staying in a private room (because there are communal facilities and the people who stay tend to be outgoing)

“Cheapos stay in hostels so the staff are experts about cheap restaurants, what to do for free or inexpensively.”

Sharing Economy

Bypass the traditional travel industry

Gives access to locals using their own assets and skills to become small tourism companies with cheaper prices.

Locals know where to find

Share Accommodations:


A Camp in My Garden (which directs you to places where you can pitch a tent in someone’s backyard)

Where to stay with locals (for free) – these sites do vetting and offer reviews:

Be Welcome


The HospitalityClub


Kepnes notes that these kinds of shared accommodations are not just for youthful backpackers; a lot of families take advantage as well, and see it as an opportunity to expose their kids to other cultures.

Eat Cheap:

Eat cheap, skip fancy meals, don’t eat out every meal; cook your own meals; take your own water bottle.

Avoid eating near tourist areas (he has a five-block rule)

“Don’t ask ‘Where should I eat?’ (because you are a tourist). Ask ‘Where did you eat?’ That’s how you find the local, cool restaurants.

Use apps to find local hotspots, like FourSquare, OpenRice, Yelp

Dining out in Gjirokaster, Albania, where the dollar goes far © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sharing Food Economy:


CoLunching (feed your network)


Get Around Cheaply:

Use public transportation

Ask hostel staff for timetables and cheap transportation options

Avoid taxis

Get a train pass (ie. Eurail, or in-country pass)



Best tour in San Francisco is, of course, the cable car: just $7 to ride. And definitely visit the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, admission is free © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ride Sharing sources include:








Kepnes says he hopped a ride from Geneva to Zurich with a father who was driving his son back to school, which cost him $10)

“You save money and meet people in a way you wouldn’t if you just booked transportation.”

Seeing Things/doing Things

City Tourism Cards, which you can find through tourism offices and/or online, often provide admissions or discounts to multiple museums and attractions, city tours, public transportation, restaurants, shopping.

You typically purchase these by the number of days, (1, 3, 5, 7)

CitizenCards: Some places have passes only for country, county or city residents, like London restaurants for UK residents, Kepnes suggests you can get around this by using your AirBnB address.

Find Free or Inexpensive Activities

Ask tourist offices (and go online) and hostel staff

Time Out

The Local (Europe)

Take free walking tours (New Europe; Free Tours By Foot)

Google It! (Use as terms “free things to do in…”; “free activities in….”; “cheap events in…”, “what do locals do for fun in NYC?”)

NYC: Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the world, let’s you pay a donation, rather than admission fee and there are free tours led by docents © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tour with Locals

Connect with local guides (for example, Athens tourism bureau matches you up with a volunteer guide, myAthens.org; Big Apple Greeters through the NYC visitor bureau connects travelers with a local tour guide)

These tend to be small, intimate groups and offer quirky experiences like

Hidden Treasures of Paris

Florence: Bike the Local Backroads

A Photojournalist’s NYC

Melbourne’s Street Art

San Francisco: Urban Night Hiking

Istanbul: Learn to Bargain

Sources: ShowAround, Rent-a-Guide, Vayable

Where to Meet Locals:

Online communities



Lonely Planet’s forums

Couchsurfing (host travelers; stay with locals; grab coffee with travelers/locals; travel events)

Sources: Couchsurfing, TravelMassive, Meetup

Matt Kepnes (nomadicmatt.com) is the author of “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day” (Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter), nomadicmatt.us/amz50nm; Instagram.com/nomadicmatt; Facebook.com/nomadicmatt; Pinterest.com/nomadicmatt; Twitter: @nomadicmatt

The New York Times Travel Show, which just marked its 14th year, is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, featuring the Travel Industry Conference, Consumer Seminars, and an interactive Exhibition including more than 500 exhibitors from Africa, Asia, Australia/South Pacific, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Mexico and the United States.  In addition to discounts and special offers, the show provided educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals, couples and seniors. Seminars focused on home exchange and rentals; festivals and markets as a window into the soul of a place; wellness travel, family travel, global travel tips for women, LGBT travel, traveling solo, senior travel, cruising, planning the perfect African Safari, Italy, Japan, Cuba; ethical travel; choosing a travel agent, travel photography, travel writing; Expecting the Unexpected-Planning ahead for When Disaster Strikes (nyttravelshow.com)

See also:

NYT Travel Show: Greenberg Tells Intrepid Travelers to Exploit ‘Brave New World of Travel’

Pauline Frommer at NYT Travel Show: How to Get Best Value for Your Travel Dollar in 2017


© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures


CardHub Lists Best Credit Cards, Tips for Travel

CardHub is offering tips to get more bang for your buck when you travel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
CardHub is offering tips to get more bang for your buck when you travel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

American households are reaping a boon from lower energy costs in recent months, with dramatically reduced prices at the pump expected to save the typical family roughly $750 over the course of 2015 and airfare finally starting to reflect reduced jet fuel costs, according to CardHub. That’s freeing up cash to spend on travel.

But there are more ways to save money while traveling. Another important financial tailwind – historically valuable credit card rewards – have actually grown even more lucrative in the past year, according to CardHub’s latest Credit Card Landscape Report, with sign-up bonuses worth up to $625 and various other perks available to people who have above-average credit standing.

In the interest of helping folks take full advantage of plastic this winter travel season, CardHub compared more than 1,000 credit card offers (some of which originate from CardHub advertising partners) in order to identify the most rewarding travel deals. You can find our best in class selections below, followed by CardHub’s money-saving travel tips.

Best Initial Bonus 

Citi ThankYou® Premier CardApply Now 269 reviews

Spending $3,000 during the first 3 months you have this card will score you 50,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for a $625 statement credit applicable to travel-related charges that post to your account. On an ongoing basis, this card provides 3 points per $1 spent on travel and gas, 2 points per $1 on dining and entertainment, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Its $95 annual fee doesn’t kick in until the second year either.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardApply Now 2,319 reviews

Spending at least $4,000 during the first three months your account is open will trigger a 40,000-point rewards bonus, which can be redeemed for $500 in travel accommodations booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Program or a $400 statement credit.

This card does not charge an annual fee during the first year ($95 thereafter) and does not assess foreign transaction fees for purchases processed abroad. For more information, check out ourfull review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.


Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ Credit Card 2,365 reviews

Perhaps the best rewards credit card on the market, Arrival Plus offers a 40,000-mile rewards bonus – redeemable for $400 in travel expenses – in return for spending $3,000 during the first three months your account is open. You’ll also earn the miles-equivalent of 2% cash back on all other purchases and receive a 5% rebate on miles redeemed for travel.

This card does not charge a foreign transaction fee and its $89 annual fee is waived for the first year. Check out our Barclaycard Arrival Plus Review to learn more.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardApply Now 1,451 reviews

Spending $3,000 in the first 3 months will get you 40,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for a $400 statement credit attributable to any travel-related expenses. The ongoing reward rate is 2 miles per $1 spent, with no limits or expiration dates. This card charges a $59 annual fee, beginning in the second year and does not assess foreign transaction fees for purchases processed abroad.

For a more in-depth look at this offer, check out CardHub editor’s review of the Capital One Venture Card.

Airline Rewards 

Frontier Airlines Credit Card 137 reviews

Spending $500 or more with this card during the first 90 days that you have it will get you 40,000 bonus miles, which can be redeemed for 2 round-trip domestic flights.

You’ll also earn 2 miles per $1 spent on FlyFrontier.com and 1 mile/$1 on all other purchases. There is a $69 annual fee.

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Credit Card 212 reviews

In addition to a $200 initial bonus for spending at least $2,500 during the first three months, this card provides you with 5 points per $1 spent on all airfare and 1 point per $1 on everything else.

It does not have an annual fee, but you might have to pay a one-time $15 to join an eligible association, if you don’t initially meet PenFed’s eligibility requirements.

Hotel Rewards

Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® CardApply Now 56 reviews

You may not have heard of Club Carlson, but it represents a number well-known hotel brands such as Radisson, Park Plaza, and Country Inn & Suites. This eponymous card Club offers 50,000 bonus points with your first purchase and an additional 35,000 points for spending at least $2,500 within 90 days.

You can redeem your 85,000 total bonus points for up to 9 free hotel nights and your 40,000 annual bonus points for up to 4 more nights, depending on the category of hotel you select. There is a $75 annual fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee.

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit CardApply Now 149 reviews

You’ll get 60,000 bonus points in return for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months you have the IHG Credit Card. That bounty is redeemable for up to 12 free nights, as IHG offers rewards nights for as low as 5,000 points through its PointBreaks program.

IHG card users also receive one additional free night each year on their account anniversary and an annual 10% point rebate (up to 100,000), in addition to 5 points per $1 spent at IHG hotel chains, 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point/$1 on everything else.

This card does not have a first-year annual fee ($49 thereafter) and does not charge a foreign transaction fee. Hotels operating under the IHG umbrella include the Holiday Inn family of hotels and Crowne Plaza.

More details about this offer can be found in our IHG Credit Card Review. You can also learn more IHG Rewards Club in general by checking out our IHG Rewards Program Review.

Hilton HHonors® Surpass℠ Credit Card 145 reviews

Charging $3,000 to this card over the first three months you have it will trigger a 60,000-point initial bonus – redeemable for up to 12 free hotel nights, depending on how your hotel of choice is classified. Unfortunately, this offer comes with a $75 annual fee as well as a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, making it best suited to domestic travel.

You can learn more about Surpass and how it compares to Hilton’s other rewards cards in our in-depth HHonors card comparison. Additional details about Hilton’s rewards program more generally can be found in our full HHonors Program review.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American ExpressApply Now 279 reviews

You’ll earn a 25,000 points bonus after if you can manage to charge $3,000 to this card in the first 3 months your account is open. This bounty will score you 8 free hotel nights, depending on your hotel choice. The card has no annual fee in the first year, but will charge $95 after.

Road Trip Rewards 

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card 933 reviews

This Pentagon Federal Credit Union offering provides 5 points per $1 spent on gas (at any station, as long as you fill up at the pump), 3 points per $1 spent on supermarket purchases, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Signing up for the card will get you a $100 bonus for spending $1,500 in the first 90 days the account is opened. The Platinum Rewards Card doesn’t have an annual fee and no fee for foreign transactions, but you might have to pay a one-time $15 fee to join an eligible association, if you don’t initially meet PenFed’s eligibility requirements.

Blue Cash Preferred® from American ExpressApply Now 1,017 reviews

This Amex offers 6% cash back on groceries (up to $6,000 per year), 3% on gas and department store purchases and 1% on everything else – making it a great card for everyday spending as well as road trips.

While this card does charge a $75 annual fee and a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, you also get a $150 initial rewards bonus for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months.

Finance Travel By Reducing The Cost Of Existing Debt 

Chase Slate®Apply Now 1,571 reviews

If you have existing credit card debt (or you will after your impending winter vacation), transferring what you owe to the Slate Card could save you more than $1,000 in finance charges and help you reach debt freedom way earlier than you would otherwise. Just make sure to use our Balance Transfer Calculator to determine how much you’ll need to pay each month in order to be debt free by the time Slate’s 15-month 0% intro term gives way to high regular rates.

What really sets Slate apart from the balance transfer pack, however, is its lack of fees. More specifically, Slate charges neither an annual fee nor a balance transfer fee – which itself will save you hundreds. New applicants will also benefit from Slate’s new credit score tracking feature.

Get the full scoop on Slate from CardHub’s comprehensive review.

Finance Travel With 0% On New Purchases 

Citi® Diamond Preferred® CardApply Now 646 reviews

This card offers the longest 0% purchase APR on the market, at 21 months. So, if you won’t be able to pay off the cost of your coming trip in a single month, this is a great option to consider. All you have to do is use our calculator to see what monthly payments you’ll have to make in order to be balance-free by the time regular rates take effect.

It’s also important to note that this card probably isn’t your best bet when it comes to balance transfers, despite its near two-year interest-free term. That’s because it charges a 3% balance transfer fee. For the average consumer, who owes roughly $7,350, that fee alone would amount to $220.

Money-Saving Winter Travel Tips

Picking the right credit card can go a long way to saving you a bundle of money on a winter getaway. But there’s even more to vacation credit card use than applying for one of the offers listed above. There are certainly more ways to save as well. Here are some tips:

General Advice

  1. Use Plastic Whenever Possible:Credit cards provide a lot of value through initial rewards bonuses and 0% financing deals, but they also offer $0 fraud liability guarantees, the lowest possible currency conversion rates, and complementary rental car insurance coverage. It’s therefore a good idea to use plastic for the majority of your travel expenses.
  2. Choose Your Credit Card Wisely:Consumers who are interested in a new credit card mainly for quick rewards score should obviously concentrate on initial bonus offers, while people who prize the simplicity of having the same card in their wallet for a long time will want to check out those with ongoing rewards. Folks worried about incurring finance charges will find that a 0% offer has the potential to save them far more than even a great rewards card.
  3. Think Outside the Box:The most obvious vacation destinations and types of accommodations are naturally going to be the most popular and therefore the hardest to book on a budget. As a result, you may want to consider taking a mid-week flight, going to a small town, renting a house rather than booking rooms in an expensive hotel (especially if you’re traveling with a big group), and leveraging free resources like public transportation and destinations known for natural beauty.
  4. Mix Business with Pleasure:If you can find a way to squeeze in a few meetings around your trip, certain aspects of it may be tax deductible. While your travel must technically be “for business” and only your own business-related expenses are deductible, you’re allowed to tack a few recreational days onto either end of a business trip and you can certainly brainstorm ways to include your family under the business umbrella even if they aren’t employees (e.g. piling everyone into a rental car that would ordinarily be just for you).
  5. Comparison Shop:Comparing the prices of different air carriers, hotel chains, and vacation packages will enable you to identify best possible deals. You might even be able to score a more attractive price than what’s listed online by telling the sales representative that you’ll book immediately if they can beat a specific competitor’s offer.
  6. Maximize Your Credit Score:All of the Best Travel Credit Cards for 2015 require above-average credit for approval and therefore clearly illustrate the value of the best possible credit score. So, if your credit standing needs some work, make sure to have an open credit card that’s in good standing (look into opening a secured credit card if not), pay your monthly bill on time without fail, and you’ll see positive information flow into your credit reports on a monthly basis. This will either devalue negative information already in there or fill out a currently thin file.
  7. Tell Card Issuers You’re Leaving:Credit and debit card companies may suspend your account if a bunch of transactions suddenly originate from outside your normal spending area. You can prevent the resulting hassle by simply telling your issuer where and when you’ll be traveling. This is especially important if you’re headed out of the country, but it could come into play for long domestic trips as well.

International Travelers

  1. Take Advantage of the Dollar’s Strength:While weaker than both the Euro and the British Pound, the U.S. Dollar currently has a considerable advantage over the Swiss Franc, the Australian Dollar and the Japanese Yen. Selectively choosing your vacation destination is thus a distinct money-saving proposition.
  2. Use Your Credit Card for Currency Conversion:Visa and MasterCard offer exchange rates that are 3.66% lower than those offered by the average major bank and 6.90% lower than what Travelex charges, according to CardHub’s Currency Exchange Study.
  3. Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees:Around 90% of credit cards charge a premium to process transactions outside of the United States. You don’t have to be physically abroad to incur such a surcharge – which is known as a foreign transaction fee and can range from 2-4%, depending on the card. Rather, they apply whenever you make a purchase through a foreign-based merchant. As long as you have a no foreign transaction fee credit card, you won’t have to worry about these pesky fees.
  4. Take a Low-Fee Debit Card:You won’t be able to use a credit card for everything when abroad, so the best approach is to take a Visa or MasterCard debit card that has low fees for international ATM withdrawals so you can take out cash as needed and benefit from low card network exchange rates.
  5. No Need To Favor Chip Cards Yet:The international community is moving increasingly toward a chip-based credit card infrastructure complete with automated machines at places like train kiosks and parking garages that may not accept U.S. magnetic stripe cards. You might take that as a reason to get one of the chip-based cards now being marketed to U.S. consumers, but most of them are chip-and-signature cards while automated machines only accept chip-and-PIN (you can read more about the differencehere). Most international merchants still accept magnetic stripe cards anyway.
  6. Pay in the Native Currency:This doesn’t apply to domestic travelers, but those of you traveling abroad should make sure to only sign receipts expressed in the local currency. Foreign merchants sometimes offer to convert prices into U.S. dollars in order to charge a high conversion rate and line their pockets.


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