I'm not very good at doing things in moderation and travel is no exception.  Shortly after my boyfriend and I started planning a short holiday to Hawaii, our travel plans soon evolved to include stopovers in Los Angeles, Boston, Connecticut, San Francisco and Hawaii.  Although I was seriously excited about the prospect of such a big trip, I was a bit sceptical about whether we could afford it.  Through some fervent web searching, I discovered that my ambitious travel plans were within reach.

Having now returned from what was an incredible trip, I wanted to share the tips and tricks I picked up along the way to find cheap airfares, bargain hotel alternatives and to save on everything else along the way.  So here they are:

1. Use an airfare/hotel aggregator to find the best fares
Examples include: Kayak and Momondo

Aggregators take the grunt work out of sourcing quotes for airfares and hotels by trawling travel agency, airline and hotel websites for you. All you have to do is input your preferred itinerary and the aggregator will present all the options to you.  You can then sort and filter the results by price, airline, stopovers, and cabin.

Case in point:

I conducted an arbitrary itinerary search through Expedia, Kayak and Momondo. Having said that in March, 2014, I wanted to fly from Sydney to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Boston, New York to San Francisco and San Francisco to Honolulu and spend a few days in each place, the cheapest prices quoted by each company were:


Price per Person


Best Value












2. Purchase flights, accommodation, insurance and a range of other travel products and services through a "cash back" website

Examples are Start Here in Australia and Ebates in the US.

Once you've identified the cheapest deal, consider purchasing your flights, accommodation and other travel products and services via a cash back website.  These websites refer customers to other companies and split the commission they receive for the referral with you.

Case in point:

I purchased our hotel accommodation in Hawaii from Expedia through Start Here and received a refund of 3.5% of the purchase price.  Before doing so, I conducted a search via Kayak to find the cheapest option.  While the company offering the best deal wasn't listed on Start Here and the cash back I would receive didn't come close to what I would save if I purchased the least expensive option directly, I was feeling greedy and wanted the cheapest option and some cash back.  See tip 3 to see how I made it happen!

Cash Back Website




Cash Back %

Cash Back $

Start Here






3. Take advantage of price match guarantees

Like many other companies, Expedia offers a price match guarantee.  That is, if you find a better rate for the same product or service with the same inclusions (fees and taxes etc.) being sold in the same currency, they will refund you the difference.  So, after purchasing my hotel accommodation from Expedia through Start Here (and receiving my commission), I contacted Expedia to claim the difference in price.  I had to argue my case and provide evidence in the form of a screenshot in the course of my 30 minute phone call, but for my efforts, received a $90 refund from Expedia as well as my cash back of $87.06 from Start Here.

4. Consider hotel alternatives, such as vacation rentals.  

Examples include Airbnb, Home Away and VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner)

In Los Angeles, Boston and New York, we stayed in apartments advertised on Airbnb.  All were of a good to excellent standard and we knew what to expect courtesy of the reviews of each property on the Airbnb website.

All listings detail the amenities of each home.  Look for accommodation that includes a decent kitchen, laundry facilities and parking to save even more.  We managed to score an apartment in NYC in a luxury building equipped with a gym for only $130 a night!

5. Before you go, buy a pre-paid SIM card to avoid hefty global roaming charges while you're away
T-mobile offers pay as you go accounts for as little as $2 a day, including data.

6. Buy food and alcohol offsite and stock your own mini bar in hotels
Food and beverage costs at hotels are often exorbitant.  A fairly standard breakfast (two meals and two lattes) at our hotel in Honolulu would have set us back a hefty $60, including tip.  Since we wanted to enjoy some nice dinners out, we decided to buy breakfast and lunch makings for our room.  Even though our room didn't come equipped with kitchen facilities, we did have the mini bar and were able to enjoy decent breakfasts and lunches.

We also stocked the mini bar with our own beer and wine purchased off site.

7. Walk, take public transport or use shuttles as alternatives to taxis

Although we caught the occasional cab for ease, we mostly walked, took public transport or used shuttles.  Not only did we save bucket loads of cash, but we also had some memorable experiences (turns out some interesting characters catch the A train in NYC!)!

Case in point

In NYC, a cab fare to the airport would have cost us about $52 before tip.  We took the subway and paid only $5 each for the trip and it took us under an hour.

8. Ask locals for tips on where to go, what to do and where to eat

Although I've been to NY many times before, I wanted to see some of the sites.  I was really surprised to learn how expensive they are.  Visiting the Main and Top Decks of the Empire State Building will set up back $44 per person.  In addition to the prohibitive cost, tourist attractions are often touristy and crowded.

We met up with an old friend of mine and his partner for breakfast on our last day and having not made it to any of the attractions yet, asked what we should prioritize.  His girlfriend suggested a visit to Central Park followed by a drink in the Bar at the Mandarin Oriental for spectacular views.  Both were free to access and really memorable.

9. Lap up the luxury experience by occasionally splurging on a coffee, wine or meal at a high-end hotel

I love hotels and luxury hotels to boot.  Unfortunately, I can't afford to stay at five-star hotels very often, but I still want to lap up the experience.  To that end, we splurged on the occasional coffee, wine or dinner at some super-high end hotels, like the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills and The Kahala Hotel in Hawaii.