10 Simple Ways for Students to Save on Travel

Expert-approved tricks for traveling the globe on a small budget.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Simple Ways for Students to Save on Travel

Group of friends meeting in the city center.

Careful planning now can mean an epic group trip later. (Getty Images)

Summer vacation may still be months away, but as the weather heats up, college students' thoughts start to drift to dreamy destinations, near and far. And with favorable exchange rates, pleasant temperatures and plenty of time to globe-trot to diverse places, it's easy to see why many students are itching to skip town with friends or family on a thrilling adventure. Still, while hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or trekking across Europe might seem like a breeze with a large group to divvy up travel costs, planning an epic trip without spending a small fortune takes careful planning and expert advice. That's why we collected 10 expert-endorsed tactics for scaling back travel costs, helping you crisscross the globe on a shoestring budget.

Seek Out Student Discounts, and Stay Flexible in Your Flight Search

Before you lock in your flights, shop around and compare the prices available to students, advises Clem Bason, CEO of goSeek. Some trusted resources for student travelers include StudentUniverse (a branch of Flight Centre that offers reduced flight pricing for students between ages 18 and 25) and STA Travel (a student travel agency that offers discounted airfare).

Also make sure to check nonstop versus indirect routes to secure the best rates, advises Alex Matjanec, co-founder and CEO of MyBankTracker.com. And if you're flying with multiple passengers, compare the rates when buying tickets for one passenger and as a group, he says, emphasizing that "some airline pricing systems will price every ticket at the highest price even though one of the tickets will costs less when purchased separately."

"Low-cost carriers [WOW Air and Ryanair] are a great option, but make sure you are clear on what is or is not included in the base fare," says David Solomito, director of brand marketing at KAYAK. And if you have some wiggle room in your travel plans, you can also nab KAYAK Hacker Fares, or tickets that allow you to combine one-way trips on one airline and a return ticket on another carrier to maximize savings, he adds.

Pay Attention to Extra Fees

As anyone who's ever brought overweight luggage onto a budget carrier – and been hit with a steep, unexpected additional fee – can attest, hidden extras easily sneak up on you. "The size and weight restrictions for free carry-on and checked baggage may be extremely strict, unless you pay up,"Matjanec explains. For example, on Ryanair, if your bag does not meet the carry-on baggage weight restriction when you check in at the airport, you could be required to pay up to 75 pounds (about $105 USD), depending on the season. "Traveling light will minimize these fees," Matjanec adds, pointing to other often-overlooked yet expensive additional costs, known as ancillary fees for extras, such as printing a boarding pass and in-flight beverages and snacks.

"Each provider is different, so read your flight details carefully," Solomito says, pointing out that while some airlines offer complimentary snacks and in-flight entertainment, others tack on steep charges for these amenities, so the key is knowing what is – or isn't – included.

Explore All Lodging Options

While luxury hotels tend to be out of reach for student jet-setters on a budget, there are a variety of other accommodation options to consider, from hostels to home-sharing services such as Couchsurfing and Airbnb, Bason says. Couchsurfing, which allows travelers to search for stays with vetted local hosts across the globe, offers "a great community and little or no cost," he adds. Thanks to the company's safe messaging system, verified payment platform and online help center, you can enjoy a home away from home (albeit, a stranger's home), and mitigate your chances of putting yourself in a potentially unsafe situation. And Airbnb allows you to "rent a room or house for less just about anywhere in the world," Bason says.

Alternatively, hostels can offer a great bargain for students, he says, noting that while you might be bunking in a room shared by many other guests, you likely won't be spending much time in your accommodations anyway. He recommends scanning for lodging options on Hostelworld.com, the largest online search engine for hostels, featuring thousands of properties across more than 170 countries.

Dig for Hotel Steals on Reputable Deal-Focused Sites

If your heart is set at staying at hotels, Bason recommends consulting "deep-discount 'opaque' sites like Hotwire and Priceline." And if those don't fit the bill, he suggests browsing discount-focused travel-booking sites like goSeek.com, which combs the Web for all relevant discounts and mobile-only promotions, allowing consumers to save up to 20 percent on their hotel booking.

Scan for Promo Codes and Packages

"There are a lot of great promo codes that can be used across websites," says Justine McDonald, a travel expert at CheapTickets.com. For example, on CheapTickets, students can scope out the top deals and apply the "CLOVER20" promo code to receive 20 percent off special hotel deals for bookings made by March 20 for travel through Sept. 30, 2016, she explains. Beyond applying the code, she recommends scanning deal pages across travel-booking sites regularly and staying loose in your search to identify deals in outside-the-box locations.

And when it comes to trimming airfare costs, McDonald urges students to check out package deals, noting that it can be a great way to score overall savings on your trip rather than booking each component separately.

Dodge Pricey Underage Driver Rental Fees

If you're under 25, the daily underage fees rental car agencies impose can be exorbitant, Bason says, noting that young drivers often pay an additional $15 to $40 daily. To trim rental costs, he recommends checking out discounts available from Hertz, which is featuring a promotion through the end of March that allows renters ages 20 to 24 to rent for $9.99 daily. Another easy way to save is by joining the United States Automobile Association, Bason says. By enrolling, you'll have access to exclusive discounts on car rentals. Plus, USAA does not impose extra fees for drivers ages 21 to 25 with car rental partners, including Budget, Enterprise, Avis and Hertz.

Factor in Transportation

"One of the biggest mistakes that student travelers make is to not account for the less-obvious uses of transportation, such as the trip between airports, bus stations, lodging locations and attractions," Matjanec says. To trim transportation costs, map out the most economical routes from point A to B before your trip, and plan accordingly, he says. Depending on your desired destination, it can be cheaper to stay farther from the city and pay to the take the bus or train. In other cases, renting a bike can help you substantially trim down costs, he adds. And if you're not inclined to take in the city from behind the handlebars, "there's always good old-fashioned walking," McDonald says, which is not only the most affordable choice, but also an easy way to immerse yourself in an unfamiliar destination.

Book Ahead

"Plan everything and plan early," Matjanec says. Doing so allows you to compare pricing and secure the best rates on lodging, airfare and attraction, he adds, noting that travelers "often get better prices when booking airfare two to six months before the trip." McDonald also advises that students book tickets to attractions online well in advance, not only to keep their budget in check, but also to ensure availability.

Consider Redeeming Rewards

If you're toying with the idea of registering for a travel rewards credit card (and you have an established credit line and steady flow of income), signing up can be a smart and easy way to travel cheaply, Matjanec says. "A travel rewards credit card with a lucrative sign-up bonus will yield hundreds of dollars worth of free travel," he says. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers a 50,000-point bonus for spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening an account. And the Citi ThankYou Premier card offers a 40,000-point bonus for spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of creating an account.

Look Beyond Popular Vacation Spots

"Go where the deals are," McDonald says. "Look for cities and neighborhoods just outside the most popular spots," she explains, pointing to places like Brooklyn, New York, which offers convenient and affordable transportation options and nightly hotel rates starting at just $169 – a fraction of the cost at high-end Manhattan properties. And Bason suggests students consider setting their sights on Latin America. "You can fly to any of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador or Nicaragua from LAX for $250 to $500 round trip in April," he adds.

Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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