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7 Ways to Instantly Upgrade Your Vacation (Without Paying a Fortune)

Score complimentary VIP hotel perks, a dream car and more with these easy tips and tricks.

U.S. News & World Report

7 Ways to Instantly Upgrade Your Vacation (Without Paying a Fortune)

A woman cheers on the trunk of a convertible on the beach.

Think beyond well-appointed hotel rooms and spring for these surprisingly inexpensive perks and experiences for a more gratifying getaway.(Getty Images)

Want to plan a vacation with a certain je ne sais quoi? With a little creativity, it's easy to transform an ordinary trip into a special, dreamy getaway of a lifetime. Use these pointers to turn up your vacation, and keep you – and your wallet – happy.

Drive a Fancy Car

Who says you can't splurge for a luxury car on your vacation? One of the quickest and easiest ways to make your trip feel like a dream getaway is to opt for a high-end rental car. Programs like Audi on Demand in San Francisco allow you to drive your dream car without jumping through multiple hoops. You can pick for versatile models, including the luxury R8 Spyder or the Audi SUV Q7, which comes with coveted amenities such as ski racks, car seats and more, right from your smartphone. The car is hand-delivered in as little as two hours’ notice. Plus, there's no need to fill up the tank at a hard-to-find San Francisco gas station before you return the vehicle. Standard rental car companies like Hertz also have luxury options, including their Dream Cars collection of vehicles, with choices such as a Porsche 911, a Mercedes, a Tesla and a Jaguar.

Treat Yourself to a Massage

While massages at high-end spas can leave a dent in your wallet, they add an air of relaxation to any getaway, and help you unwind and recharge. And happily there are plenty of cost-effective treatments available to cash-strapped spagoers. At the Spa by JW at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in Marco Island, Florida, guests can opt for an impromptu massage in a state-of-the-art chair for 12 minutes, for just $25. To get yourself into vacation mode, sit down in the plush heated chair and don a headset to transport yourself through mountain wildflowers or a soothing seascape as you de-stress.

Go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride

For an unforgettable experience, consider tacking a hot air balloon ride onto your trip. There is nothing like watching the balloon be inflated and heated, and enjoying spectacular scenery from high above to get a fresh perspective. Popular destinations for hot air ballooning include Albuquerque, New Mexico, Napa Valley, California, Telluride, Colorado, France's Loire Valley and Turkey's Cappadocia, among other locations. In Napa Valley, for example, on some days on a hot air balloon ride, you can see as far as San Francisco, followed by a full breakfast, including mimosas, for around $240 per person with outfitter Napa Valley Baloons, Inc.

Take Your Accommodations to the Next Level

To feel like you’re in the lap of luxury, elevate your accommodations. Choosing to stay in a turn-of-the-century historic hotel such as Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, the Palace in San Francisco or even Hotel Boulderado in Boulder, Colorado, can add an extra dose of charm and romance of your stay. At the Palace in San Francisco, you can partake in a signature tea tradition in the atrium, where thousands of others have done so since the 1900s. Tea is served with fine china and silver together with tea sandwiches and homemade scones for about $70 per person.

Opting for a vacation rental instead of a hotel room can be another way to enhance your vacation. Selecting homes, villas and apartments through vacation rental companies like can result in additional space, including full kitchens, separate bedrooms and laundry facilities – often for less than the price of a hotel room. Such rentals also allow you to experience a destination as a local rather than a tourist.

Upgrade to a Suite

Hotel staff may be willing to upgrade you to a suite – if you ask and it’s available. It helps if you let them know that it’s a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary. Calling or emailing ahead of time is ideal, but it also hurts to ask the hotel staff upon arrival. Several hotel loyalty programs will also let members upgrade to a better room or suite. The InterContinental Hotels Group's IHG Rewards Club enables Platinum and Spire members to receive room upgrades as a status perk. Similarly, Hilton Honors members using the Points and Money slider can now use points or a combination of points and money to book a premium room or suite that offers more space or a great view.

Splurge for a Package Deal

Many hotels and resorts offer enticing package promotions that not only provide a bargain, but also extra freebies and experiences. The Hotel Telluride, set in Colorado's San Juan Mountains, offers a Mountain & Morels package, which includes a private hunt for mushrooms with the hotel’s general manager, along with private transfer to and from the hotel and a private three-course gourmet dinner with your harvested mushrooms. Pricing for the three-night package is approximately $560 per night for two people. Meanwhile, at La Playa Carmel in California, the Romance Package includes sparkling wine in flutes in your room upon arrival, and a fireside cocktail on the hotel’s Pacific Terrace with ocean views. The hotel can also add a gourmet beach picnic for your stay packed in a basket and ready for you to take to the shore for a seaside nosh.

Sail Away on a Dinner Cruise

Many cities offer dinner cruises, affording a unique way to view a destination by water and elevate your escape with skyline views, sea breezes and a gourmet meal. Sail around the Statue of Liberty and see New York City by sea on a Spirit of New York dinner cruise or enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge from below as you float beneath on a Hornblower San Francisco dinner cruise. And if you're heading to the Windy City, check out Navy Pier, the John Hancock Building and more must-see attractions on a Lake Michigan cruise with Spirit Cruises.

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About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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