Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t like a bit of luxury on their travels now and then? I know that I do. And the good news is that if you put in the time, effort and thought, you can find luxury travel on a budget, even as a solo traveller.
Affordable luxury travel is one of the cornerstones of flashpacking. Let’s be clear here. I’m not talking about million-dollar villa rentals, helicopter transfers and private jets. After all, I’m a flashpacker, not a poshpacker! This is all about valuing comfort over saving money, buying into the concept that investing in good meals and comfortable accommodation enriches the travel experience. Think boutique and affordable luxury hotels instead of dormitories, more comfortable and convenient flights, and taxi transfers over complicated and time-consuming bus journeys.
With planning and few tricks up your sleeve, a flashpacking travel experience is well within your reach. Below are some of my tips and tricks to set you on your way to achieving luxury travel on a budget.
Within these tips for luxury travel on a budget, there are links to further reading to help you on your way. However, if you would like to jump straight to blog posts on affordable luxury travel scroll to the end of this page or use the navigation menu above.
1. Travel out of season
If you have the flexibility to do so, travel out of peak season. Not only will you save money, but you can also avoid the peak season crowds. Any of you who have visited the Italian Lakes in the summer will understand what I am saying! The flip side of out of season travel is unpredictable weather and the closure of some restaurants and attractions.
2. Avoid expensive destinations
Chuck the Cayman Islands for Cuba; forsake Italy for Iran. The more popular travel places to visit are also the most expensive, so look instead for emerging or off-the-beaten-track destinations. In addition to lower hotel prices, the cost of living will also be lower, and they are less likely to be rammed with fellow travellers.
Also, consider the cost of living in that country. For example, if you are thinking of travelling to Europe, your money will go further the further east you travel. You want a country where your currency buys a lot. Think Prague instead of Paris, Ljubljana instead of London.
3. Finding luxury accommodation on a budget
I do like a nice bed for the night. Although not a deal-breaker, really good or really bad accommodation can impact on your travel experience.
MIX AND MATCH YOUR ACCOMMODATION STYLES
Alternating luxury hotels with budget ones is a great way to save money (and to make those swanky hotels affordable). Even if a budget hotel turns out to be a bit grim, I’ll put up with it if I know that I have a great hotel to look forward to my next stop.
FIND THE CHEAPEST ROOM RATE
When I want to stay at a particular hotel, I always start by checking online for the cheapest room rate. There is more than one way of doing this, but in recent years I have tended to enter the hotel and dates in TripAdvisor, which will then generate prices from its partner sites.
CONSIDER BOOKING DIRECTLY WITH THE HOTEL
I use Booking.com for 75% of my hotel bookings. Many of their competitive room rates allow free cancellation, which I prefer for flexibility, and their Genius scheme offers attractive discounts on selected properties.
However, I will always investigate if booking directly with the hotel is advantageous. They may have a better room rate or have offers on free upgrades or competitive packages. Ensure that the rates they quote are inclusive of taxes and other charges.
If the hotel is part of a large chain (e.g. Starwood, Shangri La, Accor, Marriott) check their loyalty schemes. Members of these schemes are often entitled to discounts or other perks, and you will also earn loyalty points that can be redeemed against future visits.
CONSIDER STAYING IN A NEW HOTEL
Whilst a new hotel is a bit of an unknown and can suffer from teething problems, you may be able to snap up a great deal through their introductory ‘soft’ opening rates.
STAY AT A BOUTIQUE HOTEL
I am a big fan of boutique hotels. Although they have fewer amenities, I like the intimacy and service that often comes with their size. They often have more character and feel less corporate than a 5-star chain hotel and can cost considerably less.
CONSIDER RENTING AN APARTMENT
Apartments are usually more affordable than hotels and can be a good choice if you are staying in a destination for more than a few days. Airbnb is well-known for booking apartments but traditional hotel booking sites, including Booking-com, also offer an increasing selection of rental properties.
STAY OUT OF THE CENTRE
If you are not sleeping in the centre of town, you will usually get a room for considerably less. Whilst this clearly this has disadvantages, particularly to the solo traveller, it is worth considering if transport options are cheap and convenient. Also, staying in more residential areas may also give you a better feel for a place.
I am a little uncomfortable about all-inclusive hotels. There is a danger that you won’t absorb much of the local culture, and that the local economy doesn’t benefit from the tourist dollar. However, they can offer good value and you can travel safe in the knowledge that most of your bills have been paid up-front.
4. Book ahead …
Planning ahead can bring many advantages. If you are in a position to book early, the travel industry will reward you with discounts or other incentives. This is particularly true when booking a cruise.
The price of flights tends to increase as you approach the date of departure. What’s more, by booking early you’ll get first pickings of the exact place you want to stay, rather than settling for your second or third choice.
5 … Or bag a last-minute travel deal
That being said, another way to save money is to bag a great last-minute deal. This is a riskier strategy but is an option if you are not bothered where you go and have some flexibility around dates.
There are many websites catering to this market, including Hotel Tonight, Secret Escapes and Travelzoo.
6. Find the cheapest flights
USE GOOGLE FLIGHTS
LEARN THE TRICKS FOR EARNING AND SPENDING FREQUENT FLYER POINTS
Most airlines have loyalty programs that allow you to earn points that you can redeem for flights and upgrades. Every flier should sign up for at least one frequent flyer scheme. It’s not that often you get something for nothing, so it’s a no-brainer!
Earning and using frequent flyer points is a bit of an art. To get up to speed check out Turning left for less – one of my favourite resources which also has the greatest tagline, “Champagne travel on a Prosecco budget” – The Points Guy, One Mile at a Time or Head for Points.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR AIRLINE SALES
Airline sales can save you a considerable sum of money, especially in business class. For example, British Airways usually has a sale Dec / Jan and if you are a bit savvy you can save £££s on a premium flight.
Sign up to the airline’s mailing list, or subscribe to one of the blogs mentioned above.
7. Splurge in the right places
Finally, the key to flashpacking is knowing when to splash the cash. Whilst I will always fly business-class long-haul, I cannot see the value in the cost of a business class ticket for a two-hour flight. Use the price difference to upgrade your hotel room or experience when you arrive at your destination.
If a central part of your trip is relaxing on a beautiful island, a beach-facing room may be a wise investment. But what if you are going to be dashing from one sight to another on a city break and your hotel room is a place merely to lay your weary head at night? In that case, a premium hotel room is not usually such a wise investment.
Splurging on once-in-a-lifetime experiences is always a good investment. Whilst I baulked at paying over 90 USD to travel on the Gornergrat railway in Zermatt, seeing the mighty Matterhorn reflected in Riffelsee was an unforgettable experience. More than one cause for reflection.