by

posted on April 4th, 2016

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there are people out there who make how much you make while still managing to travel to their heart’s content (without adding to their debt loads).

You might be wondering how anyone on a shoestring budget can afford weekly happy hours with friends, let alone to fly cross country in style.

I’ll show you how these people do what they do, so that you can make your own VIP travel plans a reality despite any limitations your paycheck may impose.

Dip your toes into travel hacking

Haven’t heard of travel hacking before? It’s a whole new world where the name of the game is getting your travel costs taken care of for free (plus some mandatory government fees).

You read that right: free.

While there are people much more qualified than I to shepherd you (Nomadic Matt and The Points Guy come to mind), I’ll scratch the surface of the possibilities of travel hacking.

The best way to get started is by opening a credit card with a killer travel offering, such as Southwest and Visa’s deal of earning 50,000 frequent flyer miles after $2,000 worth of purchases in the first three months of card ownership (plus a $99 annual fee). This is how my husband and I scored $800 worth of free airfare, and used it to travel to Michigan two years ago for a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration.

But many travel hackers don’t stop there. You could earn 110,000 frequent flyer miles through Southwest in one year, so you can earn the coveted free annual companion ticket (as in, you can invite anyone you want on each of your trips for a whole year… completely for free).

Bonus: Pair a great credit card offer with a card that offers some VIP travel perks. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard gives you access to the travel organizing app TripIt Pro, as well as a no-fee personal travel planner.

VIP Travel 1

Widen your search for amenities

If you’re only booking your travel needs — hotel, car, airfare — directly through the service provider, or even on aggregate sites, then you’re probably missing out on some great deals.

Here’s how to widen your search to find impressive savings on VIP travel choices:

  • Hotel: Want access to some of the best locations during your next stay (without paying the hefty convenience costs)? Instead of booking a traditional hotel, check out the stock of rooms and homes available to rent on Airbnb.
  • Car: Rent unique cars from nice people using the Turo app.
  • Flight: Aggregate websites like Expedia.com and Hotwire.com can be helpful when comparing prices across airlines. Take it one step further by searching Google.com/Flights for your next flight to find even better deals. If you have flexible dates and locations — a surefire way to get better flight deals — then follow people on Twitter who routinely tweets out flash sales, like @airfarewatchdog.

Get the airline to pay for your upgrades

Did you know that between April and June of 2015, 158,209 passengers were bumped from their flights? Airlines purposefully overbook flights because they can make money selling last-minute seats, banking on the fact that not all the passengers will show up for the seats they purchased. The downside, of course, is that there are overbooked flights.

But if you have some flexibility, you can benefit from this corporate tactic big time. Volunteer to be bumped and you could receive hundreds of dollars worth of vouchers that you can then use to book a new flight in the future, or upgrade to a first-class ticket!

And don’t worry; you’ll still be booked on the next available flight at no additional cost.

Bonus: Know your rights. If you’re involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight, there are fines that the airline must pay to compensate. Depending on the length of time your airline takes to get you on a new flight, you can get compensation for up to four times the price of your tickets (up to $1,300). And yes, you will still be booked onto a new flight.  

Think outside the conventional travel experience, get creative, and you’ll be on that trip you’ve been drooling over in no time.

Amanda L. Grossman is a stretcher of paychecks and a post-it note lover. When not blogging at Turo, she's transitioning to her new Mommy-role in Houston where she lives with her husband and two cats.