Money For Nothing

Ready to save big on your upcoming trip? This post explores creative tips like using warehouse club memberships and AAA discounts to lower travel costs.

Money For Nothing
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

When it comes to solo traveling, keep in mind that while you have the freedom and independence that comes with solo traveling, you will have to pay for all of it. You’re paying for the flight, transportation, accommodations, activities, all of it. This is not meant to scare you, if anything, it’s meant to prepare you. Budgeting and planning are big pieces in the solo traveling puzzle, and keeping your eyes open for deals is a large piece of the puzzle. Deals can come in all shapes and sizes, but for the most part, the best deals often come from the places you might be using for other services now. AAA is not just for roadside assistance; it can also help you plan your next road trip. Your Costco or Sams Club membership, typically used for bath tissue and large bags of Doritos can be used to book your next National Park excursion, and finally, that bank-issued credit card that you might use to pay for gas, groceries or those very same goods at Costco or that AAA membership, can also come in handy in saving you money when booking your next vacation.


AAA

AAA is famous for its roadside assistance services, but it also serves as an excellent discount platform. Even with the basic membership tier, you can enjoy various discounts and services, making it a valuable investment. Whether you utilize AAA as your travel agent or as a travel consultant, it offers convenient electronic options to cater to your needs.

  • TripCanvas: AAA’s platform to “dream and plan” vacation experiences. Members can research and book destinations, curated trips, vacations and tours, cruises, hotels, restaurants, things to do, road trips and campgrounds. Even as someone who tends to like to “go at it alone”, I was VERY intrigued by this! Curated trips can be a great option for individuals who are new to traveling alone and prefer to have everything arranged for them. Personally, I find road trips particularly enticing as they allow me to discover the beauty of National Parks. Moreover, it seems that this platform allows you to directly book unique experiences, which in itself is a reason worth visiting.
  • Digital Tourbooks: When I was a young boy, I can still recall those big and bulky "tourbooks" that AAA used to publish. But now, in this digital era of the 21st century, those classic tourbooks have transformed into digital versions. These tourbooks provide a comprehensive guide for each region of the United States. Have you ever dreamt of exploring the Northeast during the beautiful fall season to witness the stunning foliage? Or maybe you've always wanted to visit Washington D.C. and explore the incredible Smithsonian museums? These tourbooks are the actual books themselves, but in a convenient digital format. You can easily print out the sections that are relevant to your trip. They offer city overviews, information on attractions, scenic drives, nearby destinations, and even hotel recommendations. You can even book your hotel directly from the tourbook! Definitely worth bookmarking as part of your solo traveling arsenal.
  • TripTik: If you remember back a few weeks ago, I told you about using Google and Bing Maps as part of your solo traveling toolkit. Well, you should definitely add this as well! It seems like this is designed specifically for mobile devices, and it's no wonder why. It includes maps, directions, gas station finders, and interesting locations. This is perfect for people heading out on a road trip or going camping. Even if you're flying to your destination and thinking about a road trip, this is a fantastic tool to have.
  • AAA collaborates with multiple partners for cruises and vacation packages. I must say, I was truly amazed by their remarkable progress. If you haven't already, I highly recommend becoming a member to enjoy the incredible discounts they offer.
  • In addition, your AAA membership number can also be used to enjoy a 10% discount on hotel stays at Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt. Whether you choose to book directly through the hotels or through other platforms, this benefit is available to you, even if you decide not to utilize any of the other mentioned features.
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Wholesale Clubs

Are you a member of Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club, or Sams Club? Apart from the amazing savings you enjoy in-store and online with these companies, you can also avail yourself some fantastic travel discounts:

  • Costco: Costco members have the opportunity to utilize Costco's exclusive travel portal for booking vacation packages to various US and international destinations. These packages may include popular locations such as Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and guided trips by Trafalgar. Typically, packages consist of flight and hotel accommodations, with some also offering rental or transportation services, as well as theme park passes. In addition to vacation packages, members can also book hotels, flights, rental cars, and cruises through the portal. Whether you prefer to customize your own trip or take advantage of Costco Travel's expertise in creating curated experiences, the options are plentiful. Known for its exceptional service to members, Costco Travel provides assistance from dedicated staff members throughout the week. It is highly recommended to explore the available packages, as many of them offer exclusive credits not accessible to the general public.
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club: Members of BJ’s Wholesale Club can use their travel portal to book cruises, hotels, rental cars, flights and full vacation packages. There’s also a link to Viator to book things to do, with the discount code given at the top right of the page. It’s not clear if you have to be a member to take advantage of the discount code, but it’s worth a shot. Similar to the other warehouse clubs, there are price guarantees, gift cards, and substantial savings for booking with them directly. You can also sign up for travel discount emails delivered to your inbox (alongside my weekly newsletters!), and you can seek assistance throughout the week.
  • Sams Club: Not to be outdone, Walmart’s membership warehouse chain Sam’s Club also has a travel portal, and it promises up to 60% off hotels, and up to 25% off rentals for members. Although cruises and flights cannot be booked through the portal, there are plenty of other options available such as theme parks, attractions, zoos, shows, events, ski resorts, concerts, sporting events, and movie tickets. It could be beneficial to explore the variety of activities that can be booked, but it may be more suitable for planning road trips.
  • As with AAA, it all depends on how you intend to use it. I have heard excellent reviews from friends who have used these platforms, and have used for the entire trip or for just select portions. I was very intrigued with BJ’s Wholesale Club’s platform and it’s connection with Viator for discounted experiences.
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Credit Cards

Having a credit card not only makes you a member of an exclusive club, but it also comes with various benefits. One of these benefits is the ability to earn miles or points when you use your credit card. These points can be redeemed for a wide range of perks, including travel. If you have a Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Capitol One, or American Express card, you can earn and redeem points on their respective travel portals. This means you can use your points to book flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and even experiences or theme park tickets. What makes credit card travel portals unique is the option to offset your travel expenses by redeeming your points, which can significantly reduce the cost of your trip. Moreover, some credit card companies offer exclusive perks such as access to airport lounges and special events exclusively for cardholders. This not only simplifies the travel experience for solo travelers but also allows them to redeem their points simultaneously. The best part is that there are no blackout dates, giving you the flexibility to travel whenever you want.

However, it’s important to note there are quite a few downsides. Firstly, this benefit is exclusively accessible to cardholders who use specific bank-issued cards such as Chase Sapphire, Chase Freedom, Chase Ink, Citi ThankYou, Capitol One VentureX, and others. These cards allow users to accumulate cash-equivalent "points" through regular purchases, which can pose risks if not managed properly. Moreover, utilizing the credit card's travel portal is akin to using a third-party booking platform, resulting in the inability to earn points with major hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton when making reservations through these channels. What if your flight is cancelled or there’s an issue with the hotel? Kiplinger points out another aspect of booking through the credit card travel portal:

Using these travel portals is similar to booking hotel rooms and flights on travel websites like Expedia, Kayak or any other third-party booking site. If anything goes wrong during your trip — let’s say your airline cancels your flight or the hotel loses your confirmation — you would have to call your credit card company for help instead of dealing directly with the airline, hotel or rental car company.
If you need to change your flight plans and you redeemed points or miles for a flight, there’s no guarantee you’ll have those points or miles reissued; you’ll more than likely receive a voucher for future travel. However, if the airline cancels on you, you’re entitled to a refund to whatever account you used for payment, whether you booked with a credit card or with rewards.

You may notice that the prices for flights and accommodations tend to be elevated on these websites. The Points Guy advises that you may not be getting the best deal:

Credit card issuers have improved their travel portals over the years, but they're still far from perfect. While there isn't a clear winner for the best travel portal, each has unique features and incentives for its cardholders.
If you decide to book a flight through your issuer's travel portal, be sure to compare that price against booking directly with the airline to get the best deal possible. And don't forget that you may want to book directly anyway to avoid any headaches down the road. If you need to change or cancel your airfare, booking with a third party can complicate matters when plans change.

Credit cards offer a fantastic opportunity to accumulate points, although they do come with the limitation of being associated with a specific bank or brand. Personally, I prefer utilizing credit cards affiliated with airlines or hotels as it allows me to earn airline miles or hotel points with the brands I am already loyal to. This approach might also be beneficial for you. Nevertheless, it is crucial to choose the appropriate credit card and be mindful of the potential risks involved. These portals can serve as an excellent starting point, provided you proceed with caution.

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Key Takeaways

These examples serve as excellent platforms to secure discounts, but they also present a wonderful opportunity for you to venture into the world of solo travel. AAA is renowned for its roadside assistance services, having assisted drivers for over a century. However, they also offer an incredible travel platform that grants you the freedom and flexibility to plan your trip exactly the way you want. Costco, BJ's Wholesale Club, and Sam's Club are widely recognized for their bulk shopping options, catering to every household's needs. Yet, they also provide their members with the chance to book their next vacation or experience at significant savings, accompanied by exclusive perks. And let's not forget about the credit card companies you use to purchase various goods – they have their own travel platforms too. These platforms allow members to utilize the points earned from purchases to offset the cost of their next trip. Personally, I rely on AAA whenever I book directly with the hotel chains I usually stay at, and it consistently saves me a substantial amount of money. After researching for this article, I've come to realize the abundance of resources available for travelers of all kinds. Saving money is crucial for solo travelers, and these memberships might just be the key to achieving that.

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