Skip to main content

Hey all! I’m a writer here at The Penny Hoarder and want to take a few minutes to talk about traveling on a budget.

Whether it’s been out of necessity or simply my frugal sensibilities, I’ve always looked for the most affordable way to get from point A to point B, even if it came at the expense of my comfort. My thought being: I’d rather have a little extra in my pocket to spend on food and experiences.

This all stemmed from my previous life as a New Yorker. Living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, cutting costs wherever possible was a way of life. Still, I was constantly on the go, regularly visiting family in New Hampshire and friends in Philadelphia. Without a car at my disposal, I relied heavily on public transportation. Not planes. Not trains. I became a frequent bus traveler.

The buses I took never left from Port Authority. (Remember, I am frugal.) No, I always hopped on the subway to Chinatown and picked up a ticket from one of the über-affordable (if precarious) options available there. It was always a chaotic, disorganized mess. But the tickets were open-ended, and a round-trip to Philly only set me back $20. Boston cost $30.

Fast forward to this summer: Now a Florida resident, I’ve twice flown on one of those no-frills, super budget airlines. You know the type. Entry-level tickets get you booked, but every single amenity, including a cup of water, costs you. (I wouldn’t be surprised if one day they start charging to use the restroom.) I do this to myself largely because of the cost and the frequency I plan to be making this particular trip. Round-trips to Maine have only been setting me back roughly $150. But there is also a convenience factor since this is the only airline that flies direct between the two cities I’m traveling between.

However, having twice now experienced hours-long delays (the latest being just shy of five hours), I find myself wondering: At what point do I draw the line? Is saving a little bit of money worth the time I continually lose flying with a consistently unreliable airline? Am I better off booking through one of my preferred airlines, even if it costs a little more and I have to deal with a stopover? (At least I’d be mentally prepared for the travel time going into it.)

It’s something to consider moving forward. As much as I love pinching my pennies, my time also has value. When it comes to travel, something that is ultimately a luxury anyway, it’s not such a cut-and-dry problem.

So, I’m curious. What is your approach to cutting costs when you travel? Are you all about budget transportation? Or would you prefer to dial back experiences at your destination?

Last edited by Will Simons
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

I have also tried budget airlines, but I *always* am sure to book the first flight if I can -- they are more likely to run on time and have fewer delays (though that's not always the case). I've learned to pack efficiently (a backpack, no checked bags -- although that's easier in warmer weather than in colder weather).

I try to find a balance. I'm a mom and have done most of my cross country travel with kiddos. In my case, much of my decision in terms of expenses revolves around them. I prefer to keep the actual travel costs to the destination slim so we can splurge with family and friends when we arrive. BUT for us, that pretty much means driving however many hours to our destination because I put a $$ value on the sanity I lose trying to occupy kiddos for hours long delays if we were to travel any other way.

@Sushil That's a really great point! Early morning flights — even on those budget airlines — are the safest bets for avoiding delays, and I'm all about the carry-on life to save money and avoid the circus at baggage claim.

@Gabby It's all about finding that balance and figuring out what works best for you, isn't it? Traveling with kids — as I recently learned flying with my 3-year-old niece — can change everything. At that point, it's a delicate dance between remaining cost-conscious and choosing a path that, as you said, keeps you sane. And I'm with you: I'm all about that destination splurge!

"So, I’m curious. What is your approach to cutting costs when you travel? Are you all about budget transportation? Or would you prefer to dial back experiences at your destination?"

It really depends on how many points I have at the time. But for the most part, I wouldn't ever fly Spirit or anything like that because those airlines are known to have hours upon hours of delay. I'd fly cheap with Southwest for example because I don't feel the experience there differs much from United. There are a few things to consider for me when saving vs. comfort for travel:

1. How many points do I have? If I have a ton of points, I can have a business / first class flight internationally, stay in high-end hotels, *and* not have to pay much (generally just pay the sales tax).

2. If I don't have a ton of points, can I do a hybrid approach where I pay half my trip with cash, and the other half with points? If so, I probably will just fly economy and use those points + existing points to book nice hotels. Then, I'd book whatever days are left in my travel days with cash. And depending how much expensive the hotels are, and how many points I have left after spending it on hotels, I'd stay anywhere between 3-5 star hotels.

3. If I don't want to use any points at all, I'd generally spend to get the minimum amount of comfort that's acceptable to me + save time. For example, Southwest is not only more comfortable than Spirit on average, but would save time on average. Paying for TSA Pre at $20/yr will save many hours/yr on average. The way I view it is if I have to spend a lot of time waiting in line or waiting for delayed/cancelled flight, that's costing me way more than the plane ticket to begin with so it isn't worth it, both from an intangible / comfort perspective and also from a financial one.

So in general, unless I really don't want to use points, I'm just going to splurge on travel because I don't travel often. Much rather be frugal the rest of the time instead.


Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.