When to Spend, When to Save on Travel

By Kevin Gibbons

The overlying philosophy of Living a Savvy Life is to save on the things that are not as important to you so you can spend on the things that are more important to you.

As we start making plans for the fall and winter travel seasons, this philosophy bears some serious thought. For many of us, it is tempting to economize on certain areas of our travel so we have more money available for other areas. For example, many people will book the cheapest possible airfares so they have more funds to spend when they actually get to their destination, or look for the cheapest hotel so they can stay an extra day.

In travel, as in most things, there is some truth to the saying “you get what you pay for.” That “no frills, super-economy” airline ticket may be cheaper, but are you prepared for the sacrifices that will come with it? Concessions like no seat assignments, no carry-on privileges, even less leg room and no snacks or drinks may not be a big deal if you are flying 200 miles for a short trip. Dealing with any of those issues on a cross-country or trans-oceanic flight can be torture. Likewise, you have to consider what inconveniences you are willing to tolerate, versus what your traveling partner will object to. (If one of you is 5’4” and the other is 6’2”, you may have different opinions about restricted legroom). And traveling with children requires a whole other set of criteria.

An important part of the air travel equation, that we often overlook, is how much recovery time are you expecting once you arrive at your destination? If your first night will be spent in a hotel in the city you flew into, that is different than hitting the ground running. When my wife and I flew to Ireland for our motorcycle trip, I knew we would have a 300-mile ride to do after we landed, rode to the motorcycle rental place, and completed our orientation test drive. So, we sprung for the upgraded coach seats to have a little more room and be a little less fatigued on our arrival.

Likewise, understanding the functionality of your lodging is key when planning your trip. Often when I travel, the lodging really is just a place to sleep between the other activities. So, as long as the hotel is reasonably clean, safe and comfortable, that is all I need. I rarely eat at hotel restaurants when on vacation, preferring to find local, interesting options. And I never lounge by the pool! My sister, on the other hand, will enjoy activities at her travel destination, but spends much more time in her hotel. Therefore, she usually stays at nicer places than I would consider. Having said that, I never stay at the cheapest hotel that I find on a travel site. I and my friends have all had the experience of finding that one place that was unbelievably inexpensive until you went into the place and saw the stains, patched walls, heard the yelling and breaking glass from down the hall… It’s not worth saving $20/night if you’re worried about your health, personal safety or property.

As with so many other areas of personal spending, there are no hard and fast rules about how much to spend on the different aspects of your travel. It does come down to personal preference. What you can do to help make savvier decisions is to stop and think. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • How much money is this going to cost or save me when I figure in all the extra related costs (i.e. weigh the cheaper airline ticket against the baggage fees.)
  • What level of discomfort am I tolerating for the lower price, or what level of extra comfort am I getting for the higher price? For how long? (Extra legroom may be worth it for a 6 hour flight, but you may want to “suck it up” for a 45-minute flight. An upgraded rental car may be important if you will be driving 4 hours every day. If the car is going to sit in the hotel parking lot 80% of the time, maybe go with the smaller model or consider a taxi or ride-share instead.)
  • What effect do the different options have on my travel companions? (You may be fine sprinting through the airport to make connections, but your companion with the bad knee may have other ideas.)
  • What is the purpose of the trip? If you’re going for a spa weekend, then pay for the spa facilities. If you’re going to a convention, where all you will be doing in your hotel is sleeping for 4 hours before you jump back into the events, maybe look for a few less amenities.

For many of us, traveling is a vacation. It is supposed to be a time to relax, recharge, recreate. Pick and choose where you spend your travel money to get the most out of what you want that experience to be. And realize that priorities are different for everyone. Make the choices that reflect your traveling party.


Kevin Gibbons is a Cash Flow Planning Expert, the Vice President of The Savvy Life and co-author of the international bestseller Living The Savvy Life. For the past eight years, Kevin and Savvy Life Founder Melissa Tosetti have worked with over 545 individuals and families to create Spending Plans.

They also work with financial advisors and their clients doing cash flow planning as well as giving Savvy Living presentations via webinar and in-person to audiences across the U.S.

To learn more about how Kevin and Melissa work with clients, visit The Savvy Life’s Programs Page.

If you’d like to learn more about how they work with financial advisors and their clients visit: The Savvy Life Advisor’s Page