It’s no secret to those who know us that M and I have taken some great trips since we got married three and a half years ago. From our honeymoon in October 2014 (a Caribbean cruise that we chose because it allowed us to visit six different islands in seven days) to our most recent overseas jaunt to Prague and Budapest last fall, we’ve crossed off nine countries over the course of five trips together.
We have managed to do this while holding full-time jobs, paying rent on an apartment, saving for retirement, spending time with friends and family, and putting money aside bit by bit for a house of our own.
So, with all of those other demands on our time and resources, how have we been able to finance our adventures?
Affording and budgeting for travel is a topic we will cover from a number of different angles here on Full Life, Full Passport, but today I want to start the conversation by sharing one of my travel secrets.
I guess I shouldn’t call it a secret, really, since I can’t seem to shut up about it whenever people ask how M and I are able to go on the trips we’ve taken. But I’ve already titled this post, so… here we are.
Read on for my worst-kept secret for budget travel success!
Today, I’m going to tell you about TravelZoo.
TravelZoo is my favorite travel deal site in the whole world and has been the catalyst for two of our favorite trips over the last three years. They share deals from over 2,000 travel and entertainment companies across the globe, all of which have been verified by TravelZoo employees to confirm their validity and value. I really like that extra step because it eliminates a lot of your risk compared to other bargain websites that may be less thorough or reputable.
The offerings on TravelZoo vary widely and include hotel stays, escorted tours, flights, vacation packages, tickets to live theater shows, and more. Personally, I have purchased everything from a weeklong vacation to tickets to the national tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder to discounted Shutterfly book credits. You never know what’s going to cross your inbox!
My favorite TravelZoo feature is their weekly Top 20. Every Wednesday around noon EST, a beautiful email arrives in my inbox with the twenty best travel deals of the week. Some of these prices are unbelievable; at the time of writing, the Top 20 included a four-night getaway to Rome for $499 (flights included), a ten-night Celebrity cruise of the Caribbean for $779, and 55% off an ocean view room at a Marriott hotel in Cancun.
If you look for me around noon on Wednesdays, you will most likely find me poring over my Top 20 email, daydreaming about my next vacation, and probably emailing one or more of the deals to M with the subject line, “Thoughts? :D”
All you need to do to start having these incredible deals delivered to your inbox is visit the TravelZoo website and sign up using the big “JOIN FOR FREE” banner right at the top of the page. Adding your zip code helps the site customize the offerings you receive to your geographic region, and you can also choose what sort of email communications you’d prefer. I currently am signed up to get everything, which includes the Top 20 list, Newsflash™ alerts, Local Deals™, and Promotions / Sweepstakes. Despite being all in, I don’t remember ever receiving more than one, maybe two, emails per day.
As wonderful as TravelZoo is, and as easy as it can be to get swept up in the amazing prices, there are some points to be aware of before purchasing anything. First, vendors are often able to advertise severely discounted prices for travel during the off- or shoulder season, so many of the best bargains might have you visiting Europe in winter or the Caribbean when the hurricane risk is heightened. This is not necessarily a bad thing – I love shoulder season travel – but make sure to double check your dates.
Second, deals that include flights are often offered from specific airports; for example, the listing might entice you with a $599 trip to Punta Cana, but that price might only apply if you fly out of Baltimore, Omaha, or San Francisco. Often, there are discounts on the same trip from other airports, but the savings might not be quite as robust. TravelZoo does seem to do well in customizing the alerts you receive to your geographic region, but it is always smart to double check whether the advertised price applies to an airport that is convenient for you.
Third, as with any bargain website you will need to be able to make a fairly quick decision, as offers can sell out rapidly depending on the quality of the deal. Particularly with anything you find on the Top 20, don’t delay in committing because your dates or the promotion itself may be gone within a few days. M and I have usually been able to take a day or so to do our research, but we did have one instance where an extremely inexpensive trip to Prague sold out in the five hours between when I first alerted M to the sale and when we got home from work and hopped online to book. You will want to be intelligently aggressive.
With all that said, it’s always wise to be discerning and do your research before committing, regardless of what deal website you’re using. Be sure to use my handy 9 Questions to Ask Before Booking a Travel Deal to help you with that process!
Our TravelZoo Success Stories
As I mentioned, M and I have used TravelZoo to book multiple vacations and other fun activities over the past couple of years. As a result of our consistently positive experiences, we remain entirely open to pouncing on any new opportunities that come our way. Here are two of our success stories:
Our first foray into travel deal booking came in the form of a three-night trip to Iceland. The land of fire and ice had been high atop my bucket list for a number of years by that point, so when my Top 20 email arrived one Wednesday afternoon in January and included a great price for an Iceland vacation, we acted quickly. The April deal from Icelandair included roundtrip, nonstop flights into Reykjavik, three nights in a four-star hotel, and a Golden Circle tour on our first full day in-country. We upgraded the hotel from a location near the airport (about forty minutes from Reykjavik) to stay right on the marina downtown, and we also added bus transfers from and back to the airport. Altogether, our cost was right around $1,500.
Once we saw that number, we couldn’t not go. (I distinctly remember asking M how we could say no to a long weekend in Iceland when we could easily spend the same amount or more for three nights in New York City.) I had followed TravelZoo for a few years by that point, and we were also encouraged by the fact that we would be booking directly through Icelandair rather than the deal website itself. It was worth taking a leap of faith to be able to visit Iceland, and we figured that if it ended up being a bust we would have at least been able to see a little bit of the country. We also could consider it a lesson learned and never book through TravelZoo again.
But guys… everything went so smoothly. Our red-eye flight on Icelandair was as comfortable as an overnight flight can be, we landed early in the morning and had all the benefits of almost a full day in-country, the included Golden Circle tour was excellent, and our hotel was clean, comfortable, and in a great location. We left Iceland not only having loved our trip but also patting ourselves on the back for having scored such a great bargain.
(Check out my post on Three Action-Packed Days in Iceland for the full scoop on our time in that incredible country!)
For some personal reasons, the destination for our big 2017 trip was up in the air for a long while and we knew we were going to be booking with a bit of a quick turnaround. Eventually, M and I decided that we would base our vacation on what offerings came along through TravelZoo.
I kept an eye on the Top 20 and their regular deal alert emails for a couple of months before finding a promotion through TripMasters for three nights each in Paris and Prague. Of course, M immediately got a “Thoughts? :D” email.
TripMasters specializes in multi-city vacations, and as we looked into the offer, we saw that other cities were being discounted as well. We found a great price to swap Budapest for Paris (sorry, Paris – we have other plans for you!) and jumped on it. Our trip included flights into Prague and out of Budapest from Philadelphia, with layovers in New York and a bonus layover in Amsterdam on the way home. We also received three nights at the Hotel Sunrise in Prague and three at the Hotel Orion Varkert in Budapest (the latter was an inexpensive upgrade from the featured accommodations), plus the six-hour train ride between the two cities.
Total cost? Less than $1,000 per person.
Before committing, we checked what it would cost to fly into Prague and out of Budapest if we had been booking on our own and it was between $800-$900 per ticket. We definitely got a great deal.
Although the layover situation was less than ideal with two stops on the way home, both of our hotels were very nice and conveniently located to the things we wanted to do. (The breakfast at Hotel Sunrise, in particular, was delicious!) Despite it being such a quick trip, we were able to see and do a lot in both cities and even took an impromptu day trip out into the Czech countryside.
TripMasters made everything so easy, from delivering very comprehensive information up front to arranging great seats on our train ride to providing an app with additional resources for use on the trip. And we never would have found their great prices without TravelZoo!
So there it is – one of my secrets to incredible travel on a limited budget! M and I have had nothing but good experiences booking travel and entertainment through TravelZoo, and I encourage you to give it a try! You can either keep an eye out for a place you’ve been looking to visit or throw caution to the winds and jump on a random Top 20 deal! Either way, I hope you have a great time!(Note: This post was neither sponsored nor endorsed by TravelZoo, Icelandair, or TripMasters, but it may contains affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission from your purchase at no additional cost to you. You can find the full disclosure here.)
Where do you find the best travel deals online?
Do you have any travel deal success stories to share?
This guide to finding great travel deals was first posted on April 9, 2018, and last updated on April 10, 2020.
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