25 Tips for Luxury Travel on a Budget

Affordable luxury travel is one of the cornerstones of flashpacking. And the good news is that you can achieve luxury travel on a budget, even as a solo traveller.

I’m not talking about ultra-luxury travel with its million-dollar villa rentals, helicopter transfers and private jets. This is about premium travel, valuing comfort over saving money, and buying into the concept that investing in good meals and comfortable accommodation enriches the travel experience.

Make 5-star travel a reality with my tried and tested tips and hacks.

woman in a hat looking across horizon from deck of cruise ship

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Affordable Luxury Travel Hacks in a Nutshell

In a hurry? Get the lowdown here with this summary of my top affordable luxury travel hacks. You can save it to your Pinterest page for later.

infographic listing the hacks for luxury travel on a budget

What is Luxury Travel?

Whichever way it is applied, luxury is the best of whatever it represents. 

Although luxury travel is associated with high-end accommodation and experiences and premium air and train travel, this is not the total sum of its parts. It is sometimes defined around the “Five Cs”: Culture, Cuisine, Community, Content and Customization.

Luxury Travel on a Budget: General Tips

1. Do your research

Research, research and yet more research; this is an essential step towards finding luxury travel on the cheap. From choosing your destination and planning an itinerary, to booking your flight and accommodation, you need to put in the legwork to get the best bang for your buck.

You can use a travel agent and sometimes that can work to your advantage. But, equally, you can save money by cutting out the middleman and doing this yourself.

And it’s sort of fun.

For inspiration and information, browse guidebooks and travel articles. I often look at itineraries offered by small group tour companies to give me an idea of what might be feasible.

2. Book ahead

Planning ahead can bring many advantages. If you are in a position to book early, the travel industry will reward you with discounts or other incentives.

This can be the case when booking a cruise plus you will get be able to pick the right cruise cabin for you. That said, there is also a chance of discounts closer to the departure date.

The price of flights tends to increase as you approach the date of departure.

By booking accommodation early, you get the pick of the exact place you want to stay, rather than settling for your second or third choice.

3. Or bag a last-minute travel deal

Conversely, another way to find luxury travel on a budget is to bag a great last-minute deal. This is a riskier strategy but is an option if you are not bothered about where you go and have some flexibility around dates.

Panoramic view of La Orotava which is one item on a tenerife itinerary
Tenerife is one destination you might be able to bag a last-minute deal

4. Consider using a travel agency

It is only in recent years that I have cottoned on to the advantages of booking luxury travel through a specialist agent. They can often offer special perks such as free breakfast, room upgrades, hotel credit and late checkout.

5. Sign up for a cashback site

I have friends who have clawed back hundreds of pounds by booking elements of their luxury holiday via a cashback website. The two most common sites are TopCashback and Quidco.

This is how it works. Once you have signed up for the site, simply use this as a portal to connect to the retail site of your choice. After the sale has been completed, a sum of money is yours.

6. Choose your credit card wisely

Savvy luxury travellers have at least one travel rewards credit card in their wallets. Airline credit cards allow you to earn frequent flier points as you spend, and you can also bag bonuses simply by signing up.

I have accumulated tens of thousands of Avios using my British Airways AMEX card at no extra cost. These points have paid for BA flights and upgrades on more than one occasion.

I now use this AMEX card for everyday spending to max out rewards.

Just make sure you repay what you have spent in full each month (the interest cost will dwarf any gain you get). Some of these cards are free; others incur an annual fee.

For the lowdown, take a look at this helpful review.

Choosing Your Destination

karnak temple
Egypt is one of the cheapest destinations

Your choice of destination is key to luxury travel without breaking the bank.

7. Travel where your money is worth more

I’m talking about the global economy here. If a country’s currency is plummeting, your money will be worth more.

Therefore, keep track of which currencies are performing well, and which are on the slide, before you travel.

For example; in the wake of the Brexit vote and a few political misadventures (ahem!), the UK pound took a hammering. To cut costs, British travellers could look towards South Africa, Turkey and Japan, which are among the countries where your pound goes furthest.

women dressed in kimonos praying at shrine at Kiyomizu-dera in kyoto japan
Japan is one of the countries where the British pound is worth more

8. Travel where your money goes further

But it’s not just the currency exchange rate that determines how cheap your holiday will be. Consider also the cost of living in your destination.

For example, the lower cost of living in AfricaMalaysia, Thailand and Poland will allow you to find affordable luxury travel, from deal-breaking five-star hotels to fine dining for a steal.

If you are thinking of travelling to Europe, your money will go further the further east you travel. Think Pristina instead of Paris, Ljubljana instead of London.

Be a smart traveller and try to choose a country where you can live a luxurious life for less.

9. Avoid more touristy destinations

men standing behind spice stall
Iran: One of the destinations where you can travel better for less

To stretch your travel budget, chuck the Cayman Islands for Cuba. If it’s lakes and mountains that you’re after, visit Slovenia’s Lake Bled instead of Switzerland’s Lake Geneva.

The more popular travel places are also the most expensive, so look instead for emerging or off-the-beaten-track destinations. In addition to lower hotel prices, the cost of living will also be lower, and they are less likely to be rammed with other travellers.

You can sometimes have a more authentic experience in a less touristy destination and the locals will be less jaded and more welcoming.

10. Travel out of season

Flexibility is one of the keys to successful luxury travel on a budget.

If possible, travel out of peak season. Not only will you save money, but you can also avoid the peak season crowds. If you have visited the Italian Lakes in the summer you will understand what I am saying!

The flip side of out-of-season travel is unpredictable weather and the closure of some restaurants and attractions.

Getting There & Getting Around

11. Find the cheapest flights

commercial aircraft flying high above clouds

Price is not the sole consideration when flying in a premium cabin.

Not all business-class flights are equal and you need to carefully consider if the on-board service, seat and catering, for example, are worth the premium. That said, price is an important consideration.

Skyscanner is my go-to platform to search for flights. I like to filter results by cabin class and compare the price of flights across an entire month. Skyscanner also supports multi-city options in searching for open-jaw flights.

I also use Google Flights to explore flight routings, schedules and fares. 

12. Take advantage of flight sales

Over the years, I have saved a packet on business class flights at sales times.

Many airlines hold these at the end of the summer holidays, around Black Friday and in January. It’s worth signing up for a few email lists to keep in the loop.

13. Join a frequent flyer program

Most airlines have loyalty programs that allow you to earn points that you can redeem for flights and upgrades. Every flier should sign up for at least one frequent flyer scheme.

Earning and using frequent flyer points is a bit of an art. To get up to speed, check out Turning Left for LessThe Points Guy or Head for Points.

It’s not that often you get something for nothing, so enrolling in a loyalty program is a no-brainer!

But don’t be a slave to these airline loyalty schemes.

I started to fall into the trap of a frequent flier program steering my travel plans. It’s very easy to choose a destination based on the accumulation of frequent flier points, and tier points, that determine your status in a loyalty program.

14. Buy a train pass 

exterior cover of an interrail pass which is one of train passes in europe

Of course, flying is not the only way to get from A to B.

I am a massive fan of train travel.

Not only is it a more eco-friendly way of transport, but it is also less stressful than boarding a plane and you are usually deposited slap-bang in the centre of town. And that’s without factoring in super scenic journeys such as the Glacier Express and Flam Railway.

The downside of train travel is that point-to-point tickets can be expensive, especially if you buy them at the last minute. This is where rail passes can save you a ton of money, notably using interrail or Eurail. You just need to do your homework.

Luxury Accommodation for Less

carved wooden hotel balcony looking over sea and island

I do like a nice bed for the night. Whilst it’s not a deal-breaker, really good or really bad accommodation can impact your travel experience.

Here are some useful tips to find better accommodation for less.

15. Mix and match your accommodation styles

Alternating luxury hotels with budget ones is a great way to save money (and to make swanky hotels affordable). Even if a budget hotel turns out to be a bit grim, I’ll put up with it if I know that I have a great hotel to look forward to at my next stop.

16. Consider booking directly with the hotel

When I want to stay at a particular hotel, I always start by checking online for the cheapest room rate.

There is more than one way of doing this, but in recent years I have tended to enter the hotel and dates into Google Hotels, which will generate prices from its partner sites. This gives me a feel for where hotels are clustered and the price bracket I am looking at.

I use Booking.com for 80% of my hotel bookings. Many of their competitive room rates allow free cancellation, which I prefer for flexibility, and their Genius scheme offers attractive discounts on selected properties.

However, I will always check if booking directly with the hotel is advantageous. They may have a better room rate or offer free upgrades or competitive packages.

Always ensure that the rates they quote include taxes and other charges.

17. Join a hotel loyalty scheme

Most chain hotels have loyalty schemes. Members of these schemes are often entitled to discounts or other perks, and you will also earn loyalty points that can be redeemed against future visits.

18. Think about staying in a new hotel

Whilst a new hotel is a bit of a punt and can suffer from teething problems, you may be able to snap up a great deal through their introductory ‘soft’ opening rates.

19. Stay in a boutique hotel

lobby of a hotel in tarragona spain
One of my favourite boutique hotels in Tarragona, Spain

I am a big fan of boutique hotels.

Although they have fewer amenities, I like the intimacy and service that often comes with their size. They often have more character, feel less corporate than a 5-star chain hotel, and can cost considerably less.

Ditto guesthouses and bed and breakfasts.

20. Rent an apartment

lounge in apartment with marble floors white furniture and grey futon covered by a red throw
My apartment in Orvieto, Italy

Apartments are usually more affordable than hotels and can be a good choice if you are in a destination for more than a few days. For example; I’ve had great experiences staying in apartments, from Tenerife to Normandy 

Airbnb is a well-known platform for booking apartments but traditional hotel booking sites, including Booking.com, also offer an increasing selection of rental properties.

21. Stay out of the centre of town

If you are not sleeping in the centre of town, you will usually get a room for considerably less.

Whilst this clearly has disadvantages, particularly in terms of safety for solo travellers, don’t rule it out. Just check that transport options are cheap and convenient.

Also, I have found that staying in more residential areas has helped me get a better feel for a place.

22. Go all-inclusive

I’ll level with you. I am a little uncomfortable with all-inclusive hotels.

There is a danger that you won’t absorb much of the local culture, and the local economy won’t benefit from the tourist dollar. However, they can offer good value and you can travel safely in the knowledge that most of your bills have been paid up-front.

Tips for Eating Out

chef holding pasta meal in a white bowl

23. Make lunch your main meal of the day

The next tip for finding affordable luxury travel is for the foodies out there.

If you have your heart set on a top-rank restaurant and your budget won’t stretch to dinner, consider dining there at lunchtime. Many restaurants offer a fixed-price lunch menu, which is many times cheaper than their dinner menu. Although the choice may be more limited, the quality should be the same.

Also, consider eating at the bar. Some restaurants have less expensive bar menus without sacrificing food quality.

24. Avoid tourist-oriented restaurants

Location matters also.

Unless they have been recommended by a local, I avoid restaurants in a city’s main square. Food tends to be overpriced and average at best.

A better experience is usually a few blocks away from the main tourist hub. Better still, head out to less-central neighbourhoods where locals dine and restaurants pay lower rents.

My Top Affordable Luxury Travel Tip …

25. Splurge in the right places

Finally, luxury travel on a budget is within your grasp if you know when to splash the cash.

Whilst I will always try to fly business-class long-haul, I cannot see the value in the cost of a business-class ticket for a two-hour flight. Use the price difference to upgrade your hotel room or experience when you arrive at your destination.

If a central part of your trip is relaxing on a beautiful island, a beach-facing room may be a wise investment.

But what if you are going to be dashing from one must-see sight to another on a city break and your hotel room is a place merely to lay your weary head at night? In that case, a premium hotel room is not usually such a wise investment.

In my view, splurging on once-in-a-lifetime experiences is always a good investment.

Whilst I baulked at paying over 90 USD to travel on the Gornergrat railway in Zermatt, seeing the mighty Matterhorn reflected in Riffelsee was an unforgettable experience.

More than one cause for reflection.

peak of the matterhorn reflected in riffelsee lake under clear blue sky
bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.