Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t like a bit of luxury on their travels now and then?
I know that I do. And the good news is that if you put in the time, effort and thought, you can find luxury travel on a budget, even as a solo traveller.
Affordable luxury travel is one of the cornerstones of flashpacking.
But let me be clear: I’m not talking about million-dollar villa rentals, helicopter transfers and private jets. This is all about valuing comfort over saving money, buying into the concept that investing in good meals and comfortable accommodation enriches the travel experience.
Think boutique and affordable luxury hotels instead of dormitories. More comfortable and convenient flights, and taxi transfers instead of complicated and time-consuming bus journeys.
With planning and a few tricks up your sleeve, affordable luxury travel for less is well within your reach. To help you to find luxury travel on a budget, I’ll share some of my tips and tricks, as well as links to other resources to help start you on your way.
But if you’d like to dive straight into articles on affordable luxury travel, simply click one of the categories or on the button at the end of the article.
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How to Find Affordable Luxury Travel for Less
Do your research
Research, research and yet more research; this is key to finding luxury travel on a budget.
From choosing your destination and planning an itinerary, to booking your flight and accommodation, you need to put in the legwork to secure the best bang for your buck. Of course, you can use a travel agent but you can save a LOT of 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. Taking a look at the itineraries offered by tour companies will give you an idea of what might be feasible.
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, the UK pound has taken a hammering in the last few years, hitting a low against both the US dollar and Euro. To make the travel pound go further in 2021, British travellers could look towards Turkey, South Africa Indonesia and New Zealand, all destinations with a favourable currency exchange rate for UK travellers.
Travel where your money goes further
But it’s not just the currency exchange rate that will determine how cheap your holiday will be. Consider also the cost of living in your destination.
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 luxury life for less.
Avoid more touristy destinations
The more popular travel places to visit 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 fellow travellers.
You can sometimes have a more authentic experience in a less touristy destination and the locals will be less jaded and more welcoming.
Travel out of season
If you have the flexibility to do so, 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.
Find the cheapest flights
I’ll start with a caveat around business-class flights. Price is not the sole consideration when flying in a premium cabin.
Not all business-class products are created 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.
Here are some useful tips on how to find cheap business class flights.
USE SKYSCANNER OR GOOGLE FLIGHTS
Skyscanner is my go-to platform to search for flights. I like having the ability to filter results by cabin class and to compare the price of flights across an entire month. Skyscanner also supports multi-city options in searching for open-jaw flights.
LEARN THE TRICKS FOR EARNING AND SPENDING FREQUENT FLYER POINTS …
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 less – one of my favourite resources which also has the greatest tagline, “Champagne travel on a Prosecco budget” – The Points Guy, One Mile at a Time or Head for Points.
… BUT DON’T BE A SLAVE TO LOYALTY PROGRAMS
It’s not that often you get something for nothing, so enrolling in a loyalty program is a no-brainer!
However, I started to fall into the trap of a loyalty scheme determining my travel plans, which should never happen. It’s very easy to choose a destination based on the accumulation of frequent flier points, and of tier points that determine your status in a loyalty program.
Buy a train pass
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.
Find luxury accommodation on a budget
I do like a nice bed for the night. Although 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
MIX AND MATCH YOUR ACCOMMODATION STYLES
Alternating luxury hotels with budget ones is a great way to save money (and to make those 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 my next stop.
FIND THE CHEAPEST ROOM RATE
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 in TripAdvisor, which will then generate prices from its partner sites.
CONSIDER BOOKING DIRECTLY WITH THE HOTEL
I use Booking.com for 75% 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 have offers on free upgrades or competitive packages. Ensure that the rates they quote are inclusive of taxes and other charges.
If the hotel is part of a large chain (e.g. Starwood, Shangri La, Accor, Marriott) check their 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.
CONSIDER STAYING IN A NEW HOTEL
Whilst a new hotel is a bit of an unknown and can suffer from teething problems, you may be able to snap up a great deal through their introductory ‘soft’ opening rates.
STAY AT A BOUTIQUE HOTEL
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, feeling less corporate than a 5-star chain hotel, and can cost considerably less.
CONSIDER RENTING AN APARTMENT
Apartments are usually more affordable than hotels and can be a good choice if you are staying in a destination for more than a few days. I’ve had great experiences staying in apartments in Tenerife and Normandy for example
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 this has disadvantages, particularly in terms of safety for solo travellers, it is worth considering if transport options are cheap and convenient. Also, staying in more residential areas may also give you a better feel for a place.
I’ll level with you. I am a little uncomfortable about all-inclusive hotels.
There is a danger that you won’t absorb much of the local culture, and that the local economy doesn’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.
Find fine dining on a budget
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.
Location matters too. You’ll often get a better value meal when you dine in less-central neighbourhoods in which establishments pay lower rents.
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 is particularly true when booking a cruise.
The price of flights tends to increase as you approach the date of departure. What’s more, by booking early you’ll get first pickings of the exact place you want to stay, rather than settling for your second or third choice.
… Or bag a last-minute travel deal
That said, another way to achieve 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 where you go and have some flexibility around dates.
Splurge in the right places
Finally, the key to affordable luxury travel is knowing 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 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.