Planning to hit the open highway with friends or family this spring or summer? Dreaming of two weeks in Europe this fall? When you finally return home, your head and heart will be full of memories — but your wallet will likely be running on empty.
Vacation costs can add up quickly. A four-day trip in the U.S. costs an average of $581, according to ValuePenguin. Meanwhile, a 12-day international jaunt costs a whopping average of $3,251.
Any way to trim those costs is likely welcome. So, we’ve rounded up eight of the best ways to save on travel costs in 2017.
Free checked bags on airlines
Free checked baggage used to be the norm on most airlines. While those days are long gone, one carrier is keeping the tradition alive.
Fly on Southwest Airlines, and the first two checked bags are free. Skis and golf bags also travel gratis.
You will pay on other airlines, but many carriers offer exceptions that allow you to check baggage at no cost. For example, American Airlines allows free checked bags for travelers who hold certain AA-branded credit cards.
Many airlines also offer complimentary checked baggage to people who fly in business class, who are traveling internationally or who meet other criteria.
Free Wi-Fi on airlines and at airports
It used to be that many people wondered how they’d get through a two-hour flight without a cigarette. The modern version of that malady is trying to get endure a couple of hours without internet access.
Fly JetBlue, though, and you won’t have to worry. The airline now offers free Wi-Fi — dubbed “Fly-Fi” — on all of its aircraft.
Many airports also offer complimentary Wi-Fi service, although not all services are created equal. Internet testing and metrics company Speedtest by Ookla looked at the 20 busiest American airports and found that Denver, Philadelphia and Seattle offer the fastest wireless connection speeds.
The tortoises? Atlanta, Orlando and San Francisco.
Free hotel services
Hotel chains clamoring for your business often try to dangle the carrot of a freebie or two. From complimentary chocolate chip cookies at DoubleTree to no-cost Netflix and other internet TV at Marriott, keeping track of all the perks can be daunting.
Thankfully, Priceline.com has made the task a little easier. The travel-deal site has lists of available freebies in categories such as:
- Free breakfast
- Free internet
- Free parking
- Free nights
- Hotel extras
Free U.S. national parks
The U.S. network of national parks is an American treasure. And if you choose the right days throughout the year, you can visit these crown jewels of the National Park Service for free in 2017.
Admission is free to all 400 national parks on the following days:
- April 15-16 and 22-23: Weekends of National Park Week
- Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday
- Sept. 30: National Public Lands Day
- Nov. 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend
Helpful hint: Use these days to visit one of the 124 parks that normally charge an entrance fee. The other parks are free year-round.
Free Canada national parks
Our neighbors to the north are also offering quite a deal this year. A 2017 Discovery Pass will give you unlimited access to Canada’s national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites.
If your idea of great travel includes arts and culture — and you are a Bank of America customer — you can get a great freebie on the first weekend of every month. More than 150 museums and cultural institutions participate in BOA’s “Museums on Us” program. As we wrote in January:
Museums on Us is open to anyone with a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card. Just present your card and photo ID at any participating institution during the first full weekend of each month to get free admission.
To find out more — and for a list of dates — check out “24 Days When You Can Visit 150 Museums for Free.”
If you can plan your museum visit for one specific day — Saturday, Sept. 23, to be exact — participate in Smithsonian Magazine’s “Museum Day Live!” and you’ll get free general admission for two to museums and cultural institutions across the country. Keep an eye out for details about this event later this year.
Free travel apps
The right smartphone app can save you money when you travel. A few of our free favorites include:
- GasBuddy : If you’re planning a road trip, this app lets you type in a ZIP code and find a list of gas stations offering the lowest prices. Get it for iPhone or Android.
- Oanda Currency Converter : How many dollars in a euro, or a pound? With this free currency converter, you’ll never have to wonder again. It converts for 180 currencies and four precious metals. Get it for iPhone or Android.
- Google Translate : Communicate with all the smooth grace of a native by using this app, which allows you to type in a phrase and instantly translate it into more than 90 languages. Get it for iPhone or Android.
Free tour guides
You know that nagging feeling: You’re in a new city, and probably missing out on all the fun things to do, or interesting facts about the area’s history. Thanks to a couple of options, you can get the skinny on your vacation destination — for free.
The Global Greeter Network helps you find local volunteers in more than 100 locations who will show you their city.
If you prefer to tour on your own, check out the free audio guides at Audissey Guides, which describes itself as “the evolution of paper travel books.” Want to know more about the Boston Public Garden, Houston’s museum district or Washington, D.C.’s downtown? Audissey can help.
A similar service is offered by iAudioguide.com for cities from Barcelona to Vienna and beyond.
Do you know of other great travel freebies? Share them by commenting below or on our Facebook page.