You can have a great vacation without scrimping on meals or having a Tahitian Diet vacation.
We spent a week on the Tahitian island of Huahine in 1994 that we fondly refer to as our Tahitian Diet vacation because we both lost 15 pounds by not eating 3 meals a day. That was our first and last diet vacation. Once we started using these tricks to save money on vacation we haven’t missed a meal. But maybe that’s not a good thing…
Tricks to Saving Money on Vacation: Meals
This is Part 2 of a 3 part series on Tricks to Saving Money on Vacation. This post highlights how to save money on meals while traveling. If you missed Part 1, Tricks to Saving Money on Vacation: Rental Cars, you can read it here.
You can view the Powerpoint presentation for a quick overview of how to save money on car rentals, meals, and activities on vacation.
Saving on meals
There are many ways to save on meals when traveling.
Even if you’re not staying in a condo or a place with a kitchenette, you can save money on meals when traveling by shopping at Costco.
- Stock up on essentials like milk, juice, bread, peanut butter, jelly, protein bars, bottled water, and adult beverages
- Buy pre-assembled meals such as macaroni and cheese, calzones, chicken penne alfredo, and sushi
- Have a picnic from ready to eat food like rotisserie chicken and bag of salad
- Get cheap fast food from the food court such as pizza, hot dogs, salad, and chicken caesar salad
The Costco food court is the lowest price in town. Who can pass up a hot dog and soda for $1.50?
You can find a Costco in the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, and United Kingdom.
Grocery Stores & Farmer’s Markets
As with Costco, the grocery store can be a great place to save money on food when traveling or on vacation.
Most grocery stores have a deli section so you can pick up sandwiches or fried chicken. A cup of yogurt and piece of fruit makes a great meal that’s as quick as fast food only cheaper and healthier.
You can maximize your miles and points and get 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you buy Vons and Albertson’s gift cards from Staples using your Chase Ink Plus or Chase Ink Bold card.
Shopping at local farmer’s markets is another way to save money on food when traveling. Some cities such as San Diego have farmer’s markets every day.
You can save on breakfast, snacks, and dinner, if you have hotel elite status or book a room with lounge access.
Some hotel lounges have an impressive selection of food, enough to make a meal such as the Hilton Sydney, Grand Hyatt Kauai, Grand Hyatt Manchester San Diego, and the Sheraton Sydney.
However, some hotel lounges only offer snacks. You should call the hotel in advance.
Ziplock baggies are your friend
Bring your ziplock baggies because most lounges have bread, rolls, and bagels along with deli meats and cheese. You can make sandwiches for lunch to enjoy while exploring.
Some lounges, like the Grand Hyatt Kauai, will even wrap things in cellophane and pack them in a to go container. And this ensures that no one gets hungry and cranky.
Hotel elite status
You can get free Hilton Gold status from:
- Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card
- Hilton HHonors Surpass card Enrollment is required for select benefit
- Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature card (You get Silver status, but can upgrade to Gold status if you complete 4 stays within 90 days of getting your card)
You can get Hyatt Diamond status by doing a status match from your Hilton Gold status and doing the Hyatt Diamond Challenge. With the Hyatt Diamond Challenge, you’re given Hyatt Diamond status while you participate in the challenge. The Hyatt Diamond Challenges requires you to stay 12 nights within 60 days. You get 4 Diamond Suite upgrades and a 6,000 point bonus.
You can get Starwood Platinum status by doing a Starwood Platinum Challenge. You have to stay 18 nights within 90 days to complete the Starwood Platinum Challenge. But you don’t get Platinum status while you do the challenge.
No hotel elite status?
If you don’t have elite status, it could be worth paying to upgrade to a room with lounge access. Usually, it’s $20 to $30 more a night which more than covers what you’d spend on breakfast, snacks, and dinner, especially for families.
Free destination guides at airport
At some destinations, you can find free destination guides at baggage claim and visitors centers at the airport. Often there visitors guides include tips on what to do along with ads from local restaurants, including coupons and discounts at restaurants and on activities.
You can get a free Kauai Coupon book at the airport, shopping malls, grocery stores, and gas stations.
Inside you’ll find coupons for:
- Free Macadamia Nut Ice Cream with purchase of Shave Ice from Hee-Fat
- Buy 1, get 1 for 50% off Shave Ice at Koala Mills
- Sueoka Snack Shop
One of the best sources of restaurant coupons and discounts is the local newspaper. You can buy a paper at the supermarket, liquor store, or gas station.
You should consider taking advantage of Happy Hour prices, even if you’re traveling with kids. Just because you’re at a restaurant during Happy Hour, it doesn’t mean you have to drink or even buy drinks.
Many restaurants have great Happy Hours prices. You can make a meal from Happy Hour priced appetizers.
You can get $2 beers, margaritas and tacos (beef, chicken, carnitas, and veggie), $3 wine, and free chips and salsa at Baja Fresh at 465 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan New York every day!
In some restaurants, you have to sit in the bar area for Happy Hour prices, but most restaurants have bar areas that are suitable for families.
Many restaurants have a kid’s menu. And at some restaurants, you don’t have to be a kid to order from it.
I love the kid’s menu at Hyatt hotels. The kid’s steak meal includes a 4-ounce steak, side of potatoes, vegetables, salad, and a drink for $8.95 or $9.95 (depending on location).
Not only does it save your wallet, it saves your waistline!
Sign-up to receive emails deals from Living Social for the cities you’re visiting. I sign up as soon as I book my tickets so I can start getting notified of discounts and specials. Even if your travel date is months out, signing up early gives you an idea of prices so you’ll know whether something is a good deal or not.
You could buy a $10 Living Social coupon worth $20 on food and non-alcoholic drinks for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays at Houlihan’s in Washington, D
Houlihan’s Living Social offer is valid through 90 days after purchase, but you have until August 11, 2019 to use the paid value.
Paid value vs promotional value
The promotional value is the deal you purchased. So you have until the promotional value expiration date (90 days after purchase) to use $10 for $20 worth of food and non-alcoholic drinks at Houlihan’s.
The paid value is the cash price you paid for the coupon. With the Houlihan’s offer, the paid value expires on August 11, 2019.
So you could get $10 towards $20 worth of lunch on Saturdays and Sundays for up to 90 days after you purchase the Houlihan’s Living Social coupon.
Or you could use the $10 towards your check (think of it as a gift certificate) until August 11, 2019.
Be sure and check the fine print because some specials only last for a limited time.
Groupon is the same concept as Living Social, you can buy coupons or discount certificates for restaurants in the cities you’re visiting.
You can buy an $11 Groupon worth $20 at Jacob Wirth in Boston. Or you can buy 2 Groupons worth $18, each good for $20 at Jacob Wirth. But you can’t use both Groupons on the same day. You can only use 1 Groupon per table and it’s not valid towards alcohol.
Jacob Wirth’s Groupon is valid for 90 days after purchase. But the paid value never expires.
Paid value vs promotional value
The paid value is how much you paid for the Groupon. With the Jacob Wirth’s Groupon offer, because the paid value doesn’t expire you could use the $11 anytime.
The promotional value is the Groupon offer you bought. Your $11 Groupon offer for $20 worth of food expires 90 days after purchase.
You can buy restaurant certificates (gift cards) from Restaurant.com.
Using Restaurant.com can be a good deal because:
- You get a 60% discount
- Many participating restaurants have multiple locations
- There are no expiration dates
- You can earn miles and points going through portal
What I don’t like about Restaurant.com is that you have to buy the gift cards in advance and some restaurants have restrictions on when and how you can use the certificate.
You can buy a $10 gift certificate for Giant Manhattan Pizza in Anaheim near Disneyland for $4. But the minimum purchase is $20. You could buy 2, $10 gift certificates, for a total cost of $8.
You can get extra points by going through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall to buy Restaurant.com certificates and earn 10 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent.
Maximize your miles and points
If you’re as obsessed as I am about miles and points (a definite understatement), you should check for iDine restaurants in the city you’re visiting. You have to eat out so you may as well pick up extra miles and points doing so.
Alaska Airlines – http://mileageplan.rewardsnetwork.com/ You earn up to 5 Alaska Airlines miles for every $1 you spend.
American Airlines – http://aa.rewardsnetwork.com/ You earn up to 5 American Airlines miles for every $1 spent.
American Express – http://www.idine.com/howitworks.htm You earn up to 15% back. For every $20 in savings, you get an American Express Rewards card.
Delta Airlines – http://skymiles.rewardsnetwork.com/ You earn up to 5 Delta Airlines miles for every $1 you spend.
Hilton HHonors – http://www.hhonorsdining.com/ You earn up to 8 points for every $1 you spent.
IHG Rewards – http://ihgrewardsclubdining.rewardsnetwork.com/ You earn up to 8 points for every $1 spent.
Orbitz Rewards – http://www.orbitzrewardsdining.com/ You get 5% back.
Southwest Airlines – http://www.rapidrewardsdining.com/ You earn 3 points for every $1 spent, 10 points for a dining review, 500 bonus points after earning 1,500 points, and 300 bonus points for every 1,000 points you earn after the first 1,500 points.
Spirit Airlines – http://www.freespiritdining.com/ You earn up to 5 Spirit Airlines miles for every $1 you spend
United Airlines – http://mpdining.rewardsnetwork.com/ You earn up to 5 United Airlines miles for every $1 spent.
US Airways – http://usairways.rewardsnetwork.com/ You earn up to 5 US Airways miles for every $1 you spent.
Checking in on Yelp can also save you money on meals.
Some restaurants offer discounts and special offers for checking in on Yelp.
You can enjoy a good meal if you know the tricks to save money on meals while traveling.
Costco has warehouses in 9 countries, including the US where you can pick up inexpensive pre-assembled and ready to eat meals.
Local farmer’s markets are another place to find cheap meals.
If you’re staying in a hotel with a lounge, it could be worth paying to upgrade your room (if you don’t have hotel elite status) for free food.
Remember to grab a free coupon book at the airport and a local newspaper for local restaurant coupons.
Happy Hour means cheap eats.
What are your tips for saving on meals while vacationing?
Be sure to read Part 3, Tricks to Saving Money on Vacation: Activities.
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