In a perfect world, we'd all have unlimited vacation days and a limitless budget, traveling as far away for as long or as far away as we want. But sometimes a weekend away is all you can make work.
But even doing a shorter weekend trip on a budget can be tricky. Coming home on a Sunday is almost always a recipe for expensive flights and flying on Fridays isn't far behind. Plus, hotel rates on the weekends are often much higher than weekdays.
The best way to save on a weekend getaway is the same for any other trip: Flexibility, both in where you're going and when. But even if you've already got your dates locked in or know where you're going, there are still ways to save.
So whether you're short on PTO or just want to get away for a few days, here are the best ways we know to save on your next weekend trip.
Start with Google Flights Explore
Maybe you've already got the perfect weekend trip in mind or you're planning to visit family or friends for the weekend. We can still help.
But if you're just looking to get out of town for a few days and will go anywhere a cheap flight will take you, one tool is tailor-made for you: Google Flights Explore.
If you ask us, Google Flights should be your first stop any time you're looking for cheap flights. This little-known Explore feature is especially handy when you're planning a weekend trip. Google Flights Explore will show you the cheapest places to fly from your home airport.
Simply navigate to the Google Flights homepage at google.com/flights, enter your departure airport and your dates but leave your destination blank, and hit search. You can also select the “Explore” tab on the left-hand side of the screen or type flights.google.com/explore into your browser to pull it up straight away.
Within seconds of starting your search, you'll see a map of all the cheapest places to fly to based on your travel dates. You can then filter for the flights you want based on number of stops, airline alliances, bags included, and more, quickly seeing flights and prices to destinations based on those requirements.
If you’re more flexible and just need a weekend away sometime in July for example, Google Flights Explore is even better. Just click the date field, select “Flexible dates” and then “July” and “Weekend.”
The results also depend on how you move the map. For example, if you know you want to go hiking out west, zoom in to see what flights pop up.
Once you’ve zeroed in on a destination, click on the result. You can find the specific flights and even play around with the schedule to see if there are better dates at the same or similar prices.
Read our full guide to using Google Flights Explore to find cheap flights anywhere!
Make it a Longer Weekend
Most people head out on a Friday and come home on Sunday for a weekend trip. Combined with business travelers flying for meetings or heading home for the weekend, it makes those go-to days the most expensive days to fly, leading to a more expensive weekend getaway.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are typically the cheapest days to fly. If you can swing it, structuring your trip around these days will help you save on flights – and make for a less hectic airport experience, to boot.
Take a look at this Google Flights price calendar for a trip from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Seattle (SEA) in April. Flying on Friday and returning on Sunday is the most expensive flight, but shifting your departure and return dates by just a few days can net you some serious savings.
In this case, Thursday to Saturday is the sweet spot. By switching up your weekend plan and departing a day earlier, the price drops from $319 to $213 – over $100 in savings per ticket. For a family, that can add up fast.
While it may not always be possible, avoiding flying on at least one of the peak travel days – Friday or Sunday – is an easy way to save on airfare. Besides, long weekends are always better if you can spare one vacation day, right?
Thrifty Tip: If a Friday-Sunday flight is your only option, set a Google Flights price alert to track flight prices and get notified when prices drop. It's a no-brainer way to ensure you're getting the best deal possible even when your schedule is set in stone.
Turn to Your Points and Miles
When cash fares are too high or you're cringing at the price of a hotel room for the weekend, consider using your points and miles to help cover the cost.
Whether you've got a stash of flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards or Capital One Venture miles or just have miles saved up with Delta or Southwest Airlines, they're all valuable for domestic travel, helping you save on an otherwise pricey weekend trip.
Got a big stash of credit card points from travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card? Find the best fare you can following the steps above with Google Flights, then book it using your points through the Chase travel portal.
It's one of the easiest ways to take a flight and make it free. And since every point is worth 1.25 cents toward travel with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you could book a $300 flight with just 24,000 Chase points.
If you've got a Capital One card like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, it's even easier. Simply charge your flight, hotel, Uber, or almost any other travel expense to your Capital One Venture card, then go back and cover the purchase using Capital One miles. Personally, I love using this tool to book boutique hotels or other unique places to stay during a weekend getaway … and then make it free.
My first foray into the world of points and miles started when I wanted to visit a friend in Miami (MIA) and found flight prices for a weekend trip were too far out of budget. That's when I opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, earned the bonus, and a few months later, used the points to cover that expensive flight to South Beach.
Credit cards are serious business, though. You shouldn't open one if you can't afford to pay it off right away. Make payments on time, and always pay in full – never carry a balance. If you already have credit card debt, pay it off before opening a new credit card, no matter how much you could use the points.
Did I get the most value out of those Ultimate Rewards points? Maybe not. But we have a mantra here: The best use of your points is for a trip you wouldn't otherwise take. Points just get less valuable over time, so sitting on them waiting for the best bang for your buck isn't a good idea.
Having some airline miles handy could help, too. While it's getting harder and harder to use your airline miles for a big value on flights within the U.S. There are a few programs that are the exception.
While Delta gets plenty of heat for its sky-high award rates, short domestic flights are a major sweet spot for SkyMiles – and they often work for weekend trips, too. For example, we recently notified our Thrifty Traveler Premium+ members about a Delta SkyMiles flash sale for flights to Washington, D.C. from 9,000 miles roundtrip.
That's just the latest in a long string of examples of how great SkyMiles can be for booking domestic flights. Southwest Rapid Rewards points, which you can transfer from Chase, can also be a great deal for quick weekend trips.
Focus on Easy-to-Reach Cities
Flights and hotels are a big part of the equation. But adding in a rental car or tons of Uber or taxi rides to get around can add up really fast.
That's why you might want to narrow down your weekend trip destination list to cities with centrally located airports, where you can get into town on public transit or with a cheap cab ride.
Here's a few that come to mind. Bonus? Thanks to competition from many airlines, many of these are often some of the cheapest cities to fly in and out of across the country:
- The heart of the city is just a few miles from Boston (BOS) airport – plus, it's a very walkable destination
- Chicago-Midway (MDW) is centrally located, but be sure to search Google Flights as well as Southwest's own site for flights – you won't find Southwest fares anywhere else.
- Depending on where you're staying, Las Vegas (LAS) is a quick ride to and from The Strip
- While you may need a car to go hiking in Sedona or explore Scottsdale, downtown Phoenix (PHX) is just a few minutes from the airport.
- Flying into San Diego (SAN) puts you just minutes away from the city's downtown, including the Gaslamp Quarter
- Washington, D.C.-Reagan (DCA) is easily the best airport to fly into for sightseeing – just hop on a cheap metro ride and you're in town.
During a short weekend trip, every moment counts. One of the easiest ways to save both time and money is to leave the big checked luggage in the closet and travel lightly with just a carry-on bag.
Opting not to check a bag means you'll get through the airport faster – no wasting time standing in line to drop it off or waiting for it at baggage claim. Plus, while most airlines charge $30 or more each way to check luggage, a carry-on bag is almost always free.
No matter where you're traveling or how long you'll be there, we always encourage readers to pack in just a carry-on. But especially if you're heading out of town for only a few days, there's almost no reason that between a carry-on and a personal item, you won't be able to fit everything you need.
Follow our tips for how to pack a carry-on bag for any trip!
Sometimes, a weekend away is all you need.
But even if you're just getting out of town for a few days, between airfare and lodging, it can add up fast. These tips can help you save on your next weekend trip.