Travelers’ Guide to Discounts on Food and Entertainment
Eating and experiences are two of the best parts of travel.
You don’t want to skimp and scrimp so much that it sacrifices enjoyment and memory making. At the same time, food and fun can quickly blow the travel budget out of the water.
It makes sense to save money, where you can.
After all, spending less means you can travel more.
So let’s save some money on food and entertainment.
Who are you?
Age, profession, memberships, and demographics are the first stop for travel deals.
Look at saving money two ways…first, these tips help you spend less on the travel experience itself.
But, they also allow you to spend less on everyday life, which means more money in the travel fund!
Senior citizen status is defined as 50-65+ years of age. Yeah.
You may not see yourself as a senior, but check the guidelines of the venue.
If your pride can take it, there is money to be saved!
Senior List is a good resource for restaurant discounts.
Deal News has a list of senior discounts on a variety of services.
We live near a military base, and I’ve found our military friends are savvy to the discounts available.
This is just a reminder – if you fit here – take advantage of the deals.
Military Benefits has a page of discounts organized by category.
We keep an AAA membership because it pays for itself in discounts, even if we don’t use roadside assistance.
On the website, they list a vast array of partners offering deals.
Museums are the best place to ask about educator discounts. Flash your campus ID and save some money.
In our state (Washington), homeschoolers use their ‘letter of intent’ to qualify as educators.
On the flip side, student discounts are common for entertainment and sightseeing.
Adults taking continuing ed class qualify as students. Keep that student body ID handy.
This is less common, but some museum passes, memberships, and special offers are discounted for local residents.
Where to look for discounts on food and entertainment
These 10 places to look for discounts apply to everyone.
It’s a matter of being aware, doing a little research, and asking.
Always our first stop.
Ask the docent about coupons and discount passes.
Look at all the brochures you picked up at the visitor’s center.
Pay special attention to the edges of tourist maps.
We often find discounts on local museums and percentage off coupons for restaurants.
Ask the hotel
Hotels in popular tourist destinations often give coupons to guests.
In Las Vegas, we received a packet with several half-price food and drink coupons, a $20 Uber credit, etc.
And don’t forget the amenities.
Take advantage of complimentary breakfasts, coffee, snacks, and evening receptions to fill-in between special food experiences.
We regularly stay at a hotel that hosts a food truck for the evening reception. Food truck culture in the Pacific Northwest is hip, delicious – often gourmet. (In case you thought I was talking about a ‘Roach Coach’.)
Info rack at the hotel
Mostly you will find advertisements for mainstream tourist attractions, but sometimes neighborhood businesses slip coupons in these racks or leave them on the table near the elevator.
We have scored some great deals in unique restaurants this way.
Always take a look at the website of the restaurant, museum, theater… you are going to.
Online coupons are common.
Happy hours are for food too and can be a great way to sample new ingredients and flavors.
Look for special events, free hours/nights, and discounts on certain days of the week.
All things being equal, I would rather go to a restaurant when the live jazz quartet is playing – than miss it by an hour.
Check Groupon and other deal sites like Living Social. There will be a ‘search nearby’ feature.
Suggestion – if you even think you will take advantage of deal sites, set up an account and download the app on your phone at home.
Standing out on the sidewalk waiting for Groupon to install on your phone (and it can take forever) is not a good way to spend your vacation.
Another great website to score deals on experiences is Tours4Fun. There are extensive offers around the world.
Headout is another tour operator with unique travel experiences. They also have an extensive list of locations.
If you happen to be in a college town, look around the school for excellent deals on food and entertainment.
We popped into the Barnes and Noble run college bookstore at New Mexico State University and were surprised to find a lively cafe with a great soup and sandwich special.
Ask a few students where they go for a good dinner or lunch on the cheap.
If you will be in a major city or one region for your entire trip, it can pay to buy an Entertainment book.
Take a look at the Entertainment book website to see a list of businesses in your proposed destination and decide if you will use enough of the coupons to make it worthwhile.
These books can really pay off if you enjoy going to higher-end restaurants, live entertainment, and sporting events.
Local (free) newspapers are often geared toward a specific demographic or sub-culture.
The visitors center, public library, and grocery store entrance are good places to look for these.
Parents, seniors, music enthusiasts, sustainable types, quilters – there’s a publication for everyone.
Inside these free newspapers, you will find community calendars, specials at small restaurants, and information that is hard to ferret out on the vast internet.
Some cities have a thriving and respected street food culture.
The food will often be regional specialties and delicious.
Ask the locals for recommendations, look for busy stalls (high turnover), and use common sense.
Advanced tactics to save more money on food and entertainment
If you are a true blue frugality, you will be interested in every opportunity to get more value from your travel dollar, here are even more ways to save.
Compare the price of a one-day ticket to a yearly museum membership. With a family of 6, we used this tactic a lot.
Ask about alliances and partner museums.
Often museums belong to groups, and membership at one gives you entrance to many others.
City Pass is a company that puts together attraction packages in major cities.
We are big fans of City Pass and purchase them whenever available. Living close to Seattle, we often get the Seattle City Pass to tour visiting relatives around.
Cities available: Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, New York, Toronto, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Tampa Bay, and a Southern California Pass.
Many states and cities offer their own museum/culture/attraction pass.
New Mexico has a pass with a long list of museums.
Las Vegas has a variety of options to mix and match experiences.
These passes not only save money, but you can usually bypass lines.
Research ahead and order online or ask at the visitor’s center. If they don’t sell the passes, they will point you in the right direction.
Another place to look – iVenture is a one-stop shop for attraction passes.
Covering 6 continents, you simply select your location, and iVenture offers flexible packages that can save 30-50% on your sightseeing.
SanFrancisco, Honolulu, and London are a few popular destinations.
If you are flexible on when and what you see, rush seats (last-minute) tickets can be a steal. As little as $5.
Check the theater website, or ask at the tourist/visitors office how rush seats are handled. Sometimes you will have to go through the theater itself. Some locales will have a clearinghouse.
Cheap seats are also a good idea when you have children along. If things don’t go well and you have to leave early a $5 ticket won’t bite like $80 prime tickets would.
A similar tactic – ask about dress rehearsals and student performances.
For instance, many opera houses host behind-the-scenes performances. This is my favorite way to sample an art form I’m not a super-fan of (like opera).
For a vast array of sightseeing tours, check out Tours4Fun – they offer early bird and last-minute deals on experiences all over the world.
Bank of America has a museum program.
On the first full weekend of the month, cardholders get free admission to a long list of major museums.
Go to your credit card website and poke around looking for programs like this – try looking under the benefits tab, in the website footer for fine print, or type a question into the live chatbox.
Credit cards offer all kinds of special perks to try to stand out from the competition.
Frequent Flyer Programs
Similarly, check into all the frequent flyer programs you belong to.
Sign up for the dining/shopping program and get reward points for dining out, and buying stuff.
Preferably stuff you were already going to buy!
There are so many FF programs, and the benefits come and go so fast I couldn’t begin to give you specifics.
That’s why it’s an advanced tactic – you will have to dig.
Major events are creating apps to support attendees.
We went to the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque – they had an app.
These can be a great help with logistics, making them worth downloading.
But, for our money-saving purposes, vendors at the event will offer deals on the app to get you to their booth.
The app will be free (usually), so it’s worth taking a look.
Book ahead/book late
If you are a planner take advantage of early bird discounts.
Especially when it comes to your non-negotiable, dream experiences. Get there early.
Early can be an advantage on major events and festivals, popular experiences, and huge attractions (think Disneyland).
For experiences that you are more flexible about, use serendipity and take advantage of last-minute deals.
Late can pay off when it comes to music venues, tours, adventures (think zip lines) – anything that will have empty spots to fill at the last minute.
Ask the locals
In popular, touristy areas, it pays to ask the locals where they eat, what they do for fun, where they take their family on a Saturday afternoon.
Few Seattleites go to Pike Place Market for fun (that’s where we take visitors). Las Vegas families don’t spend their weekends on the Strip. And I assume Venetians don’t ride around the canals getting serenaded on their day off.
So what do they do? Ask.
I’m not saying don’t do the tourist stuff. I love the tourist stuff.
But find out what else…what does this place have to offer that the glossy brochures aren’t telling you about?
When it comes to food, you will almost always save money and have a better experience by not eating on the tourist main drag.
Open Table is a restaurant reservations app.
We favor small restaurants, food carts, and street food so I don’t use this often.
But in larger cities and for those special meals it is slick. It’s up the restaurant to use Open Table or not. If they do, it’s usually the only way to make a reservation.
It’s also very easy to cancel reservations if your plans change – no extra phone calls.
Easy to use and it offers a loyalty program toward dining discounts.
Double up on deals
Here are a couple of ninja tactics. Stack these methods, and you will rack up huge savings.
Gas discounts/gift cards
Grocery stores are now in the gasoline business – at least in our part of the world. (This tactic is mainly for the United States.)
Grocery stores are also in the gift card business.
Usually, when you buy gift cards, the points rack up toward gas discounts – sometimes exponentially.
Take a close look at your grocery gift card kiosk. You might be surprised at the gift cards available. With a little strategy, you can buy gift cards to use on purchases you were already planning and score big savings at the pump.
If you are planning major purchases – like an appliance, school clothes shopping, home improvements or need gifts for 10 of your child’s teachers, making a quick stop at the grocery store to purchase gift cards first, will multiply savings.
Gas discounts are sure handy on road trips, but this is also a money-saving tip for everyday life. The more money you save on gas, the more you can sock away in the travel fund, right?
Get reward points for spending
Use those credit cards strategically.
Find out what rewards your specific card offers. Some multiply points on gas, office supplies, travel, hotels, and groceries – it depends on the card.
I’m not a credit card expert – check out Points Guy for everything you would ever need to know about travel hacking with credit cards. The credit card/travel hacking game changes daily, and Points Guy will keep you up-to-date on the latest news and effective strategies.
Credit card reward programs are a major strategy we use for airfare and hotel reward nights. By picking the right card and using it smart, we have multiplied our travel savings – leaving more money for experiences.
As a mother-hen, I have to say…if you have a disordered history with credit cards, prefer not to use credit cards, or don’t trust your judgment around credit cards – leave them. There are many other ways to save money on travel.
National Parks Passes
We are National Park raving fans. I’m working on visiting every National Park and Historic Site in the USA.
Last year we purchased an America the Beautiful Pass for $80 and saved well over $250 on entrance fees.
If USA National Sites are part of your travel plan, check out the passes available.
Certain populations qualify for other passes – here is the National Parks site with all the details.
There you go, a wide variety of creative strategies to get the most enjoyment for your travel dollar.
Let us know if you have a favorite food or entertainment money-saving travel strategy in the comments below – who knows, maybe we will collect enough ideas for a Part 2.