Here are the best hacks for saving money and getting freebies whilst you travel - from free water to the potential of a flight upgrade ✈️
How to get free water at the airport
The liquid restrictions at airports are a pain. You can’t carry full bottles of water through airport security, and the prices for buying a new bottle in the departure lounge are generally astronomical. BUT, it’s perfectly fine for you to take an empty bottle through airport security, and many UK airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh, have free water fountains where you can refill your bottle. If you can’t find a water fountain, the cafés and restaurants in the departure lounge will usually be happy to top up your bottle with tapwater.
How to blag a room upgrade at your hotel
This is more art than science, but there are a few ways to potentially get a better room for nothing. The first is simply just to ask nicely – if the hotel is fairly empty and you’re suitably friendly, the clerk might offer to bump you up to a better room. If it’s a special occasion, like an anniversary or birthday, then it’s always worth mentioning this.
Make sure to report any problems with your room, like stains, loose tiles or ripped curtains (but don’t forget to be polite). You’re doing the hotel a favour by reporting faults, and they may upgrade you as a way of keeping your custom. If the hotel is part of a chain, look into the loyalty programme – joining up might offer you some benefits or upgrades. And get to know the staff at the hotel before you go – book over the phone if possible, and perhaps email the manager to let them know how much you’re looking forward to your stay. If they remember you, they might be more amenable to giving you an upgrade. Research the hotel, as well – for example, there may be several rooms at the same price, but some may have better views than others, so you could ask to switch to one of these.
Finally, don’t forget to tip! Hotel staff are much more likely to help you out if you can offer something in return.
Take kids to attractions for free
Major attractions often have a range of offers and vouchers that provide discounts for children or even let them enter for free: Let’s Go With The Children has a list of family discount vouchers for UK attractions. ‘Kids go free’ offers change frequently, but Cadbury currently has a 2 for 1 ticket offer for Thorpe Park and Legoland Windsor Resort when you buy a promotional pack of chocolate.
Free healthcare with the European Health Insurance Card
It’s completely free to apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), and it gives you access to state-provided healthcare across the European Economic Area and in Switzerland. The card means that you’ll pay exactly the same for medical care as a resident would in the country you’re visiting, so if they have a free national healthcare system, you won’t have to pay a penny. It’s not clear how the system will change when the UK leaves the European Union, but in the meantime this card could save you a packet if you need medical help abroad.
How to get a free flight upgrade
There are all sorts of tips and tricks that could see you getting bumped up to first class. Travelling at times when business users aren’t flying – like on bank holidays – could mean you’re more likely to get an upgrade to an empty business-class cabin. Arriving early for your flight might mean being able to nab one of the handful of upgrades available before anyone else – but equally, arriving late without reserving your seat could result in you being upgraded if the economy cabin is overbooked. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to just ask nicely. Check out our guide for more tips on how to blag your way into first class.
Visit museums and galleries for free
There are dozens of amazing free museums across the UK, including the Natural History Museum, British Museum, Imperial War Museum and Science Museum in London; the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh; the National Museum and St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff; and the National Coal Mining Museum in Overton, West Yorkshire.
There are plenty of free museums and galleries in Europe, too, including the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Copenhagen National Museum, the Berardo Collection Museum in Lisbon and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nice. Some European museums and galleries are free on certain days of the month or after certain times as well – for instance, the Prado in Madrid is free to enter after 6pm from Monday to Saturday and after 5pm on Sunday, and Parisian museums like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay are free on the first Sunday of every month (but remember to get there early to avoid the mega queues).
Get travel-size toiletries for nothing
Rather than decant your shampoo into 100ml bottles or buy expensive travel-size toiletries to take in your carry-on luggage, you could always sign-up to receive free sample packs. Sample-size toiletries are small enough to slip beneath the 100ml liquid allowance, and you can usually receive them for free by subscribing to receive promotional emails. Sites like Magic Freebies UK and Latest Free Stuff have up-to-date lists of free sample offers from manufacturers.
Free walking tours
Almost every major city now boasts a free walking tour of some kind. Usually you won’t have to book, instead just turning up at a designated spot and seeking out the tour guide. The guides make their living through tips, but it’s totally up to you to decide how much you want to pay, or if you want to pay at all. Freetour.com lists walking tours across Europe, and Free Tours By Foot is useful for finding free walking tours in the United States, as well as further afield – although there are many other sites for city-specific tours.
Get free magazines for your flight
If you’re prone to clamber aboard planes carrying armfuls of reading material for the journey, you could save a ton of money by signing up for sample issues. Many magazines have subscription offers in which the first issue is given away for free – although remember to cancel the offer before the cut-off date if you don’t want to end up paying for a year’s worth. Other publishers are happy to send you a free sample issue for gratis – check out sites such as Latest Free Stuff for lists of current giveaways.
Go on holiday for free!
The ultimate prize – an entire holiday for absolutely nothing. There are a few ways you could go about doing this: one is to do a house swap. Trusted Housesitters is one of the most-popular house-swapping sites – it’s mainly used by people who are looking for someone who can take care of their pet while they’re away, so not only can you avoid paying kennel fees, you can get free accommodation as well. We listed house swaps as one of the best ways to enjoy luxury holidays for a fraction of the price.
Another option is to go on a working holiday. This is a particularly popular option for students, and you could find yourself doing anything from conservation work in Costa Rica to teaching English in Spain.. Some hostels may also accept labour instead of cold hard cash – so you could stay for free in return for cleaning rooms or working behind the bar.
Here are a few more ways to do things for absolutely nothing on holiday:
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*Published October 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.