Instagram and TikTok are filled with images of luxury hotels and lavish travel experiences. From massive infinity pools to glam yachts to opulent room-service spreads, there’s no shortage of expensive vacation offerings on display.
But while the appeal is obvious, we don’t all have the budget to stay at a Four Seasons or an Aman. And even if you can technically afford this kind of lodging, that’s not always where people want to spend those precious vacation dollars.
But there are ways to bring a dash of luxury to your travels without breaking the bank. Below, travel experts share their tips for making an affordable vacation feel a little more luxurious.
Go to a fancy hotel bar for a drink
“I love luxury hotel bars ― the design, atmosphere, and cocktails!” said Jessica van Dop DeJesus, founder and editor at The Dining Traveler. “I always add a hotel bar experience to my itinerary. Although some can be pricey, it’s worth stopping by for a martini to wind down after a busy day of sightseeing.”
These nice hotel bars often offer reasonably priced happy hour deals and snacks. Ben Julius, founder of the travel platform Tourist Journey, sometimes goes a step further and books a restaurant reservation as well.
“You can eat in the famous gardens at Mexico City’s Four Seasons or enjoy the bar with the gold-leafed ceiling at Royal Mansour in Marrakech even if you’re not a guest of the hotel,” he said.
Besides bringing high-end vibes to your vacation, grabbing a drink or a bite at a ritzy hotel can give you an opportunity to check out the rest of the property.
“Many luxury hotels do not allow people past the lobby unless they are guests at the hotel,” said travel blogger and TV host La Carmina. “However, these hotels tend to let you go in and explore if you are getting drinks at the bar. This is how I got to wander inside Dubai’s Burj Al Arab. I made a reservation for drinks at the Skyview Bar. The bar has a minimum spend per person, but it’s far less expensive than if you booked a room at the Burj Al Arab.”
Get a day pass at a resort
“I always think it would be nice to stay at some of the big luxury resorts, but then my bank balance brings me back to reality,” said Claire Summers, the travel blogger behind Claire’s Itchy Feet. “Plus, I know I’ll be bored after a couple of days there anyway. So the best way I’ve found of adding a dash of luxury to my trips is by booking a day pass at one of the fancy resorts.”
Day passes essentially allow you to be a guest at an upscale hotel or resort for the day without paying for an expensive room, so you have access to amenities and features like a luxurious poolside experience.
“Often they can cost as little as $50 a day, making it super budget-friendly,” Summers explained. “These day passes aren’t often advertised, so you will need to either call up or visit the hotel and ask in person.”
La Carmina uses day passes to experience the pools and cabanas at nice hotels.
“Sites such as ResortPass.com also let you browse day passes from hundreds of hotels worldwide, which is an easy way to find a hotel day pass and make a booking,” she noted.
Keep an eye out for deals
For consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch, the way to bring a little luxury to a budget vacation is to skimp on transportation while looking for good deals on hotels or activities.
“I’d personally rather save on airfare and hotel and then splurge on nice dining, spa and other activities, since that’s what you really remember,” she said.
Woroch recommended saving on flights by booking economy, and taking public transportation to further cut travel costs.
“But look for nicer accommodation deals using apps like HotelTonight which offer upscale hotels for up to 70% off,” she said. “You can incorporate luxury travel activities like spa services and nice dining by looking for deals in advance using Groupon or LivingSocial, since you can look for daily deals based on the destination you’re traveling to.”
Alex Francis, general manager of the Radisson Blu Mall of America also recommended looking for discounts for attractions you’d like to experience.
“Research local happy hour or early dining offers at high end restaurants you would like to try but your budget might not allow,” he recommended. “And ask your hotel staff or concierge desks for tips and tricks in experiencing local luxury. This is free.”
Make a spa appointment
“Another option for adding a little bit of luxury to your vacation is to visit a spa in the area and book a massage,” said Katie McIntosh, a travel blogger and creator of The Katie Show. “You’ll get to relax and feel luxurious without ruining your budget completely.”
You might even be able to snag an appointment at a relatively reasonable price at a nice hotel spa.
“Book a spa treatment at a luxury hotel between Monday and Thursday since the rates are usually more affordable,” van Dop DeJesus suggested. “Hotels like Mandarin Oriental D.C. allow spa customers to use the other amenities like the gym, pool, and sauna when you book a treatment. Some hotels also offer lunch at their spas, so you can make the experience into a full-day event.”
Stephanie Huston, the travel blogger behind Steph Explores The World, recommended booking a day pass, rather than a treatment. Take advantage of all the amenities ― even the bath products and hair dryers ― and consider packing a nice change of clothes so you can get ready for a night out there.
“If you’re looking for the luxury hotel spa experience ― without the $500 massage price tag ― I’ve found that a lot of spots offer a full- or half-day pass at a fraction of the cost for use of their facilities, often including a sauna, steam room, cold plunge, hot tub, lounge area, showers,” Huston said. “Then get scrappy and make a day of it. Pack snacks, a book, turn off phone notifications as if you were in a two-hour massage, perhaps indulge in purchasing a face or body mask product there (or discreetly bring your own).”
Bring your own bath bombs
Even if you can’t afford to pay for a lavish spa appointment or day pass, consider creating your own spa environment wherever you stay during your vacation. This could involve bringing your own nice bathroom products.
Just make sure your bath products of choice are packed securely and adhere to TSA requirements if you’re flying and not checking a bag.
Book a private driver
“One easy way to feel luxurious without the price tag of a luxury hotel is to book a private driver to pick you up from the airport,” McIntosh said. “They’re not so expensive that it will break the bank, but certainly offer a feeling of luxury while making the travel day a lot more convenient.”
Indeed, there’s something special about the experience of getting off a plane or train and then seeing someone with a sign with your name on it, getting assistance with your bags and being chauffeured to your accommodations.
Stay at a boutique hotel
Upscale hotel chains charge a premium for high-quality hospitality, but you can often find similarly special experiences at a lower price by booking something more independent.
“I recommend looking for smaller boutique hotels rather than big chains,” Julius said. “These properties might not always have the extra amenities you’ll find at a Four Seasons or Aman, but the hospitality experience and local insight from a boutique hotel can be far more authentic and memorable than even one of the most luxurious chains.”
Buy wine from a shop for your room
Sure, ordering a nice bottle of wine through room service can feel luxurious, but if you’re on a budget, you can recreate the experience ― minus the upcharge ― by purchasing a bottle from a local shop instead.
“Instead of overpriced room-service wines, buy them from the local supermarket and pop the cork from the comfort of your room,” Leong suggested.
Book an upscale rental with a group
Another way to enjoy luxury on a budget is to split the costs with others. Victoria Yore, a travel blogger at Follow Me Away, recommended booking a swanky vacation rental with a group.
“Even if the vacation rental booked through sites such as VRBO costs $600 a night, split with a group, the price isn’t so bad, and you can stay somewhere epic without breaking the bank,” she said. “This could mean beachfront, with an indoor pool, in the mountains and more.”
Choose a less popular destination
“Another trick for inexpensive luxury travel is to go somewhere obscure,” said travel blogger Rocky Trifari. “By choosing less popular destinations, you can choose locations based on special offers from hotels, favorable currency exchange rates, and cost-of-living considerations.”
Trifari chose his destinations based on those factors while backpacking through Europe on a budget. Yore also suggested traveling to a country where things are cheaper with your currency.
“There are often fantastic luxury boutique hotels for a fraction of the cost of traveling somewhere popular and expensive,” she said.
Similarly, you might pick a less popular time to visit a particular place.
“If you’re set on visiting a specific property, you can always opt for an off-season booking or see if you can plan those stays mid-week, which are going to be much more affordable than weekend stays,” said Samantha Patil, co-founder and CEO of the booking platform Well Traveled.
Budget a splurge for the end
“Often times if you’re willing to save a little money upfront, you can allocate a portion of your budget to a luxury experience towards the end of your trip to give you something to look forward to and cap off your vacation on a high note, whether that’s a fancy dinner or a one night stay at a splurge hotel,” Patil said.
On a recent trip to Greece, she made more budget conscious hotel choices for the first portion of the trip and then splurged a little on the last two nights of the vacation.
“It was a great way to end the trip and gave us something to look forward to as our trip was coming to a close,” Patil noted.
Use points and rewards programs
“One of the best ways to enjoy a luxury experience while traveling on a budget is by utilizing credit card points and reward programs,” Trifari said. “If you qualify for a new card with a large points sign-up bonus, you may be able to exchange those ‘free points’ later as a form of ‘currency’ to trade for various five-star experiences.”
He cautioned, however, that you must make sure your minimum spending qualification amount doesn’t exceed the amount of money you would have spent ordinarily.