A Perfect Getaway to Arizona: Traveling on a Budget

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While I’d love to travel for free every time using my miles and points, every once in a while I have to earn miles on my travels rather than burning them.  When the opportunity came up to head to Arizona for a weekend getaway, I knew paying cash for everything was in my future.  Thank goodness it’s still possible to travel on a budget!  Here’s how I managed to get away even though I was strapped for cash.

Yes, you can travel on a budget! These smart strategies helped me travel to Arizona for less than $500.

Flight: $50 out-of pocket (and $18 in earnings toward the next trip)

The first trick to saving money on my flight was picking a destination that happened to be on sale.  No, Phoenix wasn’t my first choice of destinations for an August trip, but it ended up being an incredible choice and a very cost-effective one!

My round-trip flight was $290, but I lessened the sting by using a voluntary bump voucher for one direction on Delta and an AirTran credit from a flight price drop I claimed earlier this summer.  Overall, I only paid $50 for my flight.

The best part?  My flight from PHX dropped in price after booking, so I was able to request a credit for that as another voucher for a future trip.  It’s a brilliant way for AirTran to ensure I’ll book with them again!

Hotels: $187 out-of-pocket (and $67 in earnings toward the next trip)

My hotel costs were reasonable because I only had four nights to pay for and because I had someone to split the costs with.  However, I shopped around for good prices and I think I found some great deals without relying on hostels or camping (admittedly, I do enjoy both forms of lodging, though it wasn’t a good option for this particular trip).

I stayed one night at a Fairfield Inn, one at a Hilton resort, and two at independent hotels.  I earned hotel rewards points at the Fairfield and Hilton, and grouped with promotional bonuses, I value the ~8500 points at about $42 toward future trips.  Throw in a $50 gift card from a best rate guarantee claim, which I’ll split with my sister, and I didn’t pay too much overall.

budget trip to arizona
The pool at my Hilton in Phoenix.

Rental Car: $82 out-of-pocket (and $24 in earnings toward the next trip)

I’ve explained my distaste for rental cars before, but this time I successfully found a good rate.  Between the rental cost (and those dreaded Phoenix airport taxes!) and plenty of fuel, I was happy to be splitting the cost with my sister.  Luckily, even with Alamo I managed to grab 1200 United miles for my rental, which I value pretty highly.

Food: $124

The bottom line stayed low in this category since my hotels offered free breakfast 3 out of 4 mornings.  We also bought picnic supplies from Wal-Mart at the beginning of the trip and cut back on booze.
Could it have been even cheaper?  Sure, but loved trying new flavors like prickly pear gelato, rattlesnake meatballs, and navajo frybread instead of snacking on PBJ for 13 meals in a row.  In the end, I enjoyed some very scenic picnics, a fun dinner with Just Another Points Traveler, and the necessary evil of airport food.
Navajo Taco…think Tex-Mex on fried dough. OMG, delicious.

Activities: $8

I’m amazed at how low this ended up being, since usually activities are the biggest chunk of my travel budget!  I’m all about trying new experiences, and that ends up being expensive.
On this particular trip we passed on jeep tours, mule rides, and hot air balloon rides.  My annual national park pass provided entry into several different attractions (and paid for itself in the first four months of the year) and we rounded out our free adventures with some time lounging at the resort pool.  We paid for a few state park admissions, but that’s it.  Good thing I like to hike!
hiking budget trip to arizona
Hiking in Sedona, AZ
All-in-all, $451 is not a lot of money for a 4-night vacation, especially when you factor my next trip will be $109 cheaper.  Looking forward to my next adventure!
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Are you price-conscious while traveling or do you go all out?

10 thoughts on “A Perfect Getaway to Arizona: Traveling on a Budget”

  1. Great summary of your trip! You really did an awesome job keeping it on a budget and maximizing your earnings! Dinner was a blast and I look forward to sharing our lovely group photo on my post soon! 🙂

  2. I love your trip reports! So far, you’re budget and travel style are really close to my own. I’m going to Denver next summer because of your inspiring and useful trip report. I’m thinking of a weekend trip to the Southwest in the summer also – the area’s on my bucket list and it sounds like I can get great deals in the summer. Looks like you did some hiking 🙂 I’d love to hear how the outdoor activities went with the temperature.

  3. Hi,

    You are one of the few blogs on Boardingarea with content that I actually like to read (a refreshing change from the credit card whore-fest Boardingarea has turned into). Please keep up the good work!

    1. @Angelina, I did my best and most importantly I had an amazing weekend! I had so much fun meeting you (and Kevin and Ken) – we’ll do it again in Chicago!

      @Kay, if you have the time, it wouldn’t be difficult to combine Denver with the four corners area of the southwest for a longer trip. One airfare, two vacations 🙂 I sometimes have trouble getting that much time off all in a row, so I understand a draw to doing it in two separate pieces. Hiking went better than expected – we ended up doing more than I had planned, due primarily to 4:30am wake-up calls to hit the trail while it was still bearable. We drank a ton of water, stopped frequently to take in the view, and listened to our bodies for when we had to turn around and go back. Be smart and you can still enjoy some of the outdoor beauty.

      @Amnesiac, glad you enjoy my blog! I write as a hobby, so I write about what’s fun for me. Credit cards, while incredibly helpful at acquiring miles and points, are not interesting for me to read/write about. I’ll try and keep things fresh and interesting, but if you ever have something you’d like to read about in particular, let me know!

  4. One suggestion I have is that when I know I am traveling to another city, I sign up on the daily coupon sites for deals in that city. In the case of Phoenix it is a great way to do balloon and jeep tours. There are also “right now” deals on these sites that can substantially cut your food bills when you buy a $20 for $5 or $10.

  5. @ Amnesiac – ditto! I’ve acquired a modest yet satisfying stash of points and miles, and this is the blog helps me figure out how to use them.

  6. Just got back from a business and pleasure trip to Phoenix. I love to use miles and points, but especially at this time of year in Phoenix, it is actually a good time to accumulate them instead, since it is still low season, and prices are good (although I would not necessarily say great/rock bottom).
    I did manage to score a coupon at the ‘W’ Hotel in Scottsdale for 2000 Starwood points (after I test drive an Acura), without staying. And, I did the math and decided that two separate Avis one day rentals for 3000 AA miles each, was probably worth the somewhat higher price, (although I did have a good Costco rate).
    And, a suggestion for anyone visiting Phoenix, the Musical Instrument Museum is amazing! A two year old museum dedicated to world music and musical instruments, it is unique and extremely well done.

  7. nice trip reports ! my way of budget get away is too sleep in the tent, well it is much much more cheaper right plus we can get closer to nature ! whenever i go, i’ll bring along my tent just in case we run out of budget 🙂

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