This post may contain affiliate links from some of my advertising partners. You don’t have to use these links, but I appreciate your support of my blog when you do. You can read my advertising disclosure here.
Vacations are costly, and many people are forced to save money for months or even years to afford a dream holiday. For people with disabilities like myself, the cost of travel can skyrocket due to our need for specialized transportation, accessible accommodations, mobility equipment and personal care attendants. If you are on a limited or reduced income due to your disability, the expenses associated with travel may seem insurmountable.
In this post, I will share with you numerous methods I employ to reduce the cost of traveling with a disability. Whether your destination is Walt Disney World or a foreign country, you can use these tips to save money on your trip.
1. Plan ahead, and plan well.
This is the obvious and common sense tip. If you plan your trip well in advance, you’ll have the opportunity to snag the best deals on travel essentials like airfare, rail passes and hotel accommodations. As I take you through the rest of these steps, prepare yourself to consider everything. There are many ways to save money, and if you are committed to exploring multiple options and approach the process of planning your trip with flexibility, you’ll have the opportunity to save a lot of money.
2. Timing is everything.
The cost of travel – airfare, hotels and activities – can vary widely depending on the time of year and destination. Avoid traveling to a city or country during its peak vacation season. If you want the best deal, avoid Hawaii in January, the Caribbean during Spring Break, and Europe or Florida in the summer months. A hotel room that may cost $100 per night in the low season could easily be $300 per night when tourism is at its peak.
Dig deeper, though. Look at the local events calendar. The cost of travel rises with demand. I’ve made the mistake of traveling to cities hosting major events on a number of occasions (sometimes intentionally), and it cost me big time. Here are a few that I remember:
- Atlanta the night of a major music concert.
- Boston during the Boston Marathon.
- Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show.
- Paris in August, during the final stage of the Tour de France.
- Tallahassee the weekend of a Seminoles college football game.
If you choose the wrong time for your trip, you’ll face inflated airfare and hotel prices. With just a bit of research, you’ll be able to avoid mistakes like these and save money. Google is your best friend!
3. Keep an eye on the airfare deals.
Most of my destinations are selected based on the airfare deals I have been able to take advantage of. Here are five of the best deals I’ve booked in my past 2.5 years as a wheelchair traveler:
- Amsterdam, Netherlands to Beijing, China – $519.20 [Round Trip, July 2015]
- Gainesville, Florida to Moscow, Russia – $540.96 [Round Trip, April 2015]
- Jacksonville, Florida to Oslo, Norway – $483.80 [Round Trip, September 2014]
- Seattle, Washington to Hong Kong, China – $643.90 [Round Trip, November 2014]
- Shanghai, China to Tokyo, Japan // to Bangkok, Thailand (Business Class) – $678.20 [November 2014]
I never know when deals like these will pop up, but there are several websites that catalogue them. Check out Airfare Watchdog, The Flight Deal and Secret Flying – each lists the latest cheap flight deals that offer the most bang for your buck.
If your destination isn’t flexible, you can still save money by flying mid-week instead of on the weekends. The image above shows a calendar of the lowest one-way airfares available between Las Vegas and New York City (all airports) for the months of April and May, 2016. You will notice that the lowest fares are concentrated primarily on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Saturday and Sunday fares pricing somewhat or significantly higher. Airfare prices fluctuate with each market, but you’ll typically be able to find the best fares when traveling midweek and purchasing two weeks or more in advance.
If you decide to book an airfare deal, consider doing it through one of the affiliate links on my Travel Resources page – I’ll get a small commission to support this website.
4. Consider paying in advance for your hotel room.
Hotels often offer discounted rates, sometimes up to 25%, for those who reserve early (typically 30 days or more before the stay begins) and pre-pay for the room. Prepaid reservations do carry with them some risks, since they are non-refundable. On a couple of occasions, I have been burned by an advance reservation, due to a missed flight connection that delayed my arrival to the destination by a day.
If you book longer connections and are confident that you will not have to change the dates of your travel, a prepaid booking can save you a significant amount of money. Tips for finding the best deal on accessible hotel rooms can be found on my wheelchair accessible travel booking resources page.
You are also able to insure your pre-paid reservations against travel interruptions, health crises and other unforeseen events. Read my FAQ article, Selecting A Travel Insurance Plan For The Wheelchair User.
5. Take advantage of disability discounts.
While discounts for the disabled are rare in the United States, that is not the case in many foreign countries. The cost of visiting museums and attractions adds up quickly when you are on vacation. On my recent trip to Paris, France, I was able to get in to many of the city’s most popular attractions for a significantly reduced rate, or for FREE! Here are a list of things I did and what I paid, with the normal adult prices in parentheses:
- Eiffel Tower – €4 (€11)
- The Louvre Museum – FREE +1 Guest (€15)
- Musee de l’Orangerie – FREE +1 Guest (€9)
- Musee d’Orsay – FREE +1 Guest (€11)
- Opera Garnier – FREE +1 Guest (€11)
- Palace of Versailles – FREE+1 Guest (€15)
That’s six different landmarks and museums I was able to see for a total cost of €4. A guest was included with my admission everywhere except the Eiffel Tower, and I did use the free guest feature once – at the Louvre with a new friend I had made. With respect to those six attractions, the “value” of a disability can amount to a total of €129, or about $145 USD, if you are traveling with someone. That’s nothing to scoff at!
If you’re planning a trip, check to see if any of the activities you’d like to do offer a discount for people with disabilities. It never hurts to ask, and it isn’t something that I am even remotely embarrassed about doing. There are also many attractions, in cities at home and abroad, that are free to everyone. The national museums and art galleries in Washington, D.C. are an excellent example.
6. Public transportation is wheelchair accessible – use it!
Wheelchair accessible taxis and other private transportation services are expensive. While it may be less stressful to have vehicles ready to shuttle you from here to there, it will break the bank. Those $20, $30 and $40 cab rides add up quickly.
I am a proponent of using the public transportation systems. As governments have invested in making those transit networks wheelchair accessible, I treat it almost like a duty to show society that the money spent on accessibility has not gone to waste. Public transportation truly is a gift, a resource that offers travelers like you and me the benefits of convenience and cost savings. Forget that $20 cab fare to dinner, or that $50 fare to the airport – pay two to three dollars on public transportation instead.
In the wheelchair accessible travel guides on this website, you’ll find extremely detailed information on public transportation. While many costs associated with accessible travel are fixed, local transportation doesn’t have to be. Public transportation can (and should) be your friend.
7. Use points and miles as currency.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I am a master of using rewards currency to pay for airfare and hotel rooms. Take my recent trip to the Middle East, for example. I flew home from Dubai on a 17-hour flight for just 90,000 miles and $44.90. While there, I stayed at the world’s tallest hotel with my Marriott Rewards points, saving almost $450 per night.
Traveling is the obvious way to earn loyalty and rewards points, but it’s not the only way. Sign-up for a credit card from an airline or hotel, and you’ll earn a points sign-up bonus that can cover your flights or hotel room. You’ll also earn points or miles on spending that you already make – food, gas, clothing, your cell phone bill, etc. Sign-up for a rewards credit card and you’ll be on your way to earning points or miles with every purchase.
There is no better way to travel than to travel for free!
How do you budget for a wheelchair accessible vacation?
Which of these methods do you use to save money?
Let me know in the comments below!