7 Ways to Get Free Lodging While Traveling

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  • Credit cards can be a great tool for earning free hotel nights, both through rewards points and free night certificates.
  • Pledging to take care of pets and/or another traveler's home can be a great no-cost way to experience a new area.
  • If you're the outgoing sort, then couch surfing can help you meet new folks while cutting accommodation costs.

It's no secret that airfare is expensive. And gas surely isn't cheap. But often, the most expensive part of any trip is going to be lodging. The longer your trip lasts, the higher that bill will be.

But it doesn't have to be that way. There are actually all sorts of ways you can get free or reduced cost accommodations on your next trip. Here are some examples.

1. Rewards points

Pretty much every major hotel brand has a loyalty program that lets you redeem points for free hotel nights. While you can earn points in a variety of ways, the easiest is often through credit cards.

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There are two ways to turn credit card purchases into hotel points. The first is to get a co-branded hotel credit card. The points you earn with a hotel card go straight into your loyalty account, where you can redeem them for free nights directly.

The other option is a rewards credit card with transferable points. These programs partner with hotels (and airlines, but that's another article). When you know which hotel brand you want to use, you can transfer your credit card points to your hotel loyalty account for redemption.

2. Free night certificates

One of my absolute favorite travel card perks is when hotel credit cards offer free night certificates. These are typically annual perks that are handed out after your cardholder anniversary. Free night certificates can, as the name suggests, be redeemed for a free hotel night.

The quality and value of the certificates can vary a lot. Most will have some sort of point-equivalent cap. For example, you might get a cert that can only be used on rooms worth up to 40,000 hotel points. Despite the caps, however, these certificates can be quite versatile.

3. House/pet sitting

If you're responsible and willing to do a few household chores to pay for your lodging, then house and/or pet sitting could be a viable option for no-cost lodging while you travel. There are several popular websites that let you match with homeowners who need a little help while they're away from home. Since most of the listings tend to involve taking care of pets -- or even livestock -- some animal experience may be required.

4. House swaps

Thanks to the power of the internet, homeowners looking to get away can simply swap places with other homeowners from across the globe. (If you've seen a certain Kate Winslet rom-com -- or the Hallmark Channel knock-offs -- then you already know how magical a house swap can be.) While you're not guaranteed to fall in love with the attractive neighbor, you can still enjoy the adventure of staying somewhere exotic for free.

5. Couch surfing

Are you more of the vagabond type -- or just extremely outgoing? Then you might be a good candidate for couch surfing. While the term may conjure that friend in college who only needs to crash for "a couple of days" (read: months), the concept has been modernized for the digital era. Now, you can hop on a website and find plenty of folks willing to give you a couch -- or, ideally, a room -- where you can crash for free during your travels.

6. Sales spiels

The good old timeshare spiel is more than just a sitcom punchline. You can actually enjoy free -- or at least significantly discounted -- accommodations just for sitting through a sales pitch. Alright, so it's going to a sales pitch with a hard push, so if you're at all susceptible to such things, this may not be the option for you. (Never buy a timeshare. Just don't.) But if you're stubborn enough to ignore the temptation to buy, it could be a good way to travel at a discount.

7. Friends and family

If you're one of those people who always makes friends wherever you go, well, you've got a network of free accommodations built right in! Staying with friends or family is a time-honored tradition, and arguably the most popular way to skip the hotel bill. Just remember that even with family, you can have too much of a good thing -- so don't overstay your welcome!

Hotel, schmotel

Finding somewhere to sleep while you're on vacation can be a costly endeavor. And it can be especially hard if you forget something really important: Vacations are rarely about where you sleep. As long as you have somewhere safe to spend the night, try to focus less on how many stars your accommodation has -- and more on what fun things you'll do while you're traveling.

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