By Melissa Lambarena
Credit card rewards can be your ticket — literally your plane ticket — to a dream destination. But even if you’ve earned what you need to get to where you’re going, the accommodations could be a different story.
What do you do if you don’t have enough points or miles left for lodging?
You can slash those costs, too, if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone. That might mean couch surfing with locals, agreeing to a home exchange or signing up for housesitting. Websites and apps can help you connect with frugal options domestically and abroad. You may be able to stay free, or nearly free, if you’re flexible with dates and can abide by house rules.
This option works for solo travelers or couples looking to make new friends over a few nights. Since you’re staying in someone’s home, you’ll likely need to “check in and out” at reasonable hours and clean up after yourself.
For Alexander Salas, who runs the YouTube channel Alex Travelbum, giving up some freedom is worth it. He uses the app from Couchsurfing.com, which has allowed him to sleep in 15 countries free. His trip to Naples, Italy, was the most memorable, he says.
“I stayed with this woman who was just the most generous, nice person in the world, and we’re still friends till this day,” Salas says. “She made me all of this authentic Italian food and took me around town.”
This option offers more privacy since you’ll swap your home temporarily with someone else.
Melissa Conn, blogger at The Family Voyage , uses the GuestToGuest website. This service charges about $11 a night or around $147 annually (and you’ll have to pay a damage deposit). The host may also include additional charges or requests.
“Some hosts charge a cash cleaning fee,” Conn says. Other places, “they’ll just leave a list of the five things that they want you to do before leaving. And then some people just say, ‘Leave it tidy.’”
You can offset the costs of such services by cooking in the kitchen to save money on meals . Some homeowners even let you borrow their car, Conn says.
If you don’t mind pets or a few chores while you travel, you can see the world for less.
Nik and Angel Rowell, YouTubers at Roadtrip with Nik, have traveled to Costa Rica and several U.S. states, among other destinations. They frequently use Trustedhousesitters.com, which also has an app and charges $119 for an annual membership.
They suggest considering the responsibilities of each housesit beforehand and how it might affect your stay.
“If you have a weeklong housesit in Hawaii that included caring for a dog that needed to go out in the morning, afternoon and evening, you wouldn’t be able to go explore the island all day long,” Nik Rowell says.
Wherever you stay, communicate with the host to match your expectations to the experience. If you need a kitchen or Wi-Fi, for example, ask whether you’ll have access.
If you’re staying with strangers, screen them first. Some subscription services have a verification process, but it’s not always as robust as a traveler might like.
Amanda Kelly, solo traveler and content creator at Amanda Round The Globe, generally seeks female hosts when she couch surfs. During a trip to Belgium, she says, she was deceived by a man pretending to be a female host.
“After that experience, I did take a lot more precautions by checking the reviews a lot more,” she says.
Other best practices:
Look for hosts who have several positive references, photos and detailed descriptions.
See how your host behaves on social media.
Set up a video meet-and-greet.
Make sure you’re on the same page with house rules and expectations of privacy.
Tell a family member or friend where you’re staying.
Have a plan B in case the accommodations aren’t a good fit.
If that sounds like too much hassle — or if you’re just not interested in a stranger’s couch, house or chores — consider ways to save on more traditional accommodations.
Join a hotel loyalty program, for example, or consider applying for a hotel credit card . The right one can earn you rewards toward future stays, and many cards even offer a free anniversary night, usually in exchange for an annual fee.
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Melissa Lambarena is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com . Twitter: @LissaLambarena.