A few months ago, I had the opportunity to book an awesome trip to California with my sister. It was a super last-minute and I wasn’t even sure if I’d go right away, but I was so grateful for the opportunity.
One of my favorite singers from my childhood, Stacie Orrico, was having a one-time concert with a few other artists at a church in Covina, California. You probably haven’t heard of her, but she’s a contemporary Christmas artist who was most active in her career from 2000 to 2006.
I grew up on her music so I was just as hyped up as a long-time fan of the Spice Girls would be. Luckily my sister convinced me to go and we agreed that the trip would be a frugal last-minute vacation. Hence why I just had to go.
Being in the middle of a debt repayment journey right now, I’m definitely learning how I can make financial progress and still take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like this one.
Normally, California can be a pretty pricey place to visit. Here’s how we spent less than $400 each on the entire trip.
Southwest Companion Pass
Flights can be the most expensive part of a trip. Luckily, I earned the Southwest Companion pass last year which allowed me to book a Southwest flight and bring a companion along with me for free.
In order to earn this pass, you need to do either 100 one-way flights in a year or earn 110,000 Southwest Rewards points. I’m not a huge fan of flying and 100 flights sounds insane so I chose the latter to help me earn the Companion Pass.
To earn the points, I signed up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards personal credit card and the business version of the credit card. Both cards offer a sign-on bonus where you can earn a ton of points once you make a certain amount of purchases within the first 3 months.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards personal card had a 40,000 bonus and the business card had a 60,000 sign on point bonus at the time that I signed up. From there, all I needed to do was make a few regular purchases on the card to earn the remaining 10,000 points I needed for the pass.
I love this airline offer because you earn a ton of points to redeem for free flights. On top of that, you can earn the Companion Pass like I did.
Disclaimer: If you’re going to credit card hack for points like I did, it can be a great way to save money on travel. However, you have to control your spending and pay your balance off in full each month. If you keep a balance, you’ll pay unnecessary interest which will cancel out the benefits of any rewards you earn.
So since my sister technically got a free flight, we just split the cost of my flight down the middle so we each paid only $153.48 for roundtrip flights to LA.
Lodging is the next largest expense most people run into when they travel. We decided to go with Airbnb. We actually found a super good deal via a private listing on the site.
My sister teaches ESL online and one of her students recommended an Airbnb host that was super affordable. We booked a private room in the house which was located in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It came out to $53 for each of us which was much cheaper than what we’d pay if we stayed in LA.
Yes, I know that’s SUPER cheap as it was only $25 per night and $106.13 total for both of us to stay there for a few nights. Her student really hooked up with that referral!
Our Airbnb host also lived in a subdivision that had its own clubhouse and outdoor pool and he gave us access so it was a nice perk.
Renting a car was a must for us while in California because the places we wanted to go were so spaced out and the prices for ride-sharing were super high.
Still, car rentals can add up to especially after you factor in mileage costs, gas, and insurance. LA has horrible traffic (I thought Chicago did but I was wrong).
I’m so glad my sister found out about Turo which is how we rented a car for cheap. I heard of Turo before and even wrote about it on this blog some years back.
It’s not as popular where I live and I’d never used it but I’m so glad we gave it a try. Turo is a site that allowed you to rent out your car to other people. You set your own prices and come up with your own terms.
Apparently in California, Turo is pretty huge and they have their own lot with valet workers. We were able to rent a basic compact car for only $166.27 for a few days. This was a steal and the car was really good on gas. We split the price so we each paid only $83.13 for the car rental. I think we only filled it up when we were wrapping up our trip and heading back to the airport to drop the car off. I probably put $20 toward the gas at that point so let’s round the car rental price up to $100 for my portion.
Related: 9 Ways to Make Money While Traveling
I’ve been a long-time fan of Groupon. I use it all the time and I’ve found some awesome deals over the years. For our trip, we took advantage of this popular deal site to score discounts on most of our activities.
We visited the Planes of Fame Museum and used a Groupon to save money on admission. We also had a full spa day in LA which we found a Groupon for also.
It helps that I’m super flexible and open-minded when it comes to entertainment. I like trying new things and seeing new destinations so I’m usually up for one or more experiences that Groupon is advertising.
Plus, I’ve never been to a spa before – don’t judge me – and it was a pretty awesome experience. The museum was only $6.25 per person and I paid $25 to get into the spa.
Food can easily inflate the price of your trip. Heck, even when you’re not traveling, food costs can eat up your budget and dining out is just one of those tricky hidden costs that you need to get a handle on.
It’s always a given that I’m going to dine out when I travel, so I like to find ways to cut the costs. I love breakfast, but I hardly ever dine out for it.
Instead, my sister and I just went to the grocery store and purchased some snack bars, fruit, cereal, and sausage. I’m literally obsessed with these smoked sausage sticks and they can sit without being refrigerated which is great when you’re on the go or traveling.
We got coffee for free at the clubhouse each morning instead of going to Starbucks. We also stayed with local restaurant recommendations.
My sister found a great empanadas place where they served a variety of huge empanadas for only $2 each. We also found a really good seafood/healthy eating restaurant that had daily deals and served large portions for such cheap prices.
The fish was some of the best we ever tasted so we wondered why the prices were so low for it to be in California, but then again, I actually didn’t care. We went to our seafood place at least 3 times during our trip and the portions were so generous we were usually so full that it covered lunch and dinner.
To find the best food places when you’re traveling, I highly recommend checking out sites like Yelp or even just use Google Maps over tourist sites. Some touristy restaurants are expensive and the food is not even that good.
I’d rather go where the locals go, eat good, and save my money. Overall, I probably spent about $50 – $6o on food and dining out during the trip which wraps up our $400 per person budget.
We paid for the concert separately and a few months prior to taking the trip. I spent about $100 on my concert ticket which included VIP seating and a meet and greet afterward. My hair was pretty much done by the time I got to meet Stacie unfortunately.
Overall, my first girl’s trip with my sister was nothing short of amazing. We got to attend the concert I thought I’d never make it to and actually meet my favorite artist so she now knows I exist 🙂 Plus, we were able to create other great memories together without overspending.
Given that, I can’t complain at all about this frugal last-minute trip to California. Even though we didn’t have much time to plan, I love how we both operated on frugal autopilot and did some basic research to learn more about the area we were traveling to and find ways to save.
Do you have any trips planned for this year? What would be your go-to hack to save money on a frugal last-minute trip?
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