There’s no secret formula to traveling for free, but I find the more people travel, the more ways they find to make the experience affordable. Once you start traveling often enough, it’s like an addiction and suddenly you find yourself saving and budgeting for the next trip, the next adventure.
Since moving to New York City, I’ve found myself on a strict budget trying to make the most with my money. I haven’t stopped traveling and don’t plan to, but living in a city with a cost of living I’m not quite used to, I’ve suddenly found myself constantly budgeting my expenses. That’s how I recently discovered some new apps which make travel much more affordable.
Today, I’ll share how I use the Acorns personal finance app to save 2 to 10% on many travel expenses. Look out for more travel hacking budget tips in the future!
Note: there are affiliate links in this post, but I wouldn’t recommend anything I don’t already use regularly. Acorns is a really cool app which I’ve been using to save money where I can. And if you sign up with my link here, you’ll get a bonus $5 just to get started!
What is Acorns?
Acorns is a personal finance app that automatically rounds up purchases and invests your spare change. For example, if you spend $3.62 on a cup of coffee, Acorns automatically puts $0.38 into an investment account. You can withdraw that money at any time.
But the real draw is the special Found Money section on the Acorns app. With Found Money, you receive cash back into your investment account for shopping with select partners. Some available offers include $0.50 for riding with Uber (every time!), 4% cash back on Expedia, 2.5% on Apple purchases, 2.5% on Asos purchases, and countless others in every type of industry.
Note that Acorns has a $1/month charge on accounts with savings less than a million dollars. The Found Money I get back through the app, though, more than makes up for this fee. And bonus! Acorns is FREE for college students!
The Best Way to Save with Acorns
Acorns has so many Found Money partners that I always check the app before making any significant purchase. Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, there are a few standout travel partners which make it especially appealing. Here are the offers I use most often:
4% Off Any Hotel Booking with Expedia
Expedia has great rates for hotels, and getting 4% back on top of that just for booking adds up. A $300 hotel stay would get you $12 back in Found Money.
1.8% Back on Airbnb Bookings
When I travel, I stay in a lot of Airbnbs for that local experience. Airbnb rarely offers discounts or promotions, so take advantage of this promotion through Acorns while it lasts! There’s also a separate $200 promotion for becoming an Airbnb host.
$0.50 for each Uber Ride
Book an Uber through the Acorns app and you get $0.50 for each ride you take. Note that you can use this and other offers multiple times. Normally I prefer to use public transportation, but I’ve found myself using Uber more and more for short trips since moving to New York City. You just have to remember to click the link through the Acorns app to get the reward—but it’s second nature for me by this point. (I always make a point to remember the things that get me free money!)
Free credit with Acorns!
Get a free bonus $5 credit when you first sign up with Acorns. Click here to sign up.
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There are dozens of other offers in the Acorns apps, including cash back for rental cars and hotels. To take advantage of any of them, go the Found Money tab in the Acorns app and click an offer link to make your purchase. You must use a credit card you’ve linked with Acorns and complete the transaction through the app to qualify for the promotions.
Stacking Acorns with Credit Card Rewards
Advanced travel hackers are probably already familiar with earning points for travel. You can combine Acorns cash back rewards with credit card points for an even better deal. For example, I linked the Chase Sapphire Reserve card with my Acorns account. This card earns three points per dollar spent on travel, which can be redeemed for 1.5 cents on travel purchases. This is the equivalent of getting 4.5% cash back.
So when booking on Airbnb through Acorns, I get a 7.3% effective discount each time.
You can also sometimes combine Acorns Found Money with other discounts and coupons. I once saved $200 on a flight booking through Upside.com by combining a $100 Acorns promotion with a $100 discount for new users (link).
How to get your Found Money
Found Money may take up to 120 days to post to your account, but sometimes arrives faster. On one occasion Acorns didn’t detect a purchase and I had to contact Acorns to request a manual credit—so be sure to track your purchases.
Tip: Don’t get caught up in the cash back game
Travel is about creating new experiences, deepening relationships, and becoming closer to ourselves. It’s nice to save a bit here and there whenever possible, but be careful that the end does not justify the means. I would never book an Uber over taking the bus just because I can save 50 cents through Acorns, for example.
I like to think about travel in terms of what it can do for me—not in terms of how I can save money. Still, it never hurts to get a little back when you can.
Check out the Acorns app here and use this link to get your FREE $5 credit to get started! The app is available for iOS and Android.