No matter what your budget is, you would probably appreciate more money in your vacation budget. Every little bit helps, and if it’s easy to do, that’s even better. With that in mind, here are three ways we save money for travel a little bit at a time using our smartphones.
Last updated July 2021.
Cash Back Grocery Apps
Couponing is nothing new, and it’s an easy way to divert money from something frivolous, like food or toilet tissue, to something more worthwhile. Money for travel, for example. The idea seems simple: You hand the cashier a coupon and your grocery bill goes down by a few cents. Problem is, most people never turn that into actual vacation savings by putting that saved change away.
A bevy of smartphone apps can do that for you, and we use them all the time. Here’s how most of them work:
- If you have a loyalty card for a featured retailer, link that in the app; it may save some time and effort later on.
- Before you go shopping, check in the app to find rebate offers on items you need or want.
- Don’t forget to select or activate the rebates before shopping!
- Shop as normal.
- When you get home, open the app and submit your receipt (by taking a picture with your smartphone’s camera), if needed; some apps will link with your loyalty card to “see” your purchase. You may also have to select which items are on your receipt.
- Sit back and watch the money for travel add up!
Much like coupons, the savings are small, individually. Once you get in the habit, though, you can save a few dollars on most trips. They sit in your apps until you are ready to cash out. Method of payment varies by app. Realistically, if you consistently use the apps, you can save up about $100 to $200 per year on a moderate budget. This depends greatly on the number of offers in each app, and we find ibotta to have the most.
These savings are in addition to any physical coupons or other apps you might use (and, of course, the miles you earn using a travel credit card). As an example, we recently got 25¢ for buying yogurt in one app, 50¢ for buying a specific yogurt in another app, and used a paper coupon for 50¢ off said yogurt. That’s $1.25 in savings for a yogurt that was on sale for a dollar. Cha-ching!
Here are the cash back grocery apps we use the most to help save money for travel:
Note: These apps are available for use in the United States only, and may have additional requirements or restrictions. Participating stores and brands vary.
ibotta partners with brands to offer rebates on groceries, some consumer goods, alcohol (in some locations), restaurants, and some online retailers. Rebates generally range from 25¢ to $5, sometimes much more. While most rebates are for packaged foods, they often include generic “any brand” items, and loose produce. Some in-app purchases are available, also. There are frequently bonus opportunities for redeeming a specific number of rebates, buying multiple items in a brand family, or reaching specific goals.
The company has an entire bonus category for teams. Naturally, they want more people using the app, and word of mouth is a great recruiting tool. So is extra cash. To get it, recruit friends, family…blog readers…whoever you can to sign up and save with Ibotta. You’ll have a referral code in the app and, when your recruits use it, you get $10 and they get a $20 Welcome Bonus when they complete 10 offers within 14 days! Then, your team can start earning team bonuses for a few extra dollars. (Note: Your rewards may vary as referral and sign-up bonuses periodically change.)
Like many apps, ibotta evolved to include online shopping, which includes orders placed through Shipt and Instacart. Just link your account with ibotta, activate offers, and shop, shop, shop! You can also earn cash at major retails, like Target and Albertsons, then you order online for pick up or delivery, as well as in-store savings.
When you’re ready to cash out, ibotta will send the cash to your PayPal or bank account, easy-peasy. Just like that, your travel kitty got fatter! You can also choose to redeem for gift cards from a wide variety of merchants. You must have at least $20 in your account to cash out, and must have completed at least one name brand offer.
If you’re not using ibotta yet, we’d be honored if you’d join our team by going here and signing up.
Checkout 51 is similar to ibotta: You download the app, select your stores and offers, and get yourself some cash back! Two major difference:
- Checkout 51 is available in Canada, too!
- The company has added savings for gas fill-ups also, but only in limited areas in the United States.
If you have a long commute, drive for a side-gig, or are road tripping your way across America, this is a huge win. Or, at least, it will be when available in more areas. We have not filled up in an area where it’s available, but understand participating stations include Shell and Mobil-Exxon.
Once you’ve downloaded the app and set up an account, you can browse weekly offers for savings. After shopping – in store or online – mark which items you’ve purchased, and upload a photo of your receipt using your phone’s camera. Automagically, the app matches up the offers you checked with your store receipt, and credits you for the purchases.
Once your savings top $20, you can request a pay-out and they’ll send your earnings in the form of a check. You heard that right, someone still writes checks. (Kids, ask your parents.) One reason we like this option is that we can put that check right into a savings account so there’s no temptation to spend it on our next trip to the grocery store.
There are some tricks to using Checkout 51,though. Most offers are limited in number. More than once, we’ve made a purchase only to find the cashback offer was “out of stock” by the time we got home to upload our receipt. Users frequently complain that the variety of offers is very limited, making it less productive than other cashback apps. Realistic earnings expectations for Checkout 51 are generally in the range of $5-$10 per year.
Every Coupon King or Queen has visited the Coupons.com website to print out coupons before their shopping trips. That’s good, but the Coupons app is better. Why? No printing and cutting out coupons! Just open the app and click on the coupons you want before you go shopping. Then upload your receipts, scan the items you’ve purchased, and voila – cash! We like the variety of offers in this app, and the handy shopping list so no savings get left behind.
Earlier, we mentioned linking your store’s loyalty cards. If you do that in the Coupons app, you an skip uploading your receipts. If your favorite store doesn’t have a loyalty card, or doesn’t participate, don’t worry. You can still redeem offers by uploading your receipts.
Something else we love about the Coupons app is the simplicity of getting your cash back! Unlike other apps, there is no minimum amount before your payout is processed. If you earn $2.00 on your next shopping trip, you’ll soon see that $2.00 added to your PayPal account.
Technically not cashback apps, these apps reward you for uploading receipts. Instead of giving you cash back, they pad your travel fund indirectly by rewarding you with gift cards (aka: “cash equivalents”). We often choose gift cards that we can use for meals when we travel, or VISA gift cards when they are available.
Fetch rewards you points for purchases and receipts; any receipts. Dinner at Chipotle? Upload the receipt for at least five points. Bought some new shirts at the Polo store? Upload the receipt and get another 25 points. Shopping online? Upload your email receipt.
Grocery runs generally get you the most points, though, as they’re tied to the dollar cost on your receipt. You can earn more points by taking advantage of special offers, either in-store or on-line. These offers are usually brand related, and require a specific purchase. Sometimes, these offers can be worth thousands of points! Look for restaurant specials, too, where bonus points are awarded for each receipt from that restaurant.
The big question is: How much are these points worth? Most rewards start at 5,000 points for a $5 gift card. VISA gift cards are slight more expensive, starting at 6,000 points for a $5 reward. Realistic earnings potential is anywhere from $20 to $200 per year, depending on your spending habits. You can increase that payout by making this a family project: make sure you collect receipts from everyone’s shopping trips!
Like Fetch Rewards, you can upload just about any kind of receipt to earn rewards with Receipt Hot. Things work just a bit differently, though. There are three ways to earn, depending on the type of receipt you upload:
- Coins: Coins are the Receipt Hog currency that can be redeemed for gift cards. The number of coins you earn depend on the value of your receipt, from 5 coins when you spend less than $10, up to 20 coins when you spend more than $100. You earn coins from shopping at stores that sell groceries, health items, and beauty supplies.
- Spins: When you shop at other stores, such as clothing, electronics, sporting goods, and other stores, you’ll earn spins in Receipt Hog’s slot machine. Like any slot machine, you might not win anything on your spin, but you could win enough coins to pay for your shopping trip! (We have not. Yet!)
- Entries: 5,505 entries are selected every month to win anywhere from 20 to 5,000 coins (value: approximately 10 cents to $25).
You can earn more rewards every month just by connecting your email and Amazon accounts (to monitor for purchases), and loyalty cards from participating grocers.
That seems like a lot to keep up with, right? So we don’t. We just sit back and let the coins add up, waiting for the day we are ready to cash them in. It’s all sort of a bonus for us, so we don’t really worry about it. When it is time to redeem your coins, the exchange rate starts at 1,000 coins for $5, up to 6500 coins for $40. You can choose to receive your pay-out in the form of an Amazon or VISA gift card, or deposit into your PayPal account.
We have heard of people earning as much as $80 per year with Receipt Hog but, after a year, we are just closing in on a $15 reward. In all honesty, that’s our fault for not being more consistent in using the app.
If you join Receipt Hog using our link, you’ll get five bonus spins when you snap your first receipt!
Similar to Receipt Hog, your upload activity in the Receipt Pal app can net you points and sweepstakes entries. The formula, though, is much simpler: Upload four receipts to complete a card. Each card is worth 100 points. You can earn more points by connecting your email and Accounts, and loyalty cards from participating stores. You can submit just about any receipt, either by scanning your connected email accounts, or uploading a photo of your receipt. Stores and restaurants, app stores, and Amazon purchases all count. We’ve even received credit for our email receipts from Uber rides!
Every validated receipt also earns an entry into weekly Bonus Sweepstakes. There are three sweepstakes every week, each one with a $250 prize.
When it’s time to redeem, you can choose retail or Amazon gift cards, 2200 points is worth $5. If you do the math, that’s 88 receipt uploads to get $5. Since it doesn’t really matter how much you spent – so long as you uploaded a receipt – this can be a low cost way to add money to your travel kitty. Incidentally, the top tier reward is 32,250 points for a $100 reward.
Given that your earnings are based entirely on the number of receipts you upload, consistently uploading every receipt you can get your hands on is key. We manage about $25 per year using the app, without really trying. We know we could easily do better. If you’d
Pro Tip: We have a special PayPal account that’s used just for collecting cash from our cashback apps, and other “side hustles” that contribute to our travel fund. It’s free, and easy to set up, and by being a separate account, there’s no temptation to tap into it before we’re booking travel. Don’t have a PayPal account? PayPal does not have a referral code program, but we can help you earn an extra $10 when you sign up. Just ask us about it in the comments, or send us an email at email@example.com. We’ll ask PayPal to send you a link to open an account. Complete an eligible transaction of $5 or more using your PayPal account, and they’ll send you a $10 bonus!
Pop quiz: What do you do while you’re waiting in line to renew your passport so you can get back on the road? Don’t tell me. You start playing with your smartphone, of course! But, once you’ve caught all your Pokemon, then what?
How about opening an app and answering a few survey questions, or responding to marketing emails? That’s the idea behind e-Miles and e-Rewards. Both programs are free to join, and you can join both programs. While the two are related, they are a little different in how they work and contribute to your stash of money for travel.
With e-Miles, anyone can join and earn miles/points by responding to marketing messages, completing actions, or shopping. You select a specific airline or hotel chain, then all of your earnings will go to that option in the form of miles or points. However, once you’ve selected your earning partner, you cannot change it without forfeiting any miles or points in your account. Choose wisely.
e-Rewards is more exclusive. They call it “invitation-only.” Essentially, they provide a program for companies like American Airlines or Hilton Hotels, allowing their customers to earn miles, points, or gift cards as rewards for taking surveys. You may see an invitation to join from your airline or hotel loyalty program, for example, but you cannot simply join from the e-Rewards site. Surveys can take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour to complete. Even if you try but don’t qualify for a survey, you’ll at least get credit for trying. Each survey has a different reward level; once completed, that reward is added to your balance. While your rewards are shown as dollar figures, it’s a cash equivalent which can be spent on gift cards for the sponsor company (in our case, American Airlines), and usually a few other retailers, hotels, and services.
In terms of realistic savings goals, this one is minimal. We find that it takes several attempts to find a survey to complete. To equate this to earning wages, we’d consider this a minimum wage way of adding to your savings, at very best. But if you’ve nothing better to do, you have nothing to lose!
Feeding the Vacation Kitty
Whether it’s buying things from Amazon for your travels, paying towards flights or rooms, or padding the bankroll, we think of these all as ways we can “feed the vacation kitty.” Lord knows, ours certainly has an endless appetite! Granted, it’s not a full meal, but who doesn’t like between meal snacks?
We would love to hear about the creative ways you have found to save money for travel. If you use, or plan to start using any of these apps, we’d love to hear about your experience, too. Tell us all about it in a Comment!
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Credits: Shopping couple using their smartphone to save money for their vacation fund is © Syda Productions. App screen captures taken by TravelLatte; each is © by the respective app owners.
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These tips are just awesome, Rob! I desperately needed this info!
Thanks Agness! Glad you found them useful – have fun putting them to work!
Ah yes, I have been doing e-rewards surveys to stock up my Alaska Airlines miles for a couple of years. I currently have enough for a round-trip to New Zealand! Working hard to turn that into two RTs 🙂 Great post, thanks for sharing!
My boyfriend is obsessed with cash back grocery apps and I always laugh at him. Might have to actually try them out after reading this!
The Rob half of Ann+Rob stands accused of obsessing with them, too. The Ann half laughs…but secretly enjoys the extra budget. 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Sarah – we both hope you fare well with the apps!
Great list Rob and Ann, I’d never heard of Job Spotter before but it sounds like such a great community-minded idea. Another website that’s great is UsabilityHub where you get paid to respond to 30 second questions around website/app designs
Thanks David! We’re going to find UsabilityHub – sounds like a great idea and helpful too. I can think of a few sites/apps that could really use that sort of research. I wonder if they take referrals? 😉
Such a great post – we are using just the miles for now but we will definitely give a try to the others. When it comes to travel, every penny matters. Thanks for sharing, saving it for future reference.
Thanks Oana – we use points and miles a lot as well. We like these tools because the money generated just sits there – sort of out of mind – until we’re ready to use it for a trip. Kind of a nice bonus! Thanks for reading!
We always use miles. Did not know about the rest. Thanks for sharing. These are great tips to save money.
Hi guys – We are big fans of points and miles, too. With the airlines tightening up their programs, alternative funds become more important. It would take a while for these to add up to air fare, but every penny helps! Thanks for reading!
I’m going to add some of these apps right now, these sound amazing and we are always looking for creative ways to save extra money for trips. Amazing ideas! Pinned for later 🙂
Hello Miss Scarlett! Every little bit helps, right? Hope these add some jingle to your pockets. 🙂
I have read many posts on how to save money to travel (I have even written one myself) but this has to be the most inventive and original! You really have come up with easy and fantastic ways to save, I love it, the apps are a fantastic idea! Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention, I will have to look into this for sure 🙂 #feetdotravel
Actually, Angie, I sort of owe the idea of the post to you! You used the phrase “pennies to pounds” recently, and it’s been in my head that I wanted to follow up on that idea. (Another one is coming, by the way!) Not long after, I noticed that I haven’t seen/heard anybody talking about these apps – maybe because they only add pennies at a time. So bam! New post. Hopefully it helps everyone turn those pennies into pounds! (Or dollars, since most of this batch aren’t available in the UK. Booo! 😉
I need to be better about using the apps!! Job Spotter is a new one for me – will check it out! I’m always looking for ways to save money towards travels!!
Every little bit helps, right Jenn? Thanks for reading but, more importantly, welcome back! How was Italy? (As if it could be anything other than fabulous!)
We have similar cashback sites in the UK and it’s a great way of making extra cash on your purchases! Great tips!
Good to know, Lexx! I figured you would – and if anybody wants to list some of them here, all the better! I love that we can actually do something productive on our smartphones. I mean, besides saving the world from pigs and Pokemon. 😉
Great Tips on ways to save money for travel. I have heard about those apps for shopping. Walmart is also one. All I know is you scan your receipt which price matches and gives you credit. (think thats how it works). e-Miles is a big one, and one I used often which took me too many travel locations & wonderful hotels and resorts plus upgraded to business class every so often 🙂 Thanks for sharing! 🙂 #feetdotravel
Hi Stephanie – glad you liked the tips! I’m always game to try something that will add to the kitty, even if it’s just a few cents here and there. It all adds up, right? I heard Angie (@FeetDoTravel) say “Pennies to Pounds” recently…that’s what it’s all about! And when it leads to Biz Class? #Bonus!! Thanks for your comment!
Rob, these ideas are pure genius! I knew about food cash backs but didn’t know about the apps in here. Didn’t know about the points you can wind with Indeed (and I would in a recruiting department!). I need to start using some of those. I have the keep the change Bank of America’s programs and money accumulates fast. #TheTravelPostcard
Hi Ruth! I love Job Spotter / Indeed – I get a little change to put away, and I might be helping someone find a job. That’s a real win-win! It’s definitely my favorite of the bunch for that reason. I really do need to get with the program on the apps that round up your purchase and save the change! In that area, I’m definitely Mr. Slacker. 🙁
I definitely learned about a few apps I didn’t know about. There are so many great ones out there. I think my favorite money making on is ebates. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
eBates! I completely left out eBates. Thanks for mentioning. Glad you found some new apps you could use too. As always, thanks for dropping by!
When I began reading about the job spotter the first thing that came to my mind was that you go to apply for a job and then claim the expenses on your income tax. I’ve never heard of this app, but it’s really cool. How ingenious to earn money by submitting ‘Help Wanted ‘signs when you see them.
Hmmm…I never thought about claiming the expenses! 😉 What I like most about Job Spotter is that you might actually be helping someone find a job. That rocks, and makes me feel much better than the few dollars that I pick up every month. Thanks for reading, Anda!