After a year and a half of travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and individual health concerns, the world is opening back up and that’s music to the ears of those of us traveling again.
But even if you’ve been saving lots of money while waiting out the pandemic and are ready for some revenge travel, you’ll still want to watch your pennies. Good thing there are some great deals out there — some of them even freebies.
From hotel deals to food offerings to reduced prices for tours and even free walking tours, travel may be more affordable than ever right now. We found offers in 10 U.S. cities that will make you want to pack your bags.
Great Travel Freebies and Deals in 10 Must-Visit Cities
Seattle has transitioned from a mid-size regional center to an innovative and modern destination. The Space Needle and Fisherman’s Wharf may be its most iconic landmarks but there’s much more to the Emerald City, along with plenty of opportunities for freebies and discounts.
Speaking of the Space Needle, bundle your tickets with a trip to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit and save $10 on admission. Be sure to check the glass exhibit closures when scheduling your trip.
A popular draw for tourists, Seattle Museum Month returns in 2022. Guests staying at participating downtown hotels in February receive a pass that entitles up to four people half price admission to over 30 museums including the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo, Museum of Pop Culture and The Museum of Flight.
If you’re planning a holiday trip to the Pacific Northwest, Visit Seattle has collected over a dozen special hotel packages. The Grand Hyatt Seattle’s Hyatt NightIn package includes early check-in and late check-out, a $100 credit for in room dining, at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, or Fire & Vine, 15% off in room dining, and a bath bomb. Hyatt at the Olive 8 has its own Hyatt NightIn package with champagne and a dozen oysters at the TIDAL+ restaurant, a $20 gift card to O8 Bagel Shop, and a $50 credit to Elaia Spa.
Another great way to save money is a CityPASS. Seattle CityPASS includes free entry to the Seattle Aquarium and Space Needle, along with admission to other attractions. The pass is $104 for adults (13+) and $84 for children, a savings of 46% versus paying full price for each attraction.
If rail travel appeals to you, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Rail Experience is a great way to see two West Coast cities and take an overnight journey along one of the country’s most scenic rail corridors. This package includes two nights in Los Angeles, a one-day journey up the coast, and two nights in Seattle. The trip includes a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Los Angeles and a Seattle CityPASS.
As an urban vacation destination, few offer the appeal of San Francisco, though it can make for an expensive trip. The good news is that it’s entirely possible to enjoy this great city without breaking the bank.
Start with well-known travel sites like Travelocity or Expedia; when you book your hotel and flight together you may be able to save as much as 100% on your flight — essentially free flights. This is true for every city on this list.
Another place to check for discounts and deals is the city’s official travel site. There you’ll find freebies like a ticket to ice skate at Union Square when you book a room at the Hyatt or Marriott. Other offers to be found around the city include Villa Florence’s Welcome Back Package, which includes a bottle of wine on top of savings of up to 21% off the best booking rate. Alton Hotel’s Escape to San Francisco promotion includes two free cable car tickets and a wine flight for two featuring Habibi Wines at Bacchus Wine Bar in Russian Hill.
There are several discount passes in San Francisco that save money. These passes include the San Francisco CityPASS (savings of up to 44% off adult admission), C3 Pass (savings of up to 38%), Go San Francisco (savings of up to 58%), The San Francisco Sightseeing Pass (savings of up to 59%), or the Land & Sea Combo pass (savings of up to 18%).
These days Los Angeles is much more than the entertainment capital of the world. Over the last 30 years L.A. has evolved into a preeminent multicultural travel destination with a seemingly endless number of vibrant urban neighborhoods. And of course, it’s still home to longtime tourist favorites like Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Santa Monica Pier, and the Walk of Fame.
If your idea of a Southern California vacation isn’t complete without a trip to the beach, there are several great ways to save money with discounts and freebies. The iconic art deco Georgian Hotel has a promotion which saves you 20% when you book 21 days or more in advance. A few blocks away at Palihouse Santa Monica, you can get a $20 daily dining credit at their lobby cafe and barista bar.
Hollywood is always a popular destination for visitors to Los Angeles and there’s no more authentic experience than staying at The Hollywood Roosevelt. Their California’s Calling package is available through Jan. 30, 2022 and includes two complimentary welcome drinks, a daily $30 food and beverage credit, access to movie nights, and access to yoga classes.
It’s easy to find free tickets to museums in Los Angeles. There are museums that are always free like The Getty Center and Getty Villa Museum on the Westside, and the California Science Center and The Broad downtown. Other museums have monthly free ticket days, like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM). LACMA offers free admission on the second Tuesday of every month while NHM has free admission on the first Tuesday of every month except July and August.
Despite the region’s commitment to building out its public transportation system, Los Angeles is famously a driving town. Renting a car is recommended if you’re trying to hit all of the popular destinations. Car rental prices are up 70% compared with 2019, so as an alternative to booking directly from the large operators try companies like Turo, which follows an AirBnB-style business model. They offer a loyalty program where you can earn a free bonus day, while some of their hosts provide discounts when you book a week or more in advance.
Hotels and casinos are working hard to encourage travelers to return to Sin City and there are deep discounts on hotels, dining, shows, and attractions.
Signing up for a Casino Loyalty Club Card is a great way to get free stuff in Las Vegas. The card tracks your betting in the casinos and the points you earn can be redeemed for special rates on hotel rooms — or even a free room — free food and drinks, and discounted shows.
Wynn Rewards members save up to 30% on hotel accommodations and the Platinum Tier members get a complimentary spa credit of $100, a birthday dinner credit of $150, and two Wynn Master Class passes. Caesars Rewards gives members access to exclusive hotel rates, some as low as $10 a night, earn reward credits and enjoy member pricing at participating restaurants, and earn reward credits at participating retailers. MGM Resorts’ M life Rewards give members a discount of up to 20% off booking and the opportunity to earn free rooms, dining credits and free gaming.
Shows are a major draw for Las Vegas visitors and it’s possible to find free or discounted tickets. Discount ticket booths like Tix4Tonight are located all along the Strip and sell tickets for shows at a deep discount.
Check out more free things to do in Las Vegas, on and off the Strip.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
One of the smaller cities on our list, Santa Fe is the perfect destination for art lovers seeking a rustic change of pace. Located high in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, this historic city is recognized for its Pueblo architecture and artistic culture.
Santa Fe’s visitor’s bureau is offering 10% off of a food tour through February 2022, a great way to save money while exploring the city. If you’re more interested in the sweet side of things, La Fonda on the Plaza is offering a Chocolate Tour package that includes luxury accommodations for two, free tickets to the Chocolate Walking Tour and the Discovery Walking Tour, free breakfast, and a copy of the book Spirit of Chocolate by JoAnne Dodgson.
Other packages offered by the hotel with free tickets to local events or tours are the Winter Indian Market package and the Billy the Kid package. The El Dorado Hotel & Spa offers 20% off your stay with their Return to Travel promotion; simply mention code RETURN2TRAVEL when you book.
If you plan on visiting a few of the city’s museums during your stay, look to the New Mexico Culture Pass, which can be purchased at any state museum or historic site. The pass is good for a year and includes access to 11 other museums around the state.
A benefit of Santa Fe’s small size is that it’s easy to see the most important historic landmarks on foot. Book free walking tours through Santa Fe Footprints, which covers the historic Plaza, the city’s architecture, the history of the Pueblo Indians, The Atomic Secret, The Miracle Stairway, The Cathedral of St. Francis, local museums, and more.
A trip to New Orleans is like a journey to another country. Jazz music, world-renowned food, and Creole culture are central to the experience of this compact and walkable Gulf Coast city. There’s plenty of free jazz music to be had in the French Quarter, thanks to street musicians on every block.
Nola Tour Guy offers free walking tours of the Quarter, the Garden District and historic cemeteries. Of course, the guides accept donations.
Amtrak’s New Orleans Ultimate Getaway is a great place to start your trip to the Big Easy. This package starts at $269 for three days and includes hotel accommodations, dinner at a popular local restaurant, a New Orleans Pass, and your choice of a tour.
You can choose between three centrally-located hotels, either the Wyndham New Orleans French Quarter, Holiday Inn Downtown Superdome, or the Hotel Monteleone. The two-day New Orleans Pass includes free admission to the San Francisco Plantation House, Mardi Gras World, National World War II Museum, and a Creole cooking demonstration, among other options. You’ll also be able to choose between the Swamp and Bayou Tour, a Steamboat Natchez Jazz Cruise, or the Oak Alley Plantation Tour.
Hotels around New Orleans are offering specials through the end of 2021, including Loew’s Romance in the Big Easy package that includes a nightly $35 food and beverage credit, in-room prosecco and chocolate covered strawberries. The Fairfield Inn & Suites in Downtown New Orleans has a Coffee Krewe package that includes a $10 gift card to PJ’s or Starbucks with a one-night stay, or a Creole Cuisine Dine Around Town package with a $50 Creole cuisine gift card.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is another quaint, historic city that doesn’t boast the sheer number of activities as its larger counterparts, but is certainly a major tourist draw. The beauty of Charleston is that much of its allure is the architecture and rich pre-antebellum history, making it perfect to find free walking tours with WalknTours.
The Restoration Hotel has a wide range of experience packages available. Foodies can enjoy the culinary evolution of this city with the A Taste of the South offer that includes a two-night stay, a $100 credit to The Watch Rooftop Kitchen & Spirits, two tickets for a culinary tour, and complimentary breakfast. If shopping is on your mind, you can bundle your hotel stay with freebies and discounts through the Shop & Stroll Package, which includes a 15% discount on purchases at The Mercantile, a Restoration branded tote bag, and a $100 Visa gift card to use at the boutiques of King Street, the city’s main shopping drag.
Charleston’s tourism website aggregates special packages from area hotels and breaks them down into Cuisine Packages, Family Packages, and Beach Packages. For a tour of the historic roots of the Deep South, Amtrak offers a six-day travel package. The package includes a sightseeing tour of Charleston and the Magnolia Plantation, a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Savannah, and a sightseeing cruise of Savannah.
Washington, D.C. isn’t just the capital of the United States, it also bills itself as the “Capital of Free.” There are few American destinations as inspiring as D.C. and the best part is, many of the attractions have year-round free entry.
Just a few of the free museums include the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Castle, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, The National Gallery for Art, The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Archives, and the U.S. Botanic Garden.
The capital tourism department has a travel deals page with unique offers, free goodies, and discounts. There are few better ways to explore the capital than by bike, and you can save up to 20% on full-day bike rentals from Unlimited Biking. If you’d rather see the city by bike with a tour guide, Unlimited Biking is also offering 20% off morning, afternoon, and night tours.
Who doesn’t love free drinks? At Cava Libre, when you order tapas on Thursdays from 5pm-6pm, the Spanish sparkling Cava is complimentary.
The tourism site also posts specials on area hotel rooms, like Generator Washington, DC’s We Are Back reopening group rates, which start at $99 and include free WiFi. The Washington Marriott at Metro Center is encouraging tourists to get back on the city’s extensive Metro system. They don’t offer free public transportation, but when you book a room through their Grab, Go, Explore! offer, you’ll receive free goodies like a reusable and insulated picnic tote, snacks, water bottles, seasonal items, and a tour map of the city.
New York City
Gentrification over the last few decades has made Manhattan an expensive destination, but the flip-side is that boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens have become tourist destinations in their own right.
The city’s tourism website posts deals where you can find discounts like a free glass of wine with a dinner order, up to 55% off a Liberty Cruise, 15% off merchandise at Carnegie Hall, or BOGO tickets at the Alice Austen House. If you want to see the iconic Central Park on bike, you can save up to half the usual price on hourly bicycle rentals
Hotels in New York City can be pricey, so finding a deal on lodging is essential to making your dollar go further. Hotels want you to plan your travel in advance and stay longer, with deep discounts when you book ahead and free nights added onto multi-day bookings. The Marriott Vacation Club Pulse in Manhattan offers 10% off a three night stay, with the discount increasing to 15% for four nights and 20% for five nights or more.
Promotions like Marriott Bonvoy Escapes are another way to save on your vacation stay. The hotel chain posts new deals every Wednesday through Sunday with savings of up to 25% for members and 20% for non-members.
Remember, bundling airfare and accommodations on the online travel agency sites is always a way to get good deals.
The Met is one of the biggest and best museums in the country, and through the end of the year admission to the museum and The Met Cloisters is pay-as-you-wish. The Intrepid Museum has 20% off general admission, and you can save on admission to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum with a family pass for $82.
From the shores of Lake Michigan to the top of Willis Tower, the Windy City has always been a tourist favorite. This Midwestern metropolis has a variety of offerings for every tourist, from big spenders to the thrifty traveler.
Start your search for discounts and freebies on Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism website. There you’ll find lots of special offers like discounted admission to museums, food and drink credits, and reduced rate tours.
Through the site you can save 20% on an Adventure Quest, which is billed as combining the
excitement of The Amazing Race with a three-hour city tour. Save on tickets for the public Ugly Buildings Tour through Tours with Mike and see another side of this architecturally famous city.
It may not be Broadway, but Chicago has a vibrant theater scene and you can save big on tickets through Hot Tix. They have half price tickets at several theaters.
Dining is another category in which Chicago is world-class. You can save on eating out with special deals from Artango Bar & Steakhouse, which has a 20% off dinner special from Sunday to Thursday. Or, get half off wine bottles every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday at Kinzie Chophouse when you purchase two entrees. Check out dining deals on Lettuce Entertain You, too.
The Chicago CityPASS is another way to bundle and save on destinations like Skydeck Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum. Along with those three attractions, you can choose two more between the Museum of Science and Industry, the 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck, or the Art Institute of Chicago. With this pass you’ll save half off the full price you’d pay visiting five of these destinations.
Matt Matasci is a Southern California freelance writer who writes on technology and business, plus travel and lifestyle topics.