Six ways to travel for less than date night

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Traditional dating often revolves around dinner, drinks and a movie, which can easily run $100 or more even for the most frugal among us. While there are some amazing restaurants and interesting movies, those options pale in comparison to the adventures available when traveling. When my wife and I started dating more than 10 years ago, we both had the travel bug and were looking for a travel companion. Rather than spending the evening in a dark movie theater, we focused on creating lifelong memories by using airline miles and hotel points. Here’s how I travel with my wife for less money than a date night would cost.

Six strategies that let me travel with my wife for less than a date night

Here are a few of the ways that I travel with my wife and save money on our flights, hotels, rental cars and food. By using these strategies I can limit my out-of-pocket cost on many trips to less than $100.

Southwest Companion Pass

I’ve earned the Southwest Companion Pass every year since 2007. My wife (and children) and I have traveled on countless flights and saved tens of thousands of dollars over the years. With the Southwest Companion Pass, your designated companion can fly with you for free to any destination that Southwest flies. All you have to pay are the taxes and fees associated with the ticket (typically $5.60 each way on domestic flights within the U.S.) Best of all, you can use it an unlimited number of times, can change your companion up to three times per year, and it works with both cash and award flights. All three of the Southwest Airlines credit cards can give you a head start toward a companion pass. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is our choice for the best of the lot.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Intro bonus

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual fee $149
Regular APR 21.49%–28.49% variable

Rewards Rates

  • 3x 3X points on Southwest® purchases
  • 2x 2X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners, local transit and commuting, including rideshare, internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming
  • 1x 1X points on all other purchases


  • 7,500 anniversary points each year
  • $75 Southwest® annual travel credit each year
  • Earns Companion Pass and A-List qualifying points


  • Does not include travel protections
  • Limited redemption options for Southwest points
  • High annual fee

  • Additional perks: 25% in-flight discount, Earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 spent each year, 10,000 point discount on earning the Southwest Companion Pass

  • Foreign transaction fee: None

Learn More

Dining in airport lounges

Many of my credit cards include complimentary admission to airport lounges. Not only do airport lounges offer more space, comfortable seating and faster WiFi, but they generally offer free drinks and food. The dining experience varies quite dramatically between lounges. At basic lounges, you’ll get an assortment of cheeses, some nuts and a few types of chips. At other lounges, you may find a full buffet, Grab’n’Go meals or sit-down dining. For drinks, you may be restricted to domestic beer, house wine and well liquor, while higher-end lounges may include top-shelf liquor and craft brews. Whatever situation we find, we fill up on what’s available and save our cash for unique activities and dining experiences at our destination.

Rental car insurance

We typically try to avoid renting cars while traveling and use public transportation instead. Public transit saves money over renting a car and paying for parking. Plus, we feel more connected to the cities we travel, and it gives us a chance to chat up locals to ask for recommendations for restaurants and activities that only they would know about. On the occasions we do need to rent a car, we use a travel credit card that includes primary rental car insurance. This benefit provides peace of mind in case something happens to the car, and it lets us decline the insurance that the rental car companies push before you can take the car.

Fourth or fifth night free on award reservations

IHG, Marriott and Hilton offer a unique benefit for eligible travelers where you can get a free night when redeeming points. This extends the value of your points and gives you an extra day at your destination.

  • Hilton Honors. With Hilton Honors Silver status and above, you’ll receive the fifth night free on award reservations. Qualify for Silver status and above based on your Hilton Honors activity or by holding one of the Hilton Amex cards.
  • IHG One Rewards. All IHG credit cards include the fourth-night free benefit when redeeming points. On all award reservations, every fourth night is free, and this benefit can be used an unlimited number of times.
  • Marriott Bonvoy. The fifth-night free benefit is available to all Marriott Bonvoy members. The free night is the lowest-priced night during your stay. For example, on a 15-night redemption, you’ll receive three free nights, which will be the lowest-price rooms for the entire stay.

IHG One Rewards Traveler Credit Card

Intro bonus

Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual fee $0
Regular APR 21.49%–28.49% variable

Hotels That Include Free Meals

When picking out our hotels, we typically focus on brands that include free breakfast and evening drinks or have a kitchen in the room. While part of the experience of traveling is sampling the local cuisine, we generally start our day with free breakfast at our hotel before we start our daily adventures. Additionally, some brands (like Residence Inn, Embassy Suites and Kimpton) offer complimentary drinks for guests in the evening. In some cases, there will be finger food and snacks to munch on as well.

Some hotels also feature kitchens, which can keep costs low, even if you only buy groceries for a few meals during your trip. Our goal is to save money on food every way we can, so we can splurge on amazing dining experiences we’ll never forget.

Why you should travel before getting married… and continue after tying the knot

For all of the amazing adventures available when traveling, vacations can also throw you unexpected curveballs. When you first start dating someone, seeing how they react when plans go awry can help you understand who they really are. You also get to understand if they’re a morning person or night owl, how messy or neat they are, and all sorts of other important information you need when evaluating if they’re marriage material.

When things go right, you’ll also bond with your partner over shared experiences that are far more meaningful than the latest blockbuster movie or newest restaurant. Imagine waking up early to catch the sunrise over a volcano in Hawaii, hugging a wombat in Australia, wiggling your toes in the sand on a Caribbean beach or climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I’ve redeemed airline miles and hotel points for all of these experiences with my wife (both when we were dating and after marriage) and our children.

Once you get married, continue dating your spouse. Even after you “put a ring on it,” it’s easy for couples to drift apart with the daily stressors of work, school and raising a family. Shared experiences can strengthen the bonds of your relationship and give you a break from the rigors of daily life.

If you can, find opportunities to travel without the kids regularly so you have alone time to connect. The trips don’t have to be anything fancy or far away. Even booking a night at a local hotel or nearby city for a short staycation can be just as meaningful for your relationship as a vacation across the ocean.

The takeaway

My wife and I took an unconventional route to dating by traveling almost every weekend rather than doing the normal “dinner and a movie” route that many other couples take. I feel that this built a solid foundation for our relationship and helped us to connect on a deeper level much more quickly. Traveling while dating (or after you’re married) doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Of course miles and points aren’t free and some cards have an annual fee, but many cards will allow you to earn points with no annual fee.  Either way, the point holds: Travel can cost much less than you think. By using the six strategies outlined above, you can save money on vacations and create more memories with your spouse (and children).

Fortune Recommends™ has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Fortune Recommends™ and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. 

Please note that card details are accurate as of the publish date, but are subject to change at any time at the discretion of the issuer. Please contact the card issuer to verify rates, fees, and benefits before applying. 

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