Source: USA TODAY
While there may be no such thing as a free lunch, we guarantee that no-cost travel goodies do exist. Our sixth edition of this series rounds up some nifty freebies and near freebies, like hotel parking, museum visits and even cruises. Check out these deals for the coming year, but book fast — free doesn’t last forever.
Free national park admission
The National Park System provides outdoorsy entertainment that’s already inexpensive, but on certain days each year, admission is completely free. The fee-free days kick off on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend (Jan. 18-20) and continue through 2014, including during National Park Week, an annual multiday event that takes place in April. Check the National Park Service website for updated information and calendars. (Note that while admission is waived, extras such as camping fees, tours and concessions are not included.)
Free hotel breakfast
A free breakfast can be a wonderful, money-saving way to start a vacation day, and according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, more hotels are offering complimentary breakfasts than ever. Many of the big chains, including Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn & Suites, Embassy Suites and Best Western, offer free breakfast. And starting this year, Marriott Rewards Gold and Platinum Elite members get free breakfast in the lounge or restaurant at participating JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance and Marriott hotels in the U.S. and Canada.
Stay a night for free
One-night-free hotel stays provide great value — and great reason to extend your vacation. This year brings deals from Radisson Blu (third night free when purchased online by Dec. 31), Sheraton (third or fourth night free at select Florida properties), and Marriott (one night free for new Marriot Rewards members). Pro tip: Always peruse your preferred hotel’s deals and packages page throughout the year for more free-night deals. Online travel agencies like Priceline may advertise a lower per-night rate, but free nights are usually only available through the property itself.
Cruising has gotten inexpensive as of late, and this deal from Italian line MSC offers some pretty unbelievable savings for the coming year. Guests receive two-for-one fares on itineraries in Europe and the Caribbean, plus their choice of one free onboard perk: up to $400 in ship credit (good for anything from spa services to boutique purchases), a complimentary beverage package, or prepaid service charges and gratuities worth up to $240. (Cruise prices start at $550 per person, so these aren’t small savings.) Offer expires March 31, 2014; check MSC’s deal page for pricing information and itineraries.
Free parking and charging for hybrid-car owners
Eco-friendly travelers with hybrid cars already experience the benefits of going light on the gas, but hotel chain Kimpton provides yet another perk: free parking. At properties in Dallas, Washington, D.C., San Jose and Vero Beach, Fla., overnight guests with hybrid cars receive free parking with package stays. Furthermore, guests who need to re-up their batteries can do so for free at one of Kimpton’s complimentary electric-car charging stations (in Dallas, Chicago, Seattle and Portland). Find more discounts at a dozen other properties across the U.S. on Kimpton’s Hybrid Parking page.
Free stops in Iceland
Icelandair, the so-called “backpackers’ airline,” gets high marks for its affordable service to more than a dozen destinations in Europe. In fact, we consider it one of the 10 best airlines you’ve never flown for its low cost and also for this nifty little perk: a no-charge stopover in Iceland. The free-layover benefit continues into 2014, allowing you to add capital city Reykjavik to your European itinerary. As a bonus, many of Iceland’s natural wonders, from its geysers to its barren parks and sea cliffs, are free, and children 13 and younger get free admission to its famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa through the end of 2014.
Free flights in the Bahamas
Save big on airfare in the Bahamas when you book a package through MyOutIslands.com, the official tourism-board website for the blissfully undiscovered Bahamas Out Islands. Plan a four-night trip for travel between now and Oct. 31, 2014, and receive two free round-trip flights from Nassau, including all government taxes and fees (for stays of three nights, guests receive one free flight). There are no cruise ships, no traffic and no jumbo jets in this paradise, but you will find further savings at Out Islands resorts, including free nights at Sandals Emerald Bay in Great Exuma and Green Turtle Club in Abaco.
Free car-rental upgrades
Want a midsize car but for a compact price? Book a Delta Vacations package by Dec. 31 and get free one-category upgrades from National and Alamo in popular locations, including pricey Hawaii (plus earn bonus SkyMiles). Enterprise regularly offers double-category upgrades, while Hertz currently offers upgrades on economy through full-size rentals at airport locations through Dec. 31.
Free museum visits
In 2014, you needn’t break the bank to gain some cultural experience. On one night in May, museums across Europe and the U.K. will stay open until midnight or later in celebration of Nuit des Musees and Museums at Night, concurrent events that offer free admission to after-hours museumgoers. Stay tuned for dates and participating locations via the International Museum Day website. Year-round, the Louvre offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month, plus free Friday evening admission for visitors 26 or under and free admission any time for visitors 18 or under. Similarly, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City opens its doors to all for free on Friday evenings from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. as part of UNIQLO Free Friday Nights. FreeMuseumDay.org curates a list of free-admission days at museums in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, Seattle and the Bay Area. Our favorite freebie? Visitors with the first name “Isabella” always receive free admission to Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Kids ski free
Between airfare, equipment rentals, lift tickets and obligatory hot chocolate breaks, skiing can get expensive, and taking the whole family can break the bank. Luckily, many resorts offer ski-free benefits for kids. Check out Park City’s information page for reduced or free rates for children, including free access for kids six and under at Snowbird and Park City Mountain resorts. Colorado’s Keystone offers free stay-and-ride benefits for kids 12 and under. And in ski resorts throughout Colorado, Vermont, Utah and other snow-happy states, fifth graders can ski for free with special passports; find information about Colorado’s passport program and Vermont’s 5th Grade Passport, or Google your destination for more information.