Ease the Sting of 5 Expensive Cities by Finding Free Attractions and Events

Paris on a budget

visiting Paris on a budget tips

Ah, the glamorous life of jetting off to Paris or Tokyo. If only we all had unlimited travel funds, right? Visiting the world’s most expensive–and popular–cities can mean blowing through cash at an alarming rate.

There are ways to have a great time without draining your life savings though, thankfully. You just have to make some adjustments on your transportation and sightseeing.

First, there are some obvious moves that will ease the pain in any city. Seek out the free museum days. Use public transportation instead of taxis. Spend some time scouting out the best hotel deals. Pick up the local tourist magazines and flyers for coupons and cheap entertainment tips.

Here is some insider advice for each location, however, with tips to keep the budget in line and one unique experience that won’t cost you a thing.

Tokyo on the Cheap?

When it comes to expensive destinations, Tokyo is quite the role model. You know you’re in trouble when half the “affordable tips” section of a city’s website is made up of ways to get from the airport to the city for under $50. If you search “free” on the official Japan Tourism website, it says “0 Results.”

To find an affordable meal, eat at noodle stalls for under $10 or explore the unique Japanese culinary stop: the department store basement. Seibu Department Store in the Ikebukuro area is a destination in itself, with two giant underground floors of food stalls extending several city blocks. The prim uniformed greeters will even bow as you enter.

There are 44 things listed to do for free at the Go Tokyo site, but this may be the strangest collection you ever see. Fancy a visit to the Sewage Museum? How about the Gas Science Museum or the National Diet Laboratory?

Temple with free admission in Tokyo

Thankfully, there are better options. You can Book a free walking tour of the Shinjuku commercial avenue through the Toyko tourist office and you can get the lay of the land with volunteers who speak English. You can also ride to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building skyscraper and visit the observation room at no charge. There’s no admission for Sensoji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo. Get up early to stroll through the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market, otherwise known as the Tsukiji Fish Market. By either name it’s the world’s largest, with active auctions going on from 5 to 10 a.m. and 1,700 active stalls selling everything that moves in the ocean.

Elusive Bargains in London

How to visit London without spending a fortune

Traveling in England has gotten a bit less expensive for travelers since the Brexit vote hammered down their currency, which still hasn’t fully recovered. London is a popular destination for business travelers and well-heeled vacationers though, so you’ll pay dearly for those theater tickets and hot restaurants.

Travel cheaply in these five expensive cities (like London) with these tips and linksOn the plus side London has a better choice of hotels in all price ranges than most other European capitals and most of its fantastic museums are always free.

To find other bargains, go to the free attractions section of the Visit London website for an exhaustive rundown on free attractions, museums, and performances. Be sure to get a refillable Oyster Card if you’ll be using the Tube regularly. It cuts the ticket price down by half for your rides.

Want a unique free experience? Put yourself into a BBC show audience by reserving tickets for a TV show taping.

Penny Pinching in Paris

France is the most popular tourist destination on Earth, so restaurants and hotels in Paris don’t have to try very hard to stay full. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to save a euro besides sitting by the Seine eating baguettes and cheese.

Paris on a budget

Marie Curie’s laboratory? The home of Victor Hugo? Eau de toilette? Visiting the Louvre will cost you (unless you’re under 26), but plenty of less famous museums in Paris are free. Three of the municipal museums in the pedestrian-friendly Marais neighborhood are free: an art museum, a photography museum, and a Paris history museum. The Fragonard Perfume Museum doesn’t charge admission and it won’t cost you anything to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame on your own, posed hunchback photos optional.

See a full listing of free attractions, museums, and show at the dedicated page on the Paris Tourism site.

Finding Travel Deals in New York City

New York City edges out San Francisco as the most expensive place to travel or live in the USA, partly because it has the highest-priced real estate. That impacts everything from New York City hotels to prices at that hole-in-the-wall restaurant. You can save a bit with a CityPass or other discount book for attractions, but finding the freebies will help even more.

There are a good number of free museums in New York City every day of the week, some all of the time and some on specific days. If you time it right, you can even check out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as well as most of the zoos and botanical gardens. Central Park is free, of course, and the long-running insider tip is to hop the free Staten Island Ferry to get a view of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan from the water. There are regular free concerts going on around the city, especially in the summer.

Oslo on a Budget

The whole of Scandinavia rivals Japan for eye-popping prices and it’s not easy to find a cheap place to sleep or eat in Oslo. With some advance planning and some time to enjoy nature, however, you can avoid spending your life savings on a visit.

Oslo free atttraction Akershus Fortress

For €41 a day or less, you can use the Oslo Pass to control costs. It gives you free entry to 30 museums and attractions, free travel on all public transport, free entry to outdoor swimming pools, free walking tours, and lots of discounts.

The city’s Oslo on a Budget website provides tips on free attractions and events, cheaper accommodation, and places to eat well for less.

Oslo has plenty of free outdoor concerts and cultural performances from June through September. Any month of the year you can keep your wallet tucked away for the popular Vigeland Sculpture Park. You don’t have to go very far to find good public hiking and biking trails around Oslo, no fees required. There are an incredible 40 islands and 343 lakes within the city limits.

You want Bonwi points? Go to London!
You want Bonwi points? Go to London!

So if you find a good flight deal to one of the expensive cities, don’t assume you can’t do it on a budget. Get a nice points payback when you book your hotel on Bonwi, then use the links above to keep the costs in check upon arrival.

Tim Leffel is author of books The World’s Cheapest Destinations and Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. He runs the popular Cheapest Destinations Blog, running continuously since 2003.

What You Can Get for 10,000 Points on Bonwi

cash in Bonwi points for flights

cash in Bonwi points for flights

When you sign up for Bonwi for the first time, you get 1,500 points automatically. Right there that’s worth $15 because for 10,000 you can get a $100 gift card to one of your favorite merchants, like Amazon, Best Buy, or Target. What’s on your list right now?

If you start with 1,500 and just make one or two hotel bookings, you’ll probably get to 10,000 points by maximizing the options on Bonwi.

After that, we mentioned that one thing you can do with 10,000 points: cash it in for a gift card. Besides retailers, there are also some food outlets. Need to fund a kid’s birthday party? You can cash in for a hundred bucks from Papa John’s or Dunkin Donuts. Need to take your mom out to dinner? Cash in points for Olive Garden or Cheesecake factory.

You can also use your 10,000 points to rent a car. When I pulled up summer days in Orlando, I found rental cars for as little as 2,150  a day. If you need some room for a family though, you could splurge and get two days of a sport utility vehicle or a minivan for less that 10,000 points over two days.

rent a car with points

Or you can use those points to get a hotel instead. Maybe you want to take your honey on a weekend getaway to the big city, to the beach, or to a town a couple hours away. Or maybe you need a night at an airport hotel in the hub city so you can catch an early flight in the morning. Maybe you need one night at a hotel before a cruise.

What can you get with 10,000 points? I searched weekend nights in the high season for vacations in late June and found plenty: the Atlanta Hilton, a downtown hotel in Nashville, a few motels near the cruise port in Ft. Lauderdale, a few chain hotels in Denver, Hawthorne Suites and Home2Suites in Salt Lake City.

You can also cash Bonwi Rewards in for an airline ticket, with 10,000 points being equal to $100. Maybe $100 won’t go very far in the airline world, but it’s enough for a one-way ticket on some routes. You could fly on Southwest or Delta, for example, one way from Atlanta to New Orleans, and still have some  left over.

Bonwi Rewards points cash in for flights

It’s true that 10,000 points won’t get you very far with the loyalty programs of Hilton or IHG and with Hotels.com you would need to book hotels 10 times to get one free night in return. With Bonwi it’s a different story though and you can do a lot with 10K.

Book your next hotel here and really get something back.

How to Rack Up Points for Free Hotel Stays or Flights

free stay at luxury hotel

luxury free hotel stay with Bonwi

Are you getting a big rebate every time you stay at a hotel? Are you turning every few nights that you pay to stay into a free hotel night or flight down the road?

Traditionally it took a lot of stays to make that happen. The only people earning enough points to get rewarded were the road warrior salespeople on the road each week or those who were putting lots of expenses on a hotel credit card. After 10, 20, sometimes 25 stays (or spending $25,000 on their card) they finally had enough points for a mini vacation with that spouse they kept leaving at home.

Now there’s a way to make those freebies happen much faster. If you book through Bonwi instead of the big-name online agencies or the hotels themselves, the rewards add up three or four times faster. A free hotel night or even a flight can happen after just a few nights you’ve paid for yourself. This video shows you how it works:

In that video I run down how much I earned for one specific two-night stay—enough to get a hotel night elsewhere for free. You’ll also see some real point earning rundowns of what you’d get from staying at hotels in Las Vegas,, Atlanta, and Dallas. In the scenario we picked, you would easily earn enough for a few nights in a European capital city during a vacation or for a domestic plane ticket in the USA.

If you are staying at a different Marriott every week and you’ve gotten to a high elite status in their loyalty program, then you may already be getting big benefits from staying loyal. For the rest of us though, the loyalty seems to help the conglomerate corporation more than it’s helping us. With Bonwi bookings, you could stay at four different hotel chains on four different occasions and still probably get to a reward night much faster than the loyalist.

Remember, there are no blackout dates on your bookings: if the hotel, airline, or rental car company has inventory available, you’re in. What you see on the screen is what’s available. No surprises. No gotchas.

Get 1,500 points just for signing up if you’re not already a member. See how it works here.