21 ways to save money on your New Zealand vacation

Traveling to and exploring New Zealand can be an unforgettable experience, but we appreciate it can also be an expensive one.

However, there are numerous ways to make it more affordable.

We’re pleased to bring you a range of tried-and-tested money-saving strategies, allowing you to stick to your budget – both in getting to New Zealand and as you travel around.

So buckle up – we’re about to save you some serious cash!

New Zealand cash money in a lady's hands.

Our top money-saving tips for travelling to and in New Zealand

1. Travel outside of peak season

New Zealand’s peak tourist seasons are during the summer months (December through February) and, in places like Queenstown and Wānaka, the ski season (during our winter which falls in the middle of the year).

Travelling during shoulder season can save you considerably on flights, accommodation and activities as demand will be lower.

To save money, we suggest you travel here during the spring season (September to November) or autumn (March to May).

Alternatively, travel during the snow season (which is off-season for much o of the country), but try to avoid towns that are close to ski fields – or be prepared to pay a bit more when you’re in these spots.

Fortunately, most tourist activities run year-round, so travelling outside of peak season doesn’t mean your trip will be any less amazing – just different.

Pro tip: We love to travel in autumn – the summer crowds are gone, but the weather is often still pleasant.

Mirror-like waters of Lake Hayes in autumn.
Autumn can be a wonderful time to visit Aotearoa New Zealand. Photo credit: Destination Queenstown.

Be smart with your flights

2. Book flights in advance

Scout for flights well in advance of your trip.

Most airlines release tickets about 11 months in advance.

We recommend you book at least 6 months out if possible – or at the very least, keep an eye on fares to see if they start to become more expensive.

If you notice that happening, lock your tickets in.

ℹ️ Do you know how airline pricing typically works? Each flight will have a certain number of seats available at each price point. Once the most affordable seats have been booked, you’ll be left only with more expensive ones. For this reason, we recommend booking early.

3. Be flexible with your airfares if possible

We recommend using flight comparison tools to ensure you get the best price.

It’s also well worth checking less popular mid-week travel dates to see if you can save money by travelling a few days earlier or later

Or, if you can be more flexible with dates and/or specific airports, you’ll want to check out our Google Flights tip… it could save you serious money!

While you’re at it, why not sign up for relevant airline newsletters so you’re alerted to fares when they come up on sale?

White Air New Zealand plane sitting on the runway at Auckland International Airport.

Save money on accommodation

4. Choose affordable paid accommodation

Accommodation can make up a significant part of your travel budget, so saving money here can be a big help.

Hostels/backpackers, motels, camping or hiring a campervan (outside peak season) can all help you keep your costs down.

Campervans allow you to combine the cost of transport and lodging in one; just be sure to use designated camping areas, especially those that are free or low-cost, and to get yourself a self-contained van.

Likewise, backpackers (which are also known as hostels) can be an affordable and comfortable option – particularly if you’re travelling by yourself.

Two basic sets of bunkbeds at the Rainforest hostel in Franz Josef.
Dorm rooms, as found at hostels, are an affordable way to sleep.

Alternatively, if you’re travelling as a family or group, you could consider booking a motel.

In some parts of the world, motels don’t have a great name, but they are typically great in New Zealand – we stay in them often!

5. Stay for free!

If you’ve got more time to spare and don’t mind staying in one spot for a bit longer, you might like to consider WWOOFing (“Willing Workers on Organic Farms”), volunteering, house sitting or house swapping.

By working a little each day or looking after someone’s home and pets, you’ll generally be able to stay for a while free of charge.

Not only will you save serious money but you’ll also experience our local lifestyle and culture in a way that normal travellers seldom get to.

Pro tip: It is sometimes possible to request access to a car during your house-sitting assignment. Talk with your host if this appeals to you.

Couple on the floor, cuddling a dog.
There are lots of ways to stay for free in New Zealand – including pet sitting.

Minimise your transport costs

6. Use public transport or backpacker buses

Instead of renting a car, consider using our long-distance public transport system.

The Intercity buses are one of the most affordable ways to travel the country.

Backpacker buses like Kiwi Experience [with your NZTT discount] and Stray Travel also offer flexible hop-on hop-off travel passes covering most popular tourist destinations.

Domestic flights are often affordable too – particularly if you book in advance, or have flexibility around your times/dates.

Check Air New Zealand or Jetstar for current pricing and the airports they fly to/from.

7. Book a relocation rental

Car and campervan rental companies often need to move vehicles from one part of the country to another – and they offer heavily discounted rates to travellers willing to relocate their vehicles.

While this requires flexibility in your travel plans, and the ability to move pretty quickly (as they often need the car pack on short notice) it can significantly cut your transport costs.

Did you know? They’ll generally even cover the cost of your ferry crossing if travelling between islands!

A road in New Zealand, taken from a car that's pulled over to the side of the road.
Save money by relocating a car or campervan. Photo: Deborah Lynn Bowman, NZTT member.

8. Arrange a carpool – or consider hitchhiking

Though arranging a carpool can be difficult in New Zealand, and hitchhiking can feel risky, both are legitimate ways to save money – and they can introduce you to wonderful new people.

Check local Facebook groups (including our own – NZTT) to see if locals or travellers are headed in your direction. If so, you can often cover fairly long distances, just contributing towards fuel costs.

Hitchhiking is another affordable way to travel the country; in fact, it’s normally free.

If you plan to hitch a ride though, ensure that you’re comfortable getting into the car – ride-sharing with strangers is generally safe in New Zealand, but we can’t make any guarantees.

You’ll also want to consider what happens if you can’t find a ride headed in your direction.

Always travel with a backup plan if hitchhiking.

9. Stay longer in one place

Rather than moving from one place to another every few days, consider staying longer in one location.

This can reduce your overall transportation costs, plus longer-stay accommodations often have reduced rates.

It also gives you a chance to deeply explore an area, often uncovering free or inexpensive local secrets that are more difficult to uncover on a quick trip.

Staying longer in one place also allows you to get yourself set up with a range of ingredients, further increasing your ability to save money on food (more on that shortly).

10. Book everything in advance

Remember how we suggested booking flights in advance?

We suggest doing the same for accommodations, activities and transport.

Operators will sometimes increase prices from season to season, but if you book in advance, you’ll be guaranteed the price shown today.

We also arrange a wide range of discounts for our members and readers, but because we don’t lock any operators into a contract, we can’t guarantee how long these discounts will last – though you don’t need to worry too much – most are with us for the long-haul.

To be safe though, why not lock everything down nice and early, taking advantage of discounted pricing?

Get in there nice and early while availability is still good.

Person typing his fingers into the keyboard of a laptop.
Book online and well in advance to secure today’s pricing.

11. Make the most of free activities

New Zealand is packed with stunning natural landscapes – almost all of which can be enjoyed for free.

Hiking (or as we call it, tramping), visiting beaches, and exploring national parks are all great ways to experience our country’s beauty without spending a cent.

And while you’re here, keep an eye out for free community events, markets and festivals.

You’ll find these peppered throughout the year, showcasing New Zealand culture, music and art – and providing a great opportunity to meet the locals.

The first terminal lake on the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook National Park. Mountains behind a lake that flows into a beautiful rocky river.
Most of our most beautiful walks are totally free. Photo: Summer Gallant, NZTT member.

12. Cook your own meals and stock up on snacks

Eating out in New Zealand can be pricey – as anyone who’s travelled here will likely attest.

We suggest you opt for accommodations with kitchen facilities, allowing you to prepare your own meals (at least some of the time).

Breakfast is easy to serve up from your kitchen before leaving for the day, and sandwiches make an easy (and cheap) lunch on the road.

Stock up at local supermarkets or farmers markets to reduce costs – even if just for snacks and drinks.

We recommend picking up a cheap chilly bin (cooler box) and some freezer packs, allowing you to keep supplies nice and cold in your car. The Warehouse is one of the most affordable places to do so.

Did you know? You can save even more money by scanning supermarket loyalty cards.

A wide selection of fresh juices and milks in a New Zealand supermarket.
Supermarkets are much cheaper than dairies, petrol stations and cafes. Photo: Roi Goh, NZTT member.

13. Drink tap water

For most people, there’s no need to purchase bottled water in New Zealand.

Water from our taps is free and safe to drink – so bring a refillable bottle with you and top yourself up each morning before heading off on an adventure.

And, if you run out during the day, you’ll find most cafes, bakeries and eateries will be happy to refill your bottle for you.

14. Pick up donated/second-hand supplies

We recommended getting yourself a chilly bin to help keep food cool while travelling around, but you might need more supplies for your upcoming trip.

Second-hand shops (known as op shops) are common in larger cities and some towns, allowing you to pick up quality used gear for a fraction of the cost.

Plus, doing so is great for the environment!

We also recommend keeping an eye on Pass it On.

It’s another of our Facebook groups – but this one is designed to help connect travellers with the gear they might need, avoiding the landfill.

Be smart about your connectivity

15. Buy a local SIM card

Purchasing a local SIM card for your mobile device can be much cheaper than paying international roaming charges.

You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to make local phone calls – handy if you need to contact an activity operator or accommodation provider.

16. Make the most of free WiFi

Free WiFi is available across the country.

You’ll generally find it in accommodations, public libraries, cafes and takeaways and some public transport areas.

Planning your internet use in advance can save the need for a heavy data plan on a local SIM card.

With that said the unlimited data plan through Skinny (which includes 4GB of free data when you use our promo code) is more than enough for most people.

Woman swiping on her mobile phone with fingers during nighttime with various lights blurred on the background.

16. Travel in a group

Sharing the cost of accommodations, transportation (like car rentals), and food can significantly bring down individual expenses.

If possible, consider travelling with friends or family.

Or, create a post in NZTT and try to find yourself a like-minded travel buddy to split costs with.

Though it isn’t the most affordable way to travel, joining a guided tour can help reduce the costs of travelling solo, with the added bonus of some ready-made friends.

We recommend checking out Haka Tours [with your NZTT discount].

Tourists on a jump pose beside the Kiwi Xperience bus near the sea.
Make friends and save money on the road by travelling with others.

17. Check if you’re eligible for special tickets

If you’re a student or senior, or you’re travelling as a young family, you might be eligible for discounts at museums, attractions and/or on public transport.

Always carry your ID to prove your age/status and keep an eye out for special ticket types that might apply to you.

18. Book with your NZTT discounts

We negotiate discounts for all of our members and readers – that’s you – to help reduce your expenses.

What’s more, we only invite reputable, trusted operators to partner with us, so you’ll be assured of an incredible experience (at a discounted rate, what’s more).

Before booking accommodation, transport, tours, attractions or anything at all, be sure to check out our discount listings.

Three Auckland activities available for purchase through Backpacker Deals
We arrange lots of discounts to help you save money!

19. Purchase a decent travel insurance policy

While it might seem like an added expense, we recommend purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy well before your departure – ideally as you start to make your first New Zealand bookings.

Doing so can save you a significant amount of money in the case of unexpected events including trip cancellations, medical emergencies or lost baggage.

Though we hope you won’t need to claim on your policy, you’ll be pleased to have it in an emergency situation.

20. Be mindful of how you pay for things here

Earn rewards on your credit card

Before you start booking your travels to New Zealand, consider getting yourself a credit card that allows you to earn reward points.

Then, use it wisely to accumulate points that can be redeemed for airfares, accommodations and flight upgrades.

It might allow you to save money, or it might make your trip more comfortable (with complimentary flight upgrades, for example).

Whatever the case, it’s well worth doing!

Just be sure to pay your credit card off in full each month to avoid interest costs that cost you more in the long run.

Choose a fee-free card

Fee-free cards are another great option for paying for things in New Zealand.

You’ll be able to swipe or tap these cards without being charged international fees – and that can save you serious money!

Check with your local banks or consider getting yourself a Wise Card.

Closeup businessman working with generic design notebook. Online payments, banking, hands keyboard.

Pay with cash

New Zealand business owners pay a lot in credit card fees, and because of this, many smaller stores now pass some of these costs on.

If you’re unable to get a fee-free card and you’re not collecting credit card points, you might find it more affordable to take out the maximum cash withdrawl from an ATM.

That way you’ll pay only one fee for taking out approximately NZD600 – and you won’t have any more fees to pay.

Pro tip: Though smaller stores often pass on these fees, larger petrol stations, supermarkets, department stores and the like don’t tend to.

21. Book a travel consultation with a New Zealand expert – me!

I frequently meet with people planning their travels to New Zealand and I manage to save them money practically every time.

Whether it’s improving an impractical route, reducing the total drive time (and amount of fuel they use), sharing free hidden gems or introducing a great alternative activity, our consultations are almost always a spend-money-to-make-money sort of situation.

Plus, you’ll improve your itinerary and have an even better visit to Aotearoa New Zealand!

Pro tip: If you like the sound of a consultation but want a cheaper (or free) alternative, check out our travel guides and sign up to our free email newsletters.

Sarah Chant in a red and grey jacket with a bird on her head - at Wingspan in Rotorua.
Chat with me to make your NZ trip even more amazing!

Implementing these strategies can help make your trip to New Zealand more affordable, allowing you to enjoy the incredible experiences the country has to offer without breaking the bank.

This approach not only makes for a more budget-friendly adventure but also allows for a more immersive experience in our stunning landscapes and vibrant culture.

Because travelling to New Zealand doesn’t need to be restrictively expensive.

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