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Vacacation time! 10 tips to score free or low-cost lodgings

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By Allison Martin/MoneyTalksNews

We're deep into summertime, and vacations are in full swing. Unfortunately, the cost of travel isn't getting any cheaper. And lodging is one of the more expensive items on the list.

Just prior to the July 4 holiday, AAA offered the following update on lodging expenses:

"According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, the average nightly stay in a Two Diamond hotel is 6 percent higher this year at $145, while Three Diamond hotels will cost 9 percent more, averaging $195."

Wouldn't it be nice to eradicate that hefty travel expense? This may sound like a stretch, but it's possible.

Following are 10 ways to cut your lodging expenses to zero or near zero.

​1. Use credit card rewards

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If you have accumulated a substantial amount of credit card points, put them to use.

I'm not suggesting you sign up for a credit card you don't need. But if you are shopping for a card anyway, remember that cards with the most generous introductory offers enable you to access free benefits much sooner.

​2. Trade in frequent-flier miles

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These perks, which are offered through airlines and select rewards credit cards, can also be redeemed for lodging in lieu of a free flight.

However, The Points Guy says that using frequent-flier miles for hotel stays is rarely a good idea, as you typically have to use up too many points to get the free room.

​3. Accumulate loyalty rewards

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Always on the road? Sign up for a customer loyalty program with your favorite hotel chain and watch the points pile up.

I personally love Marriott's programs. Not only do the points accumulate rapidly after each stay, but they also occasionally run a promotion that automatically grants you a free night when you stay two nights in a row.

​4. Attend time-share presentations

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There's a small price to pay: You must endure a two-hour sales pitch from a company representative who desperately desires that you make an impulse real estate purchase.

But if you persevere, you may be able to stay at a luxurious resort for an amount that is substantially lower than what you would pay on any other occasion.

My family and I recently took advantage of an offer of $99 for a four-day, three-night resort stay that would typically cost at least $250 per night. Not free, but pretty darn close to it.

​5. Become a reviewer

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Are you a travel blogger? This may open the door to opportunities to review hotels in exchange for a free night's stay. Just be sure to openly disclose the relationship as required by Federal Trade Commission rules.

​6. Crash with relatives

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If loved ones have extra room available, they may gladly welcome you into their home. What's even better is the ability to get firsthand insight into the location you're visiting.

Just make sure you're a good guest, and that you treat your hosts to a meal and leave a gift.

​7. Swap homes

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With this arrangement, you agree to give up your residence to another family in exchange for a chance to crash at their home for a specified period of time.

Check these sites for possibilities:

​8. Volunteer

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You may be able to land a free stay in return for your work at a community event hosted by a nonprofit organization. And you may only have to volunteer a few hours of your time. I did this once with the Red Cross.

​9. House-sit

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Owners who will be away for an extended period may have an interest in keeping their home occupied so burglars won't get any ideas. Just be aware that the owner may require that you be bonded.

In addition, extra jobs like pet care and yardwork also may be your responsibility for the duration of your stay.

To sign up for consideration, visit:

​10. Join an exchange program

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When you become a member of a hospitality exchange, you agree to let strangers crash on your couch (or in a guest bedroom) for a few nights. This arrangement is ideal for those who are open to new experiences and don't mind being generous.

If you're interested, visit one of the following to learn more and get registered: