Applying for residencies is extraordinarily expensive. A major contributor to the expense of applying for residency is the cost of traveling for interviews. Unlike when you are applying for attending jobs, where the employer will generally pay for expenses, residency programs will rarely cover the costs of interviewing. When you interview at 10+, 15+, or 20+ programs, the costs quickly add up.
Follow these tips so you don’t have to take out an extra loan for residency interviews:
1. Group interviews together whenever possible
If you are from the East Coast and traveling to California for interviews, see if you can group other California interviews as well, to reduce travel distance and the costs of cross-country flights. Many residency programs are very understanding of the time and cost of residency interviews and will accommodate your requests whenever possible.
2. Be strategic about your home base for flights
You should determine where would be the best place to spend the 2-3 months when you’ll be going on interviews.
The two most common locations for your home base would be where you go to medical school and where your parents live. If, for example, your parents live in a city with a major airport, while you go to medical school with only a regional airport nearby, you could potentially save a lot of money by living with your parents during the interview season.
Bonus points to you if your parents live near a Southwest hub (Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix). Triple bonus points to you if your parents will cook you dinner and do your laundry.
3. Fly Southwest Airlines
The ability to cancel flights without change fees makes Southwest Airlines the preferred airline for residency interviews. Interview travel plans change quickly, and you may be offered an interview a week or even a few days prior to the interview. Change or cancellations fees with other airlines are up to $200 per flight, which can add up quickly.
Southwest allows you to cancel flights on the same day as the flight, although whenever you cancel flights with Southwest, you are reimbursed with travel credit, not cash.
4. Fly on the cheapest flight — don’t try to accumulate frequent flyer miles
With so many flights over a short period of time, it might be tempting to have loyalty to a single airline and try to get frequent flyer miles for free flights. In most cases, this is a mistake, because the difference in price between your home airline and the cheapest flight will outweigh the value of frequent flyer points you might gain. In general, you should always take the cheapest flight (exception: if Southwest flies out of your home airport, always fly Southwest because of its generous cancellation/change policy)
5. Drive instead of fly
You have to determine whether flying is better than simply driving to the next interview. When you take into account driving to the airport, waiting in airport security, airport delays, airplane taxiing, picking up checked baggage, and waiting for a taxi to take you to your hotel, it can often be almost as fast to drive as to fly. In addition, it is almost always cheaper to drive than to fly. If you’re planning to drive, consider carpooling with a co-applicant and splitting the gas money.
6. Maximize your credit card rewards
You will be spending a lot of money during residency interview season, so you should maximize your credit card rewards. I’ve previously written about credit card rewards, so consider optimizing your credit card spending during residency interview season.
7. Crash with friends / family/ co-applicants
After flights, hotels are the most expensive cost of residency interviews. The best way to save money on lodging is to crash at the places of your friends and family. If you don’t have family or friends where you are interviewing, try to see if there are any co-applicants in the area who you might be able to stay with. If you are interviewing at your home program or another program near where you live, offer to let other applicants crash at your place.
8. Get the IHG credit card
The IHG credit card currently offers 80,000 IHG points after you sign up, which should be able to get you 2-4 free hotel nights. The annual fee is waived for the first year and is $49 in each subsequent year. The $49 annual fee is worth it because you get 1 free award night at any IHG hotel worldwide each year. I keep my IHG credit card and stay in $200+ hotel rooms once a year and pay my $49 credit card annual fee.
9. Use Hot Deals for hotels
If you cannot find a place to stay with friends, family, or co-applicants, a quick and often cheap way to get a hotel room is through Hot Deals on Hotwire or Priceline. I booked most of my hotel rooms for residency interviews this way, and I was able to save a lot of money.
One of the downsides of Hot Deals is that you don’t find out the actual hotel you will be staying at until you pay for the hotel room. However, with some strategy and using sites like Better Bidding, you can often figure out the hotel room the Hot Deal is offering to you.
10. Share hotel rooms/cars with co-applicants
Most hotels offer rooms with two queen beds, so try to find a co-applicant who’s interviewing on the same day as you and save 50% on your hotel room. The same thing goes for rental cars or Uber rides.
What do you think? What were your money-saving tips when you were going to residency interviews?