The only thing better than a massage is a free massage — or at least one that’s on sale. The national average cost of a massage is $100 per session, but we can do way better than that. And yes, it’s totally possible to get a discounted or gratis massage which feels just as good as a full-price spa massage, as long as you know where to look.
A Critic’s Eye for Massage Deals
I was formerly the spa critic for Time Out Chicago, and having had massages daily for that position, I can attest that the price you pay for the massage really is no reflection on its quality. My favorite spot today is still my local $30 per hour Asian massage parlor, which I’d choose over a big hotel spa anyday.
Here are the tricks to snagging cheap or free massages.
Go to a Massage School
There are massage schools in just about every city, and all those massage therapist students need to train on actual people. If you’ve ever gotten a haircut at a training school, then you know your training session is supervised by a teacher. While the students are still learning — and they’re not obligated to focus on a specific area of your body — I’ve never had a disappointing experience at a massage school.
These tend to be full-body massages, and the schools try to make them mimic spa experiences. You’ll be on a massage bed with clean sheets. Typically, you’ll have your own room, but some schools put a few people in each room (ask beforehand). Unlike regular massages, you may not be able to request a specific gender for your therapist. The massages tend to be about $20 per hour, with more discounts for seniors and for those in the military.
Try a Subscription Service
Often, massage clinics offer a discount if you sign up for multiple massages. For example, Massage Envy, which has more than 1,000 franchised locations throughout the United States, charges $99 per hour if you’re not a member or $50 for members. Membership is $60 per month or $720 per year, so if you’re planning on getting multiple massages per month, this is a good deal. At Elements massage, with more than 200 locations in the United States and in Canada, they offer a month-to-month membership for $69 per month, which includes a 60-minute massage. For non-members, it’s $109.
Many massage clinics offer referral services, says Bryan Fulton, digital marketing manager for Balance Massage & Wellness in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “Usually, for each new customer you bring them, you receive a percentage off. Or they do, ‘five new customers and you get a free massage,’ or something similar to that model,” Fulton says.
Use Your Insurance
Many insurance policies cover medical massages. These tend to be focused on a medical need, and they’re usually deep tissue but are otherwise similar to a spa massage.
There are some caveats, however. With some high-level health policies, you may be able to walk into any chiropractic office and request a medical massage. You’ll just be responsible for the co-pay. But other policies will require a prescription from your doctor, deeming the massage to be medically necessary.
A recent survey by the American Massage Therapy Association found that 67 percent of people say their doctor recommended they get a massage, so this step should be easy, albeit annoying. Before getting your medical massage, ask your insurance policy if there’s a deductible, an out-of-pocket cost, a maximum amount payable per policy term and a maximum reimbursement per visit.
Check if there are specific massage therapists that you’re required to see. You might need to book with medical massage therapists, who work in doctor’s offices, chiropractic offices, physical therapy offices and acupuncture clinics, says Tsao-Lin Moy, a licensed massage therapist and Chinese medicine expert. If your health insurance doesn’t cover your medical massage, you may be able to use your Health savings Account to pay for it.
Book During National Spa Week
Occuring every spring and fall, spas throughout the country offer discounts on their treatments during Spa Week. You can snag discounted gift cards, signature treatments for just $50 and special spa events. You may also earn loyalty points via Spa Week’s reward program to get even more discounted treatments. To find spas participating in Spa Week near you, check here.
Snag a Deal
Massage and facial deals can be found by the pageful on Groupon and Living Social. They’re designed to hook you on the spas you select, but there’s no obligation to continue purchasing. A quick swipe through Groupon Chicago found 60-minute massages for as low as $35.
Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.