Don’t Spend $100 on a Massage. Here’s How to Find Cheap Ones

A woman dressed in a white robe gets a facial massage.
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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 discounted or free massage services that feel just as good as a full-price spa massage, as long as you know where to look.

7 Ways to Get a Cheap or Free Massage

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 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.

1. 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. Just like when you get a haircut at a cosmetology school, a teacher will supervise the student massage therapist providing your massage. While the students are still learning massage techniques — 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.

2. 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 1,100 franchised locations throughout the United States, charges $99 per hour if you’re not a member or $50 for members. Membership is $70 per month or $720 if you prepay for an entire year (that’s a $10 discount), so if you’re planning on getting multiple massages per month, this is a good deal. Note that prices can vary by location, and some locations may offer first-year discounts to new clients.

Elements Massage has more than 500 locations in the United States and offers a month-to-month membership for $89 per month, which includes a 60-minute massage. For non-members, it’s $119.

3. Refer Others

Many massage clinics offer referral services, said 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.”

The next time you’re in for a massage, ask one of the massage therapists if they have a referral program. You may also be able to find the information on the spa’s website.

4. Use Your Insurance

Many health 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 massage therapy to be medically necessary.

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, nearly all patients who spoke to their doctor about massage therapy received positive feedback: 19% of patients said their doctors agreed that a massage might benefit them; 47% said their doctors encouraged or strongly recommended massage therapy; and 25% said their doctors issued a referral to a massage therapist.

While having to go through your doctor might be annoying, you may be able to save money on your massage if your doctor’s referral qualifies you for insurance coverage. Before getting your medical massage, ask your insurance provider 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 whom 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, said 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.

5. Book During National Spa Week

Spas throughout the country may offer discounts on their massage treatments during Spa Week, usually held in the spring and fall. You can snag discounted massage gift cards, book signature treatments for just $50 and attend special spa events. You may also earn loyalty points via Spa Week’s reward program to get even more discounted treatments. Check the Spa Week website to find participating spas near you.

6. Snag a Deal

You can find massage and facial deals by the pageful on Groupon and LivingSocial. They’re designed to hook you on the spas you select, but there’s no obligation to continue purchasing. During a quick swipe through Groupon Chicago, I found 60-minute massages for as low as $35.

7. Learn to Give Massages With a Partner

Some spas offer couples massage classes and workshops that you can take with a partner. While you’ll have to pay a high cost up front for the lesson, you and your partner will learn the basics to give each other free massages at home.

Of course, training to be a massage therapist takes a lot of time — and quality massages require great skill — so don’t expect spa-quality massages at home. Still, partners massages can offer enough value to space out your professional massages a little further from one another.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Freelancer Tim Moore contributed to this report.