Summer vacation is on my mind and I’ll bet it’s on yours, too. I actually have been thinking about it a lot for months now, since it’s been awhile since my wife and I have traveled on a “real” vacation. I have always touted myself as a pretty good travel planner, a skill that I have mastered from personal travel planning experience. So I have put together a short list of 8 travel tips I know for a fact will definitely save you money if you are up for a vacation this year. These tips are not only good for the summer travel period, but are year-round bonafide winners that really only require a bit of awareness and a little planning effort. I think that’s worth saving some big bucks and I think you will as well!
While there’s staycations and weekend getaways and road trips, today I’m focusing on your typical week-long family vacation. Trips like these often involve airfare, hotel, car rental, and food plus entertainment costs as well.
Travel Tips to Save You Money
1. All–Inclusive Vacations
You’re probably thinking that doing an all-inclusive vacay (that’s a vacation that includes both your room and food and drink) is just way too expensive, but you would be wrong in almost every case. While it’s true that some of the world’s great and expensive resorts have an extensive and expensive AI policy, there are many that are very nice and very affordable. All you need is to consider a number of options that can save you money every time.
If you are traveling with your kids they may actually be free at an AI resort. Under age 4 it’s almost always the case, but even older kids (up to age 12) are sometimes free or at the very least half price. Food and drinks can be the most expensive part of your travel away from home when purchased separately so having them included in an AI package is a big budget saver.
In many cases AI plans also include some transportation costs especially in places like island beach resorts where you are at a distance from the airport or the downtown shopping area. If the resorts are offering free shuttle services to AI customers you can save on the need for a car rental. Check in advance online and see what your choices are for dining where and when you are going and you may be surprised about what you may save with all-inclusive. Car rentals can run as much as $200-$300 even for a small car. Transportation to and from the airport on your own can tack on another $50 per person.
One note of caution: make sure you are aware of exactly what is and what isn’t included in any AI offerings before you book it. Ask questions in advance if you are in any way unsure about the details.
2. The Off-Peak Travel Season
Like the old expression “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”, that phrase also applies to peak and off-peak travel as it’s always off-peak season somewhere! Traveling off-peak doesn’t mean you try and go skiing in in Colorado in July either! But, traveling and saving money going OP is a real money saver.
For example, travel to Europe is off-peak from November through March while travel to the Caribbean is off-peak from March through August. You can save over 50% on hotel, food, and travel options during those times. Even changing your trip by as little as one week can save you hundreds or even thousands on your trip! Being flexible in choosing your travel dates is key to big savings so look at those details if you want to save. Even if you don’t want to go totally off-peak, look into shoulder season which is that transition time between peak and off-peak.
3. Car Rentals
The first question to ask yourself is this: “Do I really need a car on my vacation?” That answer will depend on where you are traveling, when you are traveling, and what you want to do when you get there.
If you are getting away just to relax and sit in the sun, you may not need a car at all. See if your hotel offers free transportation to and from the airport and/or if there are such services publicly available at a low cost. I always check online specifically at the location I plan to travel in to find out what options are available and it’s pretty easy to do. The place you stay at may have ways of supplying free or discounted local transportation to shopping and dining or you may be able to access public transportation by simply walking to a bus stop. If you’re located in a hotel zone, you may even find that you can easily walk to other venues for dining, gaming, and entertainment.
There may be less expensive alternatives to a car rental such as bike rentals or motor bikes. More often than not, a car I have rented solely for use on a vacation sat quietly in the parking area while I was at the pool or lay out on the beach. It costs as much as several hundred dollars a week to have that privilege so think twice about that expense before you commit. You can always decide at your destination to rent for just a day or two instead of your full stay, or even take a taxi, so you can still explore away from your hotel.
Be aware that renting a car for a whole week is less money per day than renting based on the daily rate. You may find that renting for 5 days costs as much or more than renting for 7 days. If that’s true, just rent for the week and turn the car in early and pay the weekly rate to save.
Rental add-ons are expensive. My advice is that when renting you should avoid all of the extras like GPS or extra insurance coverages and things like gas refueling fees which you can do yourself. Your credit card should offer extra insurances and please don’t be lazy about it. Check and see what it will cover before you rent. It may mean dollars in your pocket!
One further tip I swear by is this: reserve a smaller car for your trip if you can. First, they are always cheaper. Even more important is that since they are the most popular cars rented, they often are out of them when you go to pick yours up. If you have to wait more than a few minutes for your car, ask for a free upgrade! You will find that you will be given a nicer, roomier car that way and you’ll still only be paying the cheapo price. Worst case scenario, you get exactly what you ordered and you’ll save anyway.
4. Free Upgrades
You can get some incredible upgrades if you just ask. One way to do it is when you are flying, ask about an upgrade at the gate when you are celebrating something like an anniversary or birthday trip. Airlines are willing to upgrade you if they have the room in first class as a courtesy, but only if you ask. It’s best to do it when you are standing right in front of them at the counter and not on a phone or via an internet message. That’s when they will respond positively most often.
Upgrades for special occasions like the ones above also apply to restaurants and hotels. In many cases it can mean free drinks, a bottle of champagne or a vase of flowers in your room at no extra charge. You can ask at the venue what they can do to help you celebrate or surprise someone and make it extra special. In many cases, you will get that kind of upgrade pretty easily by simply asking.
5. Compare Online
Checking the net is a huge way to save money on your summer—or any—vacation. Websites like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, and Kayak will do everything from finding you the best deals on air, hotel, and cars to supplying specific venue information and free reservations. You probably already know that these places work well, but they are just a few of the many available, and more are coming all the time. When you have enough lead time for your travel, spend a few hours scanning the best deals and reading real customer reviews online before you reserve. It gives you a much better idea of what you can expect.
6. Pack Right
One of the most annoying things that can happen to you is to find out that you will have to pay extra on you baggage when you are checking in at the airport. How are you going to avoid that? Here are a few tips that have worked for me:
- Pack lighter than you think you may need. We all seem to overpack for our trips. Worst case scenario you will get something cleaned for a few dollars if you need it twice while away and that’s cheaper than an overweight charge or extra bag fee.
- Weigh your bags at home to see if they comply with the rules of your airline.
- Try “wearing” your luggage in the form of a backpack for some essentials that you can carry onboard for free. There are even wearable vest-luggage items now sold online to help reduce the traditional luggage you have carried in the past.
- If you plan to buy souvenirs or gifts at your destination, don’t forget to leave room to bring them home. Consider shipping heavy items.
7. Travel Date Flexibility
When you can, try scheduling your flights, hotel stays, and car rentals on the less travelled days of the week. That’s generally Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But the best way to take advantage of your flexibility is to select the flexible dates option on your travel site so you can find the least expensive choices. Or try a site like Fareness which is based on date flexibility.
There are also other “tricks” you can use to get a low-priced deal. Remember to book your airfare at least 21 days in advance unless you’re taking advantage of a last-minute deal.
You already know that when the plane is overbooked (which most of them are these days) you may get an offer of compensation to get off and take a later flight. If you are not bound by time or a connecting flight, consider it. Why not get a free ticket for a future flight or cash considerations of hundreds of dollars if you can?
8. Alternative Airports
If you are fortunate enough to have choices in your airport departure and arrival sites, check them out online. Because there are usually some differences in those airfares, check out your options. Here in New Jersey, we can fly from Newark, Trenton, or Atlantic City, or from NYC at LaGuardia or JFK. There are even the choices of Allentown PA and Westchester NY that are also close enough to make the air savings worth it. Sometimes it’s worth a few hours’ drive to get a significantly better airfare.
You may not have as many as we have here in the NYC metro area, but you probably have some choice when you consider smaller airports. Check it out to save.
Do you take a vacation each summer? Have you made any plans yet for this year? What have you done in the past to save the most on your vacation and what can you tell us about your best travel tips to save money?