This past summer, almost 42% of Americans (that’s 108 million people) said they planned to travel more than in the recent past. As you might guess, increased demand can send the cost of a trip soaring.
But that doesn’t mean you have to pay sky-high prices or sit at home because everything is too pricey. By doing some detective work and deploying some smart travel tricks, you can score deals on airfare, lodging, food, and more.
Whether you’re dreaming of a tropical vacay, a trip to a European city, or just getting home to see your family for the holidays, try these strategies.
How to Find the Best Vacation Deals
Here are 27 insider tricks and smart travel hacks that can help keep vacation costs in check.
1. Using Credit Card Rewards
Here’s a top way to be a frugal traveler: If you’ve racked up a large amount of reward points on your credit card, you may be able to redeem them for free or reduced-price airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, dining, and other travel expenses.
Some credit cards also offer free trip cancellation insurance, auto rental insurance coverage, and lost luggage insurance. If you learn how to maximize your credit card rewards, you might be ready to take that next trip sooner than you think.
2. Looking Into Local Destinations
One surefire way to slash vacation costs is to take airfare out of the equation. You might want to consider taking a road trip to some not-too distant destinations. For ideas on where to go and what route to take (along with local deals), you can check out AAA’s TripTik.
3. Going Where the Dollar is Strong
If you travel to a country where the U.S. dollar is strong, your money will go farther than it would at home or in a country where U.S. currency is weak. Before booking travel, you may want to check out a currency exchange table, like the one at X-Rates, to find out how the U.S. dollar is stacking up to other currencies.
4. Traveling During “Dead Zones”
There are two times of the year, the so-called “dead zones,” when travel tends to be cheapest: Early December (after the Thanksgiving rush but before the Christmas travel season) and the last three weeks in January into early February.
5. Being Flexible With Your Destination
If price, rather than a place, is the prime concern, you may want to use a destination search engine like Skyscanner. You can plug in your origin and some potential travel dates and then see flight prices for destinations across the country as well as around the world.
6. Getting a Vacation Package
Here’s another way to find a top travel deal: Buying a vacation as a package, rather than booking your flight, hotel, and rental car separately can often yield significant savings. It’s a good idea, however, to keep an eye out for resort fees and airline baggage fees, which aren’t always included in the package price. A few places to find travel packages include Expedia, Priceline, Kayak, and Costco Travel.
Recommended: 12 Tips for the Cheapest Way to Rent a Car
7. Comparing Airbnb and Hotel Prices
Before booking a hotel, you may want to do a quick search on Airbnb and other short-term home rental sites. Even if you’re only staying a few nights, a rental could end up being cheaper than a hotel room. It may also come with a kitchen, which can help you save on dining as well.
Recommended: 25 Things to Know When Renting Out an Airbnb
8. Signing up for Fare Alerts
Rather than checking airfares every day (or every hour) looking for them to come down, you may want to set up a fare alert for one or more destinations and dates at a travel site like Google Flights or Kayak. You’ll receive an email (or notification on an app) when the price of the flight changes.
9. Booking on the Right Day
The day you book your flight typically doesn’t make a huge difference in price. But surveys show that if you’re booking at least three weeks in advance, you may be able to save some money by buying your airfare on a Tuesday. If you’re booking last-minute, however, you may get your best price by snagging your tickets on a Sunday.
10. Not Booking Too Far in Advance
A smart travel hack is to time your plane ticket purchase right in another way. The lowest prices on domestic flights are typically available about 45 days in advance of departure. For international flights, you may want to book about 75 days out to get the best airfare.
11. Eating Like the Locals
Tourist trap restaurants can end up being expensive — and crowded. Instead, you may want to chat up some locals and ask for their restaurant recommendations. Another fun and affordable option, if you’re staying at a rental: Hit the farmer’s market, pick up some locally grown or sourced ingredients, and then cook a meal.
12. Opting to Stay With Friends
Staying with friends can be a great way to save money on vacation. You can end up saving not just on lodging, but also laundry, meals, and transportation with the help of your friends. Of course, you’ll likely want to pitch in and chip in any way that you can to show your appreciation.
13. Paying With a Credit Card Overseas
One easy way to save when you’re vacationing abroad is to use a credit card for most or all of your spending, preferably one that avoids foreign transaction fees. Credit cards typically give you the best exchange rate of the day. Plus, you may be able to rack up rewards, and also get fraud protection.
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14. Looking Beyond Tourist Attractions
Just because a destination is known for a certain attraction, that doesn’t mean you have to go there. You can often get to know a place just as well, or even better, by going on a free or low-cost walking tour or by checking out the local parks, neighborhoods, and cafes on your own.
15. Checking out Public Transportation
While hopping into an Uber or taxi can be convenient, the cost of these trips can add up quickly. You may want to Google the public transportation options before calling a cab. They may be just as, or even more, convenient.
16. Flying at Odd Times
You can often get a good deal on a flight by going when no one else wants to, such as early mornings and late nights. The cheapest days to fly tend to be Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturday (afternoons), Thanksgiving, and the eves and days of Christmas and New Year’s.
17. Contacting the Hotel Directly
Hotel price aggregator websites may not always have the lowest prices. It can be worth contacting the hotel directly and getting a quote. Even if the price listed on a travel site is lower, you may be able to get the hotel to match it. Booking directly could be better because the hotel’s cancellation policy might be more flexible.
18. Using Groupon
Groupon can be a good place to check for deals on hotels and resorts in popular destinations. The site can also be useful for finding discounts on local activities and dining that you can use once you get to your destination.
19. Trying a Travel Auction Site
At travel auction websites, such as SkyAuction.com, companies will list hotels, flights, or packages, and then travelers can bid on them. It can be a good idea to understand what fees will be additional (and not included in the auction price) before you bid.
20. Checking Into “Senior” Discounts
Even if you’re under 65, you may qualify for a senior discount. Some airlines, hotels, and rental car companies offer discounts to adults age 55 and over, and a few offer senior prices to anyone over 50.
21. Researching Student Discounts
If you’re a student, carrying your student ID and asking if you can get a student discount can pay off. You may also want to check out StudentUniverse, which offers exclusive deals on flights, hotels, and tours to students and adults under age 26.
22. Consider Going on a Cruise
Depending on the cruise line and destination, going on a cruise could end up being cheaper than paying for a flight and hotel accommodation in the Caribbean or other beach destinations. To find deals on cruises and current promos you may want to sign up for e-letters from the major cruise lines.
23. Adding Items to the Cart (but Not Buying)
Sometimes travelers can snag deals by adding an item to their cart, but not going through with the purchase. This shows the merchant that you’re interested in making a purchase but may need some persuasion to actually go through with it. The merchant may then send you a coupon in order to get you to buy.
24. Signing Up for Loyalty Programs
If you travel frequently, being loyal to one particular airline, hotel chain, or rental car company (and signing up for their loyalty programs) can pay off. You may be able to rack up enough points or miles to get discounts and freebies on future travel.
25. Avoiding Baggage Fees
These days airline tickets often do not include the cost of checking a bag. To keep baggage fees down, you may want to see if you can get away with just a carry-on. Other ways to minimize baggage fees include: signing up for the airline’s loyalty or “frequent flier” program, getting an airline-branded credit card, and weighing your bags before you leave home (to avoid excess weight charges).
26. Finding a Flight With a Layover
You may be able to visit an additional destination for free, or a minimal additional cost, by booking a flight with a 24 hour-plus layover. A number of international airlines offer a free stopover within their home country when you are en route to another country.
27. Fighting Back Against Resort Fees
Some hotels will tack resort fees onto your bill that you weren’t expecting and significantly inflate your bill. You may be able to get these fees removed if you are a rewards member with the hotel, or if there were any problems with your stay. To make sure you have time to negotiate, you may want to ask for a copy of your final bill the night before you check out. Or you might want to consider all-inclusive resorts.
Pent-up demand for travel can make reservations and deals a little harder to come by these days.
But by doing a little bit of extra research, signing up for travel alerts, and being flexible on when and where you want to go, you may still be able to score great prices on airfare, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and more.
Ready to start planning and saving for your next getaway? Then it can be wise to open a travel fund at an online bank where interest rates are likely to be higher.
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