Summer is just around the corner, which means you’re likely planning a sunny, fun-filled vacation. It’s exciting, but maybe a little daunting too, as summer travel can be expensive. Don’t let financial constraints take the sunshine out of your trip—follow these money-saving tips to ensure you get the most out of your time off.
Book your flight mid-week
With websites like Kayak.com, Expedia.com, and Priceline.com, you’re usually guaranteed to book the lowest available airfare. Still, the day on which you book can influence the price you pay, and often, you might have saved a few bucks if you booked your tickets the day before or after. Your best bet is to shop on Tuesday or Wednesday, because mid-week is typically when airlines release new airfare sales.
Consider using a travel agent
Travel agents aren’t as passé as you think. Nor are they as expensive. According to Terry Williams-Keffer, owner and manager of Westwind Travel in Santa Fe, a travel agent can be more creative than the Internet, in terms of finding the best deal on travel. “A travel agent has intimate knowledge of ways to find you the cheapest price, and can do more than a mindless computer,” she says. For example, a travel agent may think to book two one-way flights on different airlines instead of booking a round-trip ticket on one airline. Williams-Keffer also said that travel agents often use industry-exclusive software to find the cheapest flights, trains, etc.
As for cost, Williams-Keffer charges clients 10 percent of the base fare (if booked), whether it’s air, hotel, car, train, boat, etc. However, she often waves the fee if the client purchases an inclusive travel package or cruise that gives the travel agent a commission. So, given how much a travel agent could potentially save you on fares, a 10 percent up-charge might be worth it. (Note: Westwind Travel is the only agency I spoke with, so fees may vary by travel agency).
Then, there is the human element, which can feel like a welcome comeback in this age of automated call centers and impersonal travel websites. “Many people are coming back to travel agents because it’s really good to have an advocate on your side,” Williams-Keffer explains. “Calling the big airline companies when you have a question or concern is frustrating, and most of the time you don’t get the answers you need. A travel agent knows who to talk to and what to ask. Also, we can rebook you quickly in the event of a storm or emergency, and for the lowest price.”
Rent lodging from an owner
Hotels are nice, but nice can sometimes mean pricey, especially if you are traveling at peak times. Owner-rented lodging is often much cheaper, and if you keep an open mind, more fun. Try AirBnB.com, which can find you accommodations from local hosts in more than 190 countries.
Chris Peralta, Graphic Designer and Marketing Specialist for SECU (one of our very own!), who uses AirBnB.com whenever he travels internationally, says it’s better than reserving a hotel. “I book an apartment or flat through AirBnB.com, and it gives me all the amenities of staying in a hotel plus more, like a kitchen to prepare meals, a laundry, and for a fraction of what it would cost to book a hotel room. For example, I booked a flat in Montmartre, Paris for seven nights at the same rate as it would have cost me to stay in a hotel in the same area for three nights.”
Peralta adds that owner-rented lodging allows you to save on dining costs and better immerse yourself in the culture. “By having a kitchen you are able to shop the local markets and prepare meals which saves on eating out all the time. Every place I’ve ever booked has been very clean and quite nice. Another plus to booking on AirBnB.com is you are living next to locals for that short period of time, you get to experience that perspective when traveling.”
Don’t be too eager to take upgrades
Just because the concierge offers you the penthouse suite at a discounted rate doesn’t automatically mean you should go for it. Weigh how much it costs with what you’re actually getting. An extra $100 might not be worth another 50 square feet, especially if that $100 would be better spent on a nice dinner. The same principle applies to flights. First class is great and all, but is it worth the extra cash if you’re only flying from Albuquerque to Dallas?
Check a bag for $0
Airlines make bank on baggage fees. In 2014, the industry raked in more than $3.5 billion in these charges, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Not to mention baggage fees are extremely annoying. Two airlines, however, still let you check bags for free: JetBlue Airways allows one bag per passenger (a second bag is $50); Southwest Airlines permits two (a third is $75).
Also, make sure your bag is the correct weight. Many airlines charge hefty fees if your bag is overweight. For instance, JetBlue Airways, while they let you check a bag for free, charges $100 (!) if your bag exceeds the weight limit. If you’re fretting over what to include in your suitcase, remember this: the average pair of jeans weighs 2 lbs. (a helpful desk agent told me this once when I over packed for a trip to New York).
Budget for gas before you hit the road
Anticipating what your trip will cost and budgeting accordingly is a great way to prevent overspending. AAA, the emergency roadside service, offers a handy-dandy fuel cost calculator that estimates how much a road trip will cost you in gas. Plug in your to and from cities, and the make, model and year of your vehicle, and AAA.com will provide you with a fairly accurate dollar amount.
Find hidden hotel freebies
Hotel prices have risen over the past several years, and so too have fees for à la carte items like Internet access and parking. $15 a day for Internet can cause serious sticker shock, not to mention send you off to battle slow Wi-Fi in a busy, nearby café. Bring out your inner penny pincher by using the follow freebie-finding websites:
- com/freebies searches for hotels that provide guests with complimentary breakfast, parking, or credits toward spa treatments or rounds of golf.
- com lists hotel chains that offer Wi-Fi on the house.
Get the cheapest possible set of wheels
Renting a car is expensive, but sometimes there is just no way around it. You gotta have wheels. To make sure you get rent the cheapest car possible, book with AutoSlash.com, a site that continues to check prices until your pickup date. Since most major car-rental companies do not charge to cancel or rebook, if AutoSlash.com finds a lower rate, it automatically rebooks you for free, and they email you the new details.
(Extra: See Forbes.com’s list of most expensive places to rent a car—and more ways to save on car rentals).
Look for overseas discount carriers
Traveling internationally? Skyscanner.com and Momondo.com both search low-cost foreign airlines that don’t always show up on sites like Expedia.com or Orbitz.com, especially if you are travelling to a smaller city, like Marseille or Copenhagen.
Sign up for Groupons or Living Socials in your destination city
Purchasing a Groupon (or a Living Social deal) for a fun activity, restaurant or attraction in your destination city can be a great way to do more for less (Groupon can also be a great source for discounted resort or cruise rates). Sign up to receive email alerts about deals in your destination.