50 Ways to Save on Summer Travel
You've worked hard all year long for your summer vacation! But maybe you have more dream than dollars for your ideal destination. Don't fret, there are plenty of ways to save when traveling this summer. You just need a strategy—we've got 50 of 'em.
Stay off the beaten path
“Booking a hotel just a few blocks away from the beach can help you save big,” says Scott Steinberg, founder and CEO of SELECT: Your City’s Secrets Unlocked. Likewise, destinations looking to boost tourism, such as Ecuador or Iceland, may offer better deals than more traditional getaways, like England or France. Psst… It pays to know the super-secret language of travel deals.
Compare flight prices on several travel websites
Sure, you know the basic sites, like aggregators Kayak.com and Momondo.com, and you’re signed up for travel alerts and newsletters through places like Bookingbuddy.com, Kayak.com, and Travelzoo.com. Now take your bargain-basement airline-ticket shopping to the next level: The Hopper app tracks fluctuating ticket prices and best times to travel and sends alerts when deals pop up, while Skiplagged searches for cheaper tickets using a tactic called “hidden city ticketing.” This lets you buy a ticket with a layover, and then just depart at the layover spot instead of continuing to your ticketed destination. Another innovative site, kiwi.com, combines flights on different airlines together to form one full, lower-priced route for you. “There are some risks to this approach (for example, if your first flight is delayed and you miss your second flight). “Kiwi helps protect you with the Kiwi Guarantee, which will refund the price of your flight if you miss it,” says Aaron Deutsch, editor of PlaneToTrain.
Check out the city’s convention or visitor’s bureau website
Before you hit the road, check out the website for the city or town that’s your destination. You may find a listing of free events, like outdoor concerts or movies, along with special deals and coupons.
Call a concierge
A concierge at a fancy hotel, like a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons, can give you a quick rundown of top recommendations and tips on when to go to beat the crowds and save money, says Steinberg. (Even guests at luxury hotels appreciate a bargain.) Give one a quick call when you’re planning your trip to ask for their best insider advice. On the other hand, these are the things you should never ask the hotel staff.
Use an alternate airport for your destination
By going a little out of your way, you can save a lot of money. For example, when you’re traveling to our nation’s capital, flights into BWI may be less expensive than flying into Regan National Airport. “Compare the costs of flights to close, but alternate, airports, to your destination — this kind of versatility is how to get the best deals for your holiday travel,” says Steinberg. Here are 16 more secrets to always scoring the lowest airfare.
Whether you’re driving or flying to your destination, it’s always more affordable, not to mention generally healthier, to bring your own food along for the trip. Airport restaurants and kiosks, rest stops, and gas stations sell nuts, chips, and sandwiches but are much more expensive than what you get at home. Try these 19 nutritionist-approved road trip snacks.
Avoid car rentals
Do the math before reserving a rental car. Will you come out ahead by renting a car for a week or will it be cheaper to get around in other ways? Depending on your destination, strive to use public transportation, rent-a-bike-stops in town, or Uber and Lyft when needed. Consider car sharing providers like ZipCar and Maven if you want to take a day trip from your destination. If it turns out you really need to rent a car, you’ll want to know the 18 things rental car companies won’t tell you.
Boost your travel savings
Need some extra cash before your trip? Look around your home for items you no longer need or want. You can sell these goods easily with people in your community through Facebook Marketplace, which makes posting pictures and descriptions a breeze. “I recently sold $300 worth of gadgets and clothing that I plan to put toward our upcoming trip to Hawaii,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert. You can also try these tips to make money while you’re away.
Manage your dining out budget
Sure, trying new restaurants is part of the fun of traveling, but there’s no need to eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try to stay in a hotel room with a kitchenette; You can eat a quick breakfast in before you start your day and prep sandwiches to take with you when you go sightseeing. Another smart option is a hotel that offers a free continental breakfast. Even if you have to pay a bit more, it may be worth it, particularly if you’re traveling as a family of four, says Woroch.
Go easy on the souvenirs
Inexpensive souvenirs seem harmless, but you can overspend on tchotchkes in a hurry. And don’t blow your budget on the first day of the trip, because you may come across other items you like more and spend more than you had planned on. Wait to shop around and head back to that first store on your last day if/when you’re really sure that’s the keepsake you want. The same goes double for your kids.
Choose the right credit card
Select a card that offers the best benefits and rewards for your specific travel plans this summer, be it cash back at the gas pump or no foreign transaction fees for international travel. One option to consider is the Bank of America Premium Rewards Card which offers an unlimited 2x points on travel and dining purchases, and unlimited 1.5x points on all other purchases. “If you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, you could earn up to a 75 percent bonus on those rewards points—which translates to 3.5 points for every $1 you spend on travel and dining purchases, and 2.62 points for every $1 you spend on everything else,” says Kevin Condon, an executive with Bank of America Preferred Rewards.
Layer your loyalty programs
Whenever possible, layer together your airline and hotel rewards programs so you’re building up miles/points whichever credit card you use.
Select the best travel days
Whether you’re booking a last-minute weekend flight or planning ahead for travel this summer, you can generally save up to 40 percent on airline tickets by flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, points out Condon. You’ll also want to take a look at the busiest travel days at certain airports, so you know which ones to avoid and when.
Use public transportation to/from the airport
Public transit to and from airports can sometimes be 90 percent cheaper or more. For example, a taxi to London Heathrow airport will cost around $100 from London proper, while the London Underground will only cost around $9. Depending on traffic, public transit can also save significant amounts of time, says Deutsch. This chart reveals the least expensive ways to get to and from some of the busiest airports around the world.
Price match your hotel
If you find a cheap hotel rate for a major hotel brand on a site like Hotels.com or Priceline.com, but comes with too many restrictions or limited cancellation policy, bookmark the site or screenshot the offer. Then call your preferred hotel and ask it to match the rate, which most hotels will, while some go even further. “If the discounted rate is cheaper than the rate on the hotel’s website, Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton hotels will provide an additional 25 percent discount off the lower rate, saving you even more money,” says Deutsch.
Take a free walking tour
In many cities across the globe, you’ll find locals giving free walking tours, says Bernard Sury, of GuruWalk, which lists free tours in 190 cities. “Local guides do these fun and entertaining tours in exchange for tips.” While it’s polite to tip, you’ll only have to pay what you can afford and it’s not mandatory. Do your homework so you’re up on the best free attraction in every state.
Hop on the bus
With gas prices expected to hit a four-year high this summer, you may want to turn your road trip into a bus trip. Megabus is both a convenient and cost-friendly alternative with more than 100 routes in the United States, and there is always at least one $1 ticket on each bus. (As seats fill up, ticket prices increase, so booking early can help you score a great deal. Worried that your plans will change? The reservation change fee is only $2.50.) You can also “like” Megabus’s official Facebook page to find out when new dates open up so you can be the first to score an elusive $1 seat. Travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the best days to find the cheapest fares.
Budgeting app TravelBank allows you to predict how much your next trip will cost, based on real-time data including airfare, lodging, on-ground transportation, and food with its Travelator budgeting tool. How does it work? Select your destination and the figures populate almost instantly. The budget is broken down into categories like flight, hotel, transportation, and daily allowance so it’s easy to see how much money you have to spend on what. This will help you understand what goes into your total trip cost and what the most expensive factors might be.
Look for destination-wide programs
Some tourism boards coordinate with local hotels to offer programs and discount. For example, through the end of 2018, the Aruba Tourism Authority and nine island properties have partnered on a “One Happy Family” campaign, that offers visitors staying at a participating hotels who mention “One Happy Family” free nightly accommodations and daily breakfast for children under 12 years old, a souvenir gift for the family, VIK (Very Important Kid) benefits, and discounts and special offers on island attractions and activities.
Find U.S. locales that feel “exotic”
You don’t have travel abroad to find a piece of paradise. Instead of spending big bucks, plus airport taxes and exchange rates, for sun and sea, stay within the United States. Thre are many great deals to Puerto Rico this summer and average roundtrip flights from the Northeast are running under $300. Find out more of the best island vacations to take in the United States.
Two nights at a B&B for the price of one
ILoveInns.com features deals and discounts at beds and breakfasts across the nation, including two nights for the price of one at 700 B&B inns. The savings are generally at least $150 but go up to $450, depending on the inn, says Deborah Sakach, who works at the site.
Social travel company Contiki has a dedicated page on its site highlighting last-minute deals with 20 to 30 percent off savings of already affordable trips for 18- to 35-year-olds. If you shop it right, you can save up to $1,000 on international expertly curated trips that include meals, accommodations, expert trip managers, and excursions to incredible destinations.
Consider alternative lodging
“I stayed at an Airbnb recently on a family trip, and it was about 50 percent cheaper than a hotel, says Miranda Marquit, a financial expert at Student Loan Hero. “We were comfortable, had cooking facilities, and spent a lot less.” She’s also a fan of camping with her son during the summer. “It’s a fun way to travel on the cheap,” she says. Did you know you can find plenty of Airbnb rentals for less than $100 a night in the United States?
Save your trip for late summer
According to GoLastMinute.com, if you can save your trip for later in August, you’re likely to find better hotel rates and flights as the busy warm-weather season comes to a close and kids return to school. In Key West, for example, hotels that are normally in the $250 to $400 range decrease their rates by up to $50 per night for travel starting in late August.
Purchase two one-way tickets
Round-trip tickets are not always the cheapest. Consider purchasing two one-ways, since during busy summer travel times, it can pay to mix and match carriers and routes.
Search for local bloggers for restaurant picks
Bloggers tend to focus on restaurants beyond the tourist traps and higher end four-star restaurants that get reviewed elsewhere. “Not only will the food at these spots likely be more authentic, but you also won’t pay the exorbitant prices. Alternatively, join Facebook Groups of city locals and ask for recommendations,” says Bill Murphy, a budget traveler with TripHop.com.
Book travel through cashback websites
Sign up for a free membership on TripHop.com and you can earn up to an average of 15 percent cash back when you book your hotel via the site. “Instead of enrolling users into complicated rewards programs, we simply deposit the cash in their Paypal account or cut them a check,” says Murphy. “You can then use that money for other parts of your trip.”
Visit state parks instead of a National Parks
Fees for big national parks have increased this year, not to mention many famous national park lodges sold out months ago. State parks, on the other hand, have far fewer visitors and feature many of the same outdoor adventures and state park lodges still have rooms at significantly lower rates. For example, rates at the Canaan Valley Resort State Park in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands start at $159 per night, while by comparison, rates at the Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone start at $341. Or try visiting one of these National Parks that are off the beaten path.
Don’t stay at a National Park
If Old Faithful is on your bucket list, stay near Yellowstone, instead of in it, to save big bucks. The town of Cody provides access to the east and northeast entrances to Yellowstone National Park, and many travelers to the park make it their home base. A room at The Cody, a centrally located luxury lodge, goes for around $249 a night in July, for example.
Flock to Florida
According to VISIT FLORIDA, summer is the season where hotel rooms can be discounted by up to 40 percent or more from their peak-season rates in March. Florida is home to a selection of family-friendly hidden gems that are either free or low-cost, such as viewing the manatees at The Vero Beach Municipal Power Plant or Navarre Beach, “Florida’s Best Kept Secret,” located on Santa Rosa Island. Florida residents can cash in on savings too, with various special hotels deals, packages, added amenities and perks, encouraging in-state travelers to show Florida some love. These are the best value hotels in the United States, including two in Florida.
Pick the cheapest weeks to travel
Timing is everything. According to Hopper.com, the cheapest flight prices are available the first week of June or after mid-August.
Avoid the crowds
Being mindful of your destination can save you money. “The most popular domestic destinations this summer are Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando, San Francisco, and New York City,” says Liana Corwin, consumer travel expert at Hopper.com. These are some of our favorite underrated towns for a great vacation.
Use the strong dollar to your advantage
Capitalize on greenbacks with the currently strong U.S. dollar. Find destinations where the U.S. dollar carries farther for maximum in-country savings once your trip begins. Argentina, Indonesia, and Norway are some of the countries with a favorable exchange rate, according to Condé Nast Traveler.
Make your way to Europe
“If you’ve always wanted to travel to Europe, this summer is the time to go. Round-trip flight prices from the United States to European destinations are down 9 percent from the same time last year. You can save even more by flying to less popular European cities and taking advantage of trains or cheaper inter-Europe flights,” says Corwin. Here are some convincing reasons to start with Eastern Europe.
Travel as a group
If you have a few friends and family who want to go on a cruise, get everyone together and book as a group for added savings. With many cruise lines, if you book as a large group, one person will cruise for free. “For example, if you book a group of eight cabins (with two people to each cabin), the 16th person will cruise for free, save for taxes,” according to says Matthew Eichhorst, president of Expedia CruiseShipCenters. Cruising is an art unto itself. These travel hacks savvy cruisers know will help ensure you have fun on the seas.
Book your cruise through a travel agent
“Travel agents are able to negotiate contracted rates directly with cruise lines so they can give their customers a lower price,” says Eichhorst. Discover more tricks for traveling on the cheap from travel agents.
Sail on older ships
“Cruise lines like to advertise their newest ships, but the older class of ships are still great options and trips are priced less on average,” says Eichhorst. “Many cruise lines refurbish their older ships with amenities that are often found in their newer ships, so you will still have a comfortable sail.”
Water sports for less
You know about Airbnb and car-sharing, as well as ride-sharing, but what about boat sharing? “At GetMyBoat, we have 108,000 listings in 184 countries, ranging from luxury yacht rentals to kayak tours to stand-up paddleboard rentals to surfing lessons,” says Valerie Streif of the site.
Hit the road in an RV
Traveling by RV can save you a lot of money this summer over traditional travel. Even when you factor in gas, you still save because you don’t need to rent a hotel room, buy an airline ticket, or eat out for every meal. “Studies show that RV travel is 23 to 59 percent less expensive than other types of vacations.,” says Dave Simmons, CEO of Mighway. No RV? No problem. You can rent one on Mighway. Find out the best RV park in every state.
Include vacations in your monthly budget
To make sure you have the funds for your next trip, set aside money each month for your next vacation. “Contribute a little each month to a savings account specifically earmarked for vacations,” says Emily Stroud, author of Faithful Finance: 10 Secrets to Move from Fearful Insecurity to Confident Control. “That way you’ll know exactly what you have to spend when it’s time to plan a trip. Best of all, you won’t feel the least bit guilty because you’ll know your family has saved money for this very reason.” Avoid these mistakes that can make your vacation unnecessarily stressful.
Take a longer vacation
“This summer my family is heading to Utah for a full month to escape the Texas heat,” says Stroud. “We’re renting a small apartment for the entire month. Before you start thinking this sounds very extravagant, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Most real estate managers or homeowners will offer a significantly better price to long-term renters.” Plus, when you rent a home for more than 30 days, you’re considered a long-term renter for tax purposes, which means you aren’t required to pay daily taxes like you would on a week-to-week rental or hotel room, she adds.
Pick up the phone
While it’s easy to shop around for rates online, you can save up to 60 percent on hotel rooms by making a phone call. “Find hidden rates such as Unpublished Rates that are only available in participating call centers,” says Bob Deiner, co-founder and president of Getaroom.com. Their number for hotel reservations is 800-468-3578.
Travel with a friend
Traveling with a friend or two can significantly reduce the price when you split the hotel fee, car rental, etc. Married or have a family? Travel with another couple or a family with kids the same age to reap the same benefit.
“Most little kids don’t know the difference between flying to Paris, France and driving to Paris, Texas. So if you really want to have fun with the family this summer, explore your own community,” says Jess Ponting PhD and director of the Center for Surf Research at San Diego State University. Find some cool hiking spots, visit your local museums, take a bike ride, and pitch up camp for the night, even if it’s in your own backyard. These are the best and worst cities for staycations.
Get your passport now
“Regardless of if you plan to go out of the country this summer, next summer, or five summers from now, get your passport as soon as possible,” says Ponting. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll have to pay sky-high processing and rush fees. “There’s nothing worse than stumbling across an amazing flight deal only to find that your passport that you forgot to order will now cost you three times as much,” she adds.
Break into housesitting
Summer is a great time to discover housesitting where you live in someone’s home at no cost while caring for their pets. “Because so many pet owners (particularly teachers) travel during the summer, it’s less competitive to land a housesitting assignment than at other times of the year. Housesitting not only saves on accommodations but on all those little hotel costs that really add up: laundry, movies, wifi, food and beverages, water, etc.,” says Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva.
Line up your shots early
“There’s an international shortage of Yellow Fever vaccine, and some malaria medications need to be taken two weeks before traveling. Waiting until the last minute to secure vaccines and meds can really bust your budget with added shipping costs and rush fees” says Hayes-Raitt.
“There are many websites, such as HomeStay.com, that allow you to swap homes with someone else. The sites may require a registration fee to advertise your home, but if you get to spend a summer in Italy, who’s complaining?” says Amy Eury, a marketing specialist for MyBankTracker.com.
Become a WWOOFer
“World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms gives you the chance to volunteer on a farm in exchange for food, accommodation and learning opportunities. Among the places you can travel are Australia’s Kangaroo Island and Northern Thailand,” says Eury.
Don’t pay to call home
Make use of Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and other tools to stay connected with family while traveling overseas. You won’t have to worry about outrageous roaming fees. Not only can you call, but video chat and text for free. All you need is WiFi and a low-cost data plan. Find out more easy and low-cost ways to stay connected while traveling.