How to Make Labor Day a Leisure Day

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A few years ago, waiting until the last minute to strike a Labor Day deal would've cost you big bucks. But this year, the best time to save on holiday air travel, local vacations - and even cars - is right now.

Last year was one of the lousiest Labor Days on record for traveling. So when AAA predicts holiday travel will rise nearly 10 percent this weekend, that’s still far below the peak levels before the recession – and that could mean good travel deals.

The holiday weekend actually starts today and ends Sunday. AAA expects 34.4 million people taking a trip at least 50 miles away from home (up from 31.3 million last year).

“While media reports on the state of the U.S. economy are mixed, many Americans are still interested in taking one more trip as the summer travel season comes to a close,” says Glen MacDonell, director of AAA Travel Services. “It is encouraging to see more Americans planning to travel to visit family, friends, and exciting vacation destinations.”

But it’s also more expensive. MacDonnell says airfares are up 9 percent from last year, with the lowest round-trip rates averaging $179 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Weekend car-rental rates are up 7 percent, to an average of $46 per day.

Rates for luxury hotels have increased 6 percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $139 per night (compared to $132 last year). Even budget hotels have hiked prices by 2 percent, for an average cost of $102 per night.

And where are all these people going? “City trips” are travelers’ top choice for fall, with 54 percent planning an urban getaway,” says a TripAdvisor survey. The top three destinations are New York City, Las Vegas, and Orlando. And 45 percent of those travelers plan to spend more than last year. But there’s no reason you should.

Making your play money work

If you’re planning a major trip, check out our 7 Routes to a Cheaper Family Vacation. If you don’t know yet which big city you want to visit, we can tell you Where to Enjoy the Least Taxing Vacations – those popular destinations that don’t sock you with as many hidden taxes.

But because more Americans intend to fly this year than last – 36 percent compared to 33 percent, TripAdvisor says – you can find some great deals by doing the opposite. At this late date, scoring a cheap local or regional vacation that you can drive to is your best bet.

Since demand is lower, gas prices are dropping instead of rising this holiday weekend. The national average price for per gallon is $2.68, down about two cents from the week before, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That makes getting to your destination cheaper, but where should you go? Here’s a weird piece of advice: Ask the government.

For instance, if you’re live within driving distance of one of our beautiful national parks, we strongly recommend a visit. And wherever you live, there’s a tourism bureau nearby. For instance, Discover Los Angeles has an entire section devoted to deals and freebies – but so do much smaller places, whether it’s Snohomish County in Washington State or Williamson County in Illinois. Google places within a drive from your home and see what you can discover.

Getting there in a new car

Summertime is the best time to buy a new car, and Labor Day may be the best day, says

Summer is one of the best times of the year to shop for a great deal on a new car, and that window usually lasts until Labor Day. Most manufacturers are trying to offload their previous model-year inventory in preparation for the next model-year units that are headed to dealer lots. And unlike autumn, when inventory levels of 2010 models may be low, many 2010s are still available.

The site also crunched the numbers on prices and incentives and list the models featuring the best deals right now. The winner was Chevrolet, with three of the top 10: HHR, Cobalt, and and Impala. Read the full list here.

Or just stay home

34 million Americans are traveling this weekend, but that means 273 million are staying home – not a bad idea. Check with your local restaurants, movie theaters, playhouses, and museums – you might find some great deals. Enjoy!

Stacy Johnson

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