Summer may seem far away, but this reminder will warm your heart: It’s time to start planning your awesome and affordable summer vacation.
Get going now, and use these tips to get the best deals.
1. Plan ahead
I can’t stress this enough: If you haven’t already done so, lock in reservations to secure the lowest rates. That will also make it easier to cover associated costs without having to cough up a huge wad of cash at the last minute — or, even worse, resort to the magic plastic.
Consider looking at the best deals out there before deciding on your destination. You can find them at travel websites like BookingBuddy, Hotels.com, Priceline and Orbitz.
2. Use rewards
Now’s the time to redeem all the rewards you have accumulated on your credit card or customer loyalty accounts for air travel and lodging.
I’ve done this for several years with Marriott points and saved a ton of money. In some instances, I’ve been able to earn extra nights simply for staying during select promotional periods. One summer, my family and I vacationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for five days without paying a dime for lodging.
If you’re in the market for a good rewards credit card, go to our Solutions Center and search for a great card.
3. Avoid the crowds
Consider going somewhere that’s off-season in summer — like Florida. Many snowbirds migrate back to their Northern homes in the summer months — while temperatures soar down in the South — and prices come down.
Also, ask your travel agent about less-crowded alternatives for the type of vacation you desire, and you’ll likely find a lower price.
4. Eat for cheap
Search for lodging with in-room kitchens, such as at Residence Inn. Also, many hotels and bed-and-breakfasts include the first meal of the day in their rates.
If you decide to step out to grab a bite to eat, avoid the tip and extra add-ons — such as beverages and desserts — by ordering the food to go. Eat at your hotel room or make a picnic.
Also, check with the reservation desk in the hotel lobby and look online for coupons.
5. Vacation with friends and family
Why not skip the overcrowded, compact hotels and rent an entire house with a group of friends or family members? Not only is it an opportunity to spend time with those near and dear to you, but you will also save a ton of money with in-home amenities while entertaining one another for free.
We do this once a year, and the highlights of the trip typically include evening cookouts, pool parties and competitions in the game room. Even better, we usually save hundreds of dollars.
Vacation rental sites include:
6. Seek out free entertainment
If you’ve never been to the area, ask around for cheap or free entertainment ideas.
Also, take advantage of membership offers at attractions that offer discounts or free admission year-round. I visited the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans several years ago and fell in love. Since then, we have purchased memberships and visit partnering facilities throughout the country free of charge.
While you’re at it, check out: “9 Great Travel Discounts That Begin in Your 60s.”
7. Take a cruise
Cruise lines — or what I like to call “sailing resorts” — frequently advertise promotional offers on their websites.
Good possibilities for major price breaks come in the wake of things that went wrong — like a norovirus outbreak or a mechanical problem that affected travelers. I know it sounds a little wacky, but think about it: After one of these debacles, the cruise line will be trying to win back customers, and they do it by offering excellent prices and service.
The reason that summer cruise vacations are attractive is that they provide all-inclusive entertainment without the hassle of paying extra for food, entertainment and supervised youth activities.
8. Pick an all-inclusive resort
All-inclusive resorts offer everything you need on site. You can likely get a discount on airfare if your flight is included with the deal.
One of my favorites is Marriott’s Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, particularly because it has restaurants with delicious cuisine, a water park, a kids club, shopping and daily activities on-site.
9. Consider a staycation
Spend a vacation at home, but really get out and do the things that you’re normally too busy to do. Eat at the restaurant you have wondered about, check out the farmers market you’ve heard is so great, go to the museum, and hit those tourist destinations you’ve never explored.
Check out local resorts and other attractions for promotional offers. For instance, some theme parks offer special rates to in-state residents.
10. Create an itinerary
Without a detailed plan of what you want to do each day, you may open the door to unnecessary spending — for instance, ending the day in a location with only pricey hotels and expensive restaurants.
With an itinerary, you can plan ahead and project costs before departing. When doing so, be sure to leave a little wiggle room for unforeseen circumstances, such as delays and cancellations due to inclement weather.
11. Set a budget
This goes hand in hand with the itinerary. Once you determine how much money is available for the trip, set a cap and stick to it.
The travel spending plan should be broken down into categories, including transportation, lodging, meals, entertainment and miscellaneous expenses.
12. Take a road trip
Depending on where you’re headed, it might be much cheaper to drive than to fly. Road trips take longer but can save you a ton of money.
Make sure your car is in excellent mechanical condition before you hit the road. See “7 Simple Ways to Keep Your Car Safe for Summer Driving.”
How have you saved money in the past on summer vacations? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
Kari Huus contributed to this post.
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