I once vacationed in Hawaii for two weeks and paid almost nothing for the first-class flights and lodging.
I think it’s the best travel bargain I’ve ever managed, but it was not magic. I got the best deal by using multiple travel tricks that are always worth checking out when you’re planning something big. They can often defray your costs significantly.
But this is important: To save money on travel you need to plan ahead so that you have time to explore the options, adjust your timing if necessary and apply coupons and rewards.
Here are steps to take to get low-cost or no-cost vacations:
1. Snag a credit card with rewards points
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Find the right rewards card for your purposes. To get started, visit our Solutions Center to compare cards suited to different spending styles, travel habits and other needs.
When you consider which credit card rewards program makes the most sense to you, don’t forget to factor in the miles you will receive if you are approved for the card and make purchases. I have two credit cards that reward me for purchases with airline miles. Of course, I pay off the cards at the end of each month so I never pay interest.
2. Be flexible on dates
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You’ll generally find the best prices on domestic flights if you book 21 to 105 days before the travel date, according to a recent CheapAir.com study. On average, 54 days out is the single best day to find the cheapest fare. For the best prices on international flights, book a little further out.
But there are exceptions. You’ll find the slimmest savings when booking flights to Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean ahead of time, according to a 2015 Expedia report on air travel trends. The report continues, “Hawaii in particular is a notable anomaly; travelers to this destination received the best deals when they booked between one and three weeks in advance. This means Hawaii is a destination to which travelers can find terrific last-minute deals.”
3. Consider different airport options
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I generally look at flight options and prices for all three airports in my area. For my Hawaii trip, the best option was to fly out of one airport and return to another.
In some parts of the country, flights that connect you to major air hubs can be disproportionately expensive. So if you have the time, consider renting a car and driving to and from the larger hub at the start and end of your journey.
4. Book the flight and hotel at the same time
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Consider booking your flight and hotel or rental car together. Such package deals save an average of $540, Expedia found.
5. Price shop for hotels
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Also, avoid unpleasant surprises by looking at this article: “12 Ways to Avoid Obnoxious Hotel Fees.”
6. Consider a hostel
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Hostel lodging varies. You may book a private room and bath, a shared room and bath or some combination of those. It may seem like a hassle to figure out how hostels work, but lodging priced from $22 a night makes it worth many people’s time. Scope out options on a site like HostelBookers and Hostelworld.
7. Rent a house, room or apartment
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You have plenty of private space, and the prices are often surprisingly low. I’ve rented entire homes for less than half the price of a hotel room. When traveling internationally, you also can often get a richer experience of the culture by renting homes or rooms from individuals rather than going to a large hotel chain.
For many more ideas about lodging deals, check out “10 Ways to Score Free Lodging for Your Next Vacation.”