Spring and summer vacations are lifesavers after a long, dark winter, though the cost of travel can make planning a trip stressful. But don’t let a tight budget keep you from having a getaway. There are ways to do it for less that won’t diminish your experience. In fact, some may enhance it.
1. Be flexible on travel dates
There are cheaper days to fly. For “domestic U.S. travel it’s Tuesday and Wednesday, and for international trips it’s usually Monday to Wednesday or Thursday,” according to Airfarewatchdog’s blog.
There’s been a lot of consolidation and change in the arena of airfare and hotel search engines. Expedia bought Orbitz last year, just weeks after buying Travelocity, so some of these sites will turn up the same fare information.
But some search engines offer good flexible-schedule booking features that allow you to see the best price within a range of dates:
- Airfarewatchdog explains how flexible-fare search works at Cheapair, Kayak (owned by Priceline) and Hipmunk.
- USA Today explains flexible airfare search and lists more search options.
- Google Flight Search lets you compare prices across dates with a chart that shows four weeks’ worth of prices (instructions here) at a time.
If you’re confused by all the various travel search options, try first going to BookingBuddy, which can take some of the hassle out going to various, according to a review by PC magazine:
Enter your travel details, and BookingBuddy will point you to the different travel sites to find the best deal. I wish it would search them for me and gather the results instead of just redirecting me to them, but at least BookingBuddy saves you from having to enter your travel info nine times on nine different sites.
2. Be flexible on airports
You’ll often find lower airfares by including other airports in the region, in addition to your primary destination airport. When flying to Los Angeles, for example, consider landing in Burbank, Ontario and Long Beach, as well as LAX. The extra distance may not matter much if you are planning to rent a car.
3. Travel offseason
Going cheap entails making compromises. But they’re not insurmountable. One compromise is to try your intended destination at a less-popular time. “[J]ust as every bull market has a bear, every tourist destination has a flip side, a season when prices go down and savvy, flexible travelers can score big savings. Travel can be a bargain, especially at popular resort and overseas destinations,” writes CNN.
Ski resorts may be cheaper in spring and fall, for example, when skiing is out, but you can hike and bike before the summer tourists arrive. European capitals are cheaper in winter. Who cares about the sun, anyway, when you can soak in art, architecture, music and great food, all at lower prices?
4. Travel in “shoulder” season
Cheaper than high season but more costly than offseason, shoulder season is the time between, when weather is better and prices are lower but not as low as the offseason. Check Travel + Leisure’s calendar of best shoulder-season destinations throughout the year.
5. Buy airline tickets on Sundays…maybe
Conventional wisdom says what you heard Stacy say in the video: buy your airline tickets on Tuesday. But a Wall Street Journal investigation refutes that.
The Journal says the cheapest flights, on average, were purchased on Sundays. It cites an investigation by Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes half the tickets in the country, in which the company reviewed prices paid for 130 million domestic and international round-trip tickets. Next-best day for a purchase: Saturday.
On the other hand, sites such as farecompare.com stick with the Tuesday recommendation. In fact, they even tell you the exact hour on Tuesday to purchase: 3 p.m.
Other travel sites, such as ChearAir.com say there’s virtually no difference in the day you book.
Conclusion? Be on the lookout for cheap fares all the time.
6. Keep shopping after you book airfare
The Wall Street Journal points out that:
The Transportation Department requires that airlines give refunds for tickets canceled within 24 hours of a purchase, or offer a 24-hour hold for tickets bought more than a week before departure.
That lets you nail down a good price and keep shopping for a better deal. The Journal adds:
If the price does suddenly go lower, you can cancel one reservation and rebook without a penalty fee. Delta, United, US Airways and JetBlue offer the 24-hour free cancellation; American doesn’t but lets you hold a reservation for 24 hours without paying.
7. Fly Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays
The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays — the days fewest people want to travel, FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney writes in USA Today.
8. Avoid Fridays and Sundays
Avoid flying on Fridays and Sundays, the most expensive travel days, Seaney says.
9. Book 49 days ahead
It sounds oddly specific, but U.S. News says that CheapAir.com reviewed records for more than 11,000 domestic flights and found that the best ticket prices were secured about seven weeks before departure.
10. Pack light
Want to save an easy $40 to $50? Don’t check a bag. Pack a few changes of quick-drying clothes in a carry-on, including a travel-sized bottle of your favorite liquid detergent so you can wash items and hang them to dry overnight.
Don’t know how to pack light? See Ask Stacy: How Can You Go to Europe for 10 Days With Just a Carry-On? and 6 Tips for Packing Light and Avoiding Baggage Fees
11. Stay in a national park
You can get a sweet deal on a vacation through the U.S. National Parks System.
The parks service online reservation system is easy to use, and its colorful menu of all the parks makes you want to hit the road right now. The menu leads users to each park’s site, with videos, articles and photos. You’ll see popular lodges and prices at a glance and reserve lodging.
Choose a park near you for a short, cheap getaway. Or visit a distant one for a destination vacation with built-in entertainment.
A recent search found a room with two queen beds and a kitchenette for two adults and two children at $119 a night at Buckeye Tree Lodge just outside Kings Canyon Sequoia National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada in mid-April.
To save even more, visit a national park on one of several days this year when admission is free.
12. Try a hostel
Hostels aren’t just for the young and unwashed. “Older travelers are increasingly booking stays at hostels as international hotel rates rise, and they’re finding private rooms and bathrooms, clean beds, and no-reservations-needed accommodations in hostels around the world,” according to Independent Traveler.
Hostels vary a great deal in accommodations and price. Some have swanky rooms and gourmet meals. In others you’ll sleep dorm-style. It’s crucial to read plenty of reviews so you know what you’re getting into. Look especially for assessments of the safety of the hostel and its neighborhood and the cleanliness and comfort of the bathrooms and beds.
Three places to explore options:
For more, see Big-City Lodgings for $29 a Night
13. Swap homes
House-swapping, trading homes with someone who lives where you want to visit, is nothing new, says USA Today in 10 Things You Need to Know About House Swapping. But the Internet has brought the practice into the 21st century.
It’s not for everyone, Katie Costabel of HomeLink USA tells USA Today. You may have no trouble staying in someone else’s home, but how will you feel about hosting strangers in your home while you’re gone? That’s the most-common option, but you can also find opportunities to be a guest in someone’s home while they are there, called a hospitality exchange.
While you can find online services for free, many reputable ones charge a fee, from a few dollars a month to $159 a year, USA Today says, explaining many of the ins and outs of these deals. The article has links to home-swapping services.
For more, check out Best Hotel Price You’ll Find This Summer? $0
14. Try vacation rentals
The sharing economy has made vacationing more affordable by vastly expanding travelers’ options for accommodations. If you haven’t checked out vacation rental homes, private homes available for nightly, weekly or monthly rentals through a number of online marketplaces, it’s time to take a look.
Upsides include prices that are often lower than hotels, full kitchens and all the comforts of (someone else’s) home. The downside is that you don’t really know what you are getting until you arrive. Reading other users’ reviews online is key for getting a sense of what you are getting into. Even then, however, there’s an element of surprise: Sometimes you’re delighted, other times you may have to roll with the punches.
Here are a few vacation-home marketplaces:
- Home Away
But beware of fraud: See 7 Tips to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by a Vacation Rental.
15. House sit
You can find free accommodations just about anywhere in the world in exchange for caring for a stranger’s home and/or pets.
Darlene and Pete Heck describe themselves as “a Canadian couple who sold everything to travel the world.” They blog at Hecktic Travels. The Hecks do house sitting full-time, but many vacationers use the approach to trim lodging costs to zero.
Hecktic Travels’ Housesitting 101 has links to resources and a description of the experience:
We can explore different parts of the world on a very slim budget. We get to enjoy a slow pace of travel and become involved in each community that we visit. And the homeowner gets a valuable service in return – two responsible people to care for and maintain their property, their pets, and whatever else needs attending to.
For more, see How to Live in Luxurious Homes for Free
16. Eat in
Save money on vacation by eating as few meals out as possible. Pack snacks for day trips and flights.
Rent lodgings with a kitchen or at least a kitchenette. Stop at a grocery store before you get hungry. Most will let you wash fresh produce. Look for plastic ware and napkins in the deli area. Grab a package of wet wipes to clean up.
17. Save on entertainment
In a new locale, everything is an adventure if you are open to it, and you’ll find free things to do by looking around. Bring enough lightweight equipment to allow you swim, hike and run. Check bulletin boards in local stores and tourist information centers and look online and in local papers for notices of free or cheap concerts, sports events and festivals. Stumped? Stop locals on the street and ask them for their recommendations.
For more ideas to keep yourself entertained for less, both at home and on the road, check out 19 Tips to Save on Entertainment
We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences with low-cost vacations. Post a comment below or tell us at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.
Find the right financial adviser
Finding a financial adviser you can trust doesn't have to be hard. A great place to start is with SmartAsset's free financial adviser matching tool, which connects you with up to three qualified financial advisers in five minutes. Each adviser is vetted by SmartAsset and is legally required to act in your best interests.
If you're ready to be matched with local advisers who will help you reach your financial goals, get started now.