How to Save Money on Your Summer Vacation This Year
Keep your budget on track when traveling this summer.
Summer 2012 promises to offer a number of challenges for vacationers this year. Gas prices, although lower than last year, remain high and will pinch many budgets. Hotel and airfare costs are higher, while car rental prices present a mixed bag of higher costs and savings. Fortunately for you, our family has already taken our trip this year, therefore the following seven tips can help you save money on your vacation this summer.
1. Book early — If your vacation includes a week at the shore or lake, you’re already well past the time to find a prime place to stay. Fortunately for you, cancellations do happen, sometimes leaving landlords without a tenant for the week. Although this wasn’t how we spent our week away, our current research on a midweek getaway for later this summer has shown that a number of places to stay are still available. Check Craigslist as well as local vacation rental websites to turn up a jewel of a place to stay. Negotiate a lower price by offering to pay in cash. If a weekly rental at a prime location is hard to come by, look for rentals just outside of the area for your stay. You’ll save money and may need only drive a few extra miles to enjoy all of the local attractions.
2. Compare rates — Our trip involved four nights at hotels and two nights with friends. We used up all of our Marriott points to get four free nights of hotel stays, choosing Fairfield Inns for our visits. Marriott properties, including such “bottom rung” hotels such as Fairfield Inn offer a high-end stay with a hot breakfast, swimming pool and other amenities included. If you’ve been accumulating points via a credit card, consider what those points will get you. Even without points to use, you can find deals on quality hotels by using a site such as Hotels.com or our own SayFunTravel to find deals. Typically, the best places to stay are hotels underutilized on weekends, such as ones located in business areas. Rates can drop by more than half on slow summer weekends.
3. Travel off-peak — The busiest time of the year to travel is in July and August, thus finding bargains can be difficult if almost impossible. The shoulder months of June and September offer the best deals with May travel best in areas where the weather is warmer and schools are still in session. If you’re flying, midweek rates are often lower than what you would pay on a Friday or a Monday. You may need to stay a Saturday night and your trip might include a layover. You’ll pay more for a nonstop coast to coast flight than you would for a trip that has you changing planes in the nation’s midsection. If you’re flexible with your travel dates, you stand to find a lower rate. Be alert for new charges such as baggage fees to reserving a seat in advance warns Smarter Travel.
4. Know your rental — We were about to rent a car for our trip, to give our older family vehicle a break and to enjoy a more comfortable ride. However, the vehicle we wanted with all the bells and whistles along with insurance would have cost of north of $500. Instead, we took our car, deciding to save our rental for another trip. Car rentals deals can be had, but you need to read the fine print. One offer we thought was too good to be true — charging just $139 per week for a rental — unlimited miles included. Unfortunately, that teaser rate was for a subcompact and we wanted a midsize SUV. Even with AAA discounting and some flexibility on our part, the rate we received was three times the lowest rate. Although our auto insurer offers coverage, we knew that buying insurance was still important due to the impact an accident submission could have on our insurance rates. Expect to pay a handsome fee for your rental with better discounting for a smaller vehicle.
5. Watch our for tolls — In more congested areas of the country, you’ll find roads tolled and fees for bridges and tunnels. Our trip down the New Jersey Turnpike cost us a whopping $13.85, 70 percent higher than last time. We paid higher fees on other roads and bridges, shelling out more than $21 as we made our way to Washington, D.C. If you can avoid tolls, map out an alternate route that won’t add much time to your trip and will save you money. Gas prices can vary too — we found gas was 30 cents per gallon higher at one exit along I-95 in Virginia than at another one. Also, if you must use premium gasoline, you’ll find the difference can add as much as 50 cents to a gallon of gas in some areas. In New Jersey, for example, regular gasoline was $3.39 at one station with premium gasoline costing $3.89 at the same pump.
6. What you pay at parks — Amusement parks will cost you a mint, but deals can be had if you buy in advance. One visit took us to a national battlefield in Virginia, where the prices were $3 for adults and free for children under 16. If your vacation takes in an amusement park, consider buying a multi-day family pass. For example, if you’re visiting Universal Orlando, you can save $20 off of the gate price on multi-day tickets. Moreover, you’re given a coupon book that can save you up to $150 including “kids eat free” with an adult purchase at select restaurants.
7. Avoid the pricey souvenirs — We discovered that souvenirs attract young and old alike, but most are to be avoided. Our kids love Webkinz, but buying these stuffed animals at most stores will mean that you’re paying full price. Sometimes the souvenir has little to do with the vacation spot and can be found elsewhere for much less. However, in some areas where merchants compete feverishly for business, you’ll find bargains galore. For example, the Wildwood Boardwalk in New Jersey offer souvenirs that are sometimes priced super low — just be prepared to visit several merchants to compare prices before making your purchase. Yes, you can ask for a lower price for an item if you found a lower price elsewhere.
If you’re planning to stay at one location while you’re away, you’ll find the week-long rental cheaper than the nightly hotel stays. Eat breakfast and lunch at your stay, saving your money for one nightly meal out. Or, eat your main meal during the middle of the day when prices are lowest and pocket the savings.