When a "staycation" just won’t do, it’s time to book a real getaway. But whether you're traveling solo, with the family or taking a romantic trip for two, money is always an important thing to consider during the trip-planning process. From scoring the best online deals to maximizing extras at hotels, here are 10 ways to save money on your next vacation.
1. Be flexible. Whether it's regarding the dates you're traveling or the cities you’re going to, flexibility is a great way to take advantage of the best travel deals available. "Let the deal be your inspiration. You're going to get a lot more mileage out of your dollar if you're flexible," says Angela Lyda, senior editor at Travel-Ticker.com. "Say you want to go to Hawaii, but there's a great deal to Mexico or the Caribbean. The flight is half the time and probably half the cost; you'll still get that beach destination, but you'll save time and money. If you can be flexible, you'll get a lot more for your buck."
2. Travel during "shoulder seasons." You probably already know about peak travel times, like summer, when everyone is looking to get away. But there are also off-peak times when flights and hotel rooms are much less expensive. However, there's usually a reason that a destination is considered off-peak—like, ahem, hurricane season. So another money-saving option is to travel during "shoulder season," which is between the two. For instance, April through May and mid-August through October are ideal times to travel to Europe, when the weather's still nice but there aren't too many tourists. "A lot of times [the travel seasons] will follow the school year, which isn't super-convenient for families," says Andrew Young, web editor at Travelzoo.com. "But sometimes it's worth taking the kids out of school for a week for a new experience." Each region has different seasons, but if you know how to work around them, you're more likely to find great deals.
3. Keep extra fees and exchange rates in mind. It might be cheaper to fly to London than to Buenos Aires, but when you hit the ground, your dollar will go a lot further in Argentina, so make sure you consider exchange rates when searching for a destination. "I would rather have more to do and see when I get there, than just being in a place," says Lyda. And don't forget to look at airline fees as well—like who charges for bags and who doesn't. "Always keep in mind what you're paying on top of travel expenses,” Young says, adding that bag expenses can be a big one. For example, JetBlue does not charge for your first checked bag, and Southwest allows you to check two bags for free. And most airlines don't charge on the first checked bag for international flights.
4. Use social networking. When a blizzard hit the East Coast during the 2010 holiday season, many stranded travelers got flights via the airlines' Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, which is a useful way to find bargains, too. "Social media is a great way to hear about deals. And they're coming to you, so you're not having to do all the work," says Lyda. Nicole Hockin, travel blogger at TravelSmartBlog.com agrees, but says don’t stop there. "Sign up for email fare alerts. I love AirfareWatchdog.com, which scours all the main sites for cheap fares to and from certain cities or on particular dates," she says.
5. Buy package deals. When you book your hotel packaged with your airfare, you're gaining access to deals that aren't available to the general public, according to Young. "Hotels will have a rate they aren't publishing publicly, and airlines will have a fare they aren't making available to the general public, so agencies will combine the two to come up with a really hot deal." All-inclusive hotel packages can also be a great way to control your expenses. "You're not pulling out your wallet all the time for meals, drinks, entertainment, activities…it's all included," says Lyda. "Plus, some resorts even have offers where kids stay and play for free. And most of them have kids clubs, where the adults can be by the pool while the kids are having fun at the jungle gym with their buddies."
6. Know your local airline hub. Young advises travelers to stick with the airline that has the closest headquarters to your home, as it will offer the most flights (and best deals) from your city. "Look to see which airline is strong in your area and what vacationpackages they offer. They'll have some good options for you," he says. "If you live in Atlanta, you want to travel Delta Vacations because that's the predominant carrier. United Vacations is out of Chicago and JetBlue Getaways fly out of New York."
7. Stay at family-friendly hotels. Whether it's a matter of extra amenities or ample room size, certain hotels are much more family-friendly than others. You should search for the one that has the most perks to suit your interests and needs. "Embassy Suites have a great complimentary breakfast every morning and an evening wine reception for grownups," says Hockin. "And the rooms are conducive to traveling with families. They're more affordable and you get a lot more space, which makes traveling with kids more bearable." She also says some hotel chains have extra services for kids. "Loews Hotels, for instance, have everything you might forget, from games and Silly Putty to nightlights and training potties." Fee-free perks can help you save money in the long run, so always consider what's being offered to guests before you book a room.
8. Ask the concierge for the inside scoop. As soon as you get to your hotel, ask your concierge for deals and upgrades, especially if you're traveling with kids. "If you can go from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom, with kids that's fantastic," Lyda says. But Hockin insists these types of deals aren't limited to just your hotel. "Always ask the concierge if they know of places that do discounts for families at restaurants, places where Tuesday nights kids eat free, for instance."
9. Sign up for local discount websites. You may already receive emails from sites like Groupon or LivingSocial that offer deals based on where you live, but you can also get top deals for the cities you're planning on visiting, as well. "Sign up a couple of weeks before you go so you can get coupons for dining and local attractions," says Hockin. "And for families, there's Mamapedia, which has family-oriented and kids deals, or two-for-one deals. It doesn’t just have to be for the city where you live."
10. Stock up on groceries. One of the biggest expenses while traveling is food costs, but you can save serious cash by hitting up the grocery store for snacks and easy breakfast options. "If you're renting a car and you have the capability to go to a local supermarket, stock up on snacks. If you have a microwave [in your hotel room], instant oatmeal in the morning makes a big difference. And packing water bottles you can refill cuts down on paying $3 at [theme parks]," says Hockin. Young, a father himself, agrees. "Having kids, the one thing we always try to do is cook some meals in, so bring a loaf of bread and peanut butter and you're saving on lunch or breakfast somewhere."