You’ve scrimped and saved to treat your family to a nice vacation this summer, but now that you’ve started to research how much it would actually cost to book airfare and hotels, you’re having second thoughts.
When it comes to the most expensive costs associated with traveling, it’s always the big three, says Travis Katz, co-founder and CEO of Trip.com — hotels, rental cars and flights. The good news is that with a little planning, most of these costs can be pared down. The following are Katz’s five biggest tips to help families save a little cash when booking flights and airfare this summer.
1. Think Outside the Box
Up-and-coming places are less crowded, and activities, hotels and restaurants tend to be cheaper (with better service!) because they’re eager to welcome you back, says Katz. He says his site has seen an uptick in travelers flocking to places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Santa Fe, New Mexico, to name a few.
2. Take the Right Flights
If you can hack it, taking the red-eye roundtrip could save you a night (or two!) on accommodation. As an added bonus, your kids might sleep through the trip. If you don’t want to over-night it, consider at least traveling on off-peak days, like Tuesday to Thursday, when airfare is generally cheaper.
3. Haggle for Your Hotel
Pricing for hotels and other types of lodging is not set in stone. Katz suggests asking nicely at the front desk at check-in for an upgrade. “If one’s not available, hotel staff might be inspired to give a freebie or two — comped breakfast, for instance,” he says.
Bonus Tip: Home rentals on sites like Airbnb offer full kitchens, so “you can shop locally and eat simple breakfasts and lunches,” Katz adds.
4. Make the Most of Your Memberships
Your vacation discounts could already be in your wallet. Memberships to some organizations like AAA or AARP come with travel discounts, and you should always check your credit card to see if they offer discounts — or bonus rewards — when booking hotels or flights through their affiliate programs. Even your Costco membership could score you some deals. Check out the Costco Travel site for information.
5. Consider Opening a Travel Rewards Card
Rewards credit cards, when used wisely, are a helpful way to pay for a family vacation. Just remember not to go overboard so you don’t lose your rewards to high interest, or wind up accruing unneeded debt. The last thing you want is to come home to an upsetting credit card bill.
Before you apply for one of these cards, be sure to read the terms and conditions so you know what you’re getting. Also evaluate whether you’ll actually use the rewards. A Southwest rewards credit card, for instance, won’t do you any good if you don’t fly the carrier. Research what airlines have hubs in your area —you can find a helpful list of the best credit cards to use in every major U.S. airport here. If you don’t think you’ll frequently fly with a specific carrier, consider a general purpose low-annual-fee travel rewards credit card.
Just be sure you know where your credit stands so you’re certain you’re able to qualify. Travel credit cards generally require good credit. You can view two of your credit scores, free of charge, on Credit.com.
Bonus tip: Travel rewards credit cards generally partner with rental car companies so your plastic may qualify you for a discount — or at least earn bonus points — on that expense, too.
6. Be Loyal to a Particular Airline or Hotel Brand
Besides using your credit card rewards to fund your trip, consider becoming loyal to a particular hotel or airline to cash in on some of their loyalty programs. Become a member of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Program, for example, and you’ll earn points for every dollar you spend that you can put toward a free flight sometime in the future.
Bonus tip: See if you can pool your credit card rewards with the points or miles you earn through a travel provider’s loyalty program to qualify for a free night or award flight faster.
Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.