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17 ways to stretch holiday vacation cash

No matter what your vacation plans are, you'd like to have more money to spend, right?

A little extra cash isn't really that difficult to find. It's probably already in your vacation budget. You just need to dole it out wisely.

So whether you're catching the red-eye to see mom and dad, taking the kids to visit the grandparents, planning a weeklong trip or just a weekend excursion, you'll get the best deal if you plan early.

Here are more than two weeks' worth of tips to pack in your suitcase:

A suitcase full of money-saving travel tips
Fun on a flexible schedule
Shop around for best airfare
Cash in on credit card air miles
Rental cars for less
Bus, subway, trolley and ... feet
Start your road trip car-happy
Riding rails to relaxation
Early booking gets the cruise deals
Time your stay for best hotel deals
Try the art of negotiation
Avoid tourist traps
Prepare for savings
Dining deals on the town
Bring your own grub
Swipe with savings in mind
Pack lightly and carry a spare
Really cheap travel

1. Fun on a flexible schedule. The more flexible your window of travel -- when your trip starts and how long it lasts -- the more options you have for savings. You'll be able to take advantage of airline ticket sales and the cheapest days to travel. Generally, it's a better deal to travel midweek than over the weekend.

2. Shop around for best airfare. The Internet makes it easy. Check for online specials from individual airlines, and then visit sites such as Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Bestfares and Smartertravel.

"You can probably do that in half an hour," says Charles McCool, author of "Winning the Airfare Game." "You don't have to go crazy."

3. Cash in on credit card air miles. Use your credit card to make monthly purchases and pay that balance off every month. The benefit: You'll accrue air miles faster. Cash them in for ticket upgrades and free travel.

4. Rental cars for less. Shop early over the Internet. You can book a rental car in the low season for less, even if you'll be using it in the peak season, says Shel Horowitz, owner of FrugalFun.com and author of "The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook."

Procrastinated in booking a car? Avoid renting a car at the airport. You'll find more competitive rates, plus avoid extra surcharges at car rental agencies away from the convenience of the airport.

5. Bus, subway, trolley and ... feet. If you are visiting a large city, use public transportation instead of renting a car.

6. Start your road trip car-happy. Keep the tires inflated properly. Underinflated tires waste fuel and wear out the tire tread. Plus, a well-tuned engine burns less gas. The right parts and fresh oil keep your engine happy and less thirsty for gas. Check out more gas savings tips on Bankrate's auto channel.

7. Riding rails to relaxation. If you're not in a hurry, why not travel by train? The Internet can help you research and plan a getaway by rail. Web sites with rail travel advice and vacation information include The Train Traveler and Trainweb.

But it's tough to land a superlow fare.

"There's no equivalent of consolidator airfares in the train industry," says Don George, global travel editor for Lonely Planet Publications. "It's really hard to find really great deals, but it's worth investigating a couple of choices."

As with airfares, some of the best deals on rail travel can be purchased online. Amtrak offers discounted tickets on a first-come, first-served basis to online customers. You may also want to check out train fares available through a local travel agent.

Next: "Travel with the principle that it never hurts to ask ..."
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