smart spending

Time it right and save big on vacation travel

Fly before school lets out 

If you are not bound by a school schedule, take advantage and save.

Jerusalem is packed with students and pilgrims of all ages every summer. Go in early May, just before school lets out, and it will be cheaper.

You'll also save if you can go in the fall after school starts -- as long as you plan your trip away from Jewish holidays, which attract many travelers.

Ditto for many destinations in Europe: If you can avoid Easter and the religious festivals of Spain, and sneak in just before schools close their doors, or right after they open them, you'll pay less.

Museums will be emptier, lines at tourist destinations will be shorter and the weather will already be quite nice in May or October.

You might even be able to bargain with hotel owners who can't fill rooms during those somewhat slower seasons.

Off night at the opera and theater 

If you don't want to fly or drive anywhere, the same principle of odd timing can help you save on a night of local arts, ranging from theater to opera.

Generally, the night before Thanksgiving -- when the rest of America is traveling -- is a good time to look for cheap seats at the opera.

Some of this sort of thing is local. If a new hot play is opening, an older established show might be available for less.

As always, midweek and midafternoon will help you save. A matinee will almost always be cheaper than an evening performance, a rule which applies to movies as well as a plays. A midweek ticket for Broadway's hottest show will cost less than a Saturday night performance.

Everything around a midafternoon or midweek show will be cheaper, too, from parking to a restaurant meal.

If museums are your thing, many have free nights, usually in midweek. The Art Institute of Chicago, for example, opens its doors on Thursday evenings to the public, at no charge.

Don't overdo it 

In your quest to save, some odd times don't make sense. Sometimes, when everyone is off on holiday, it's not that much fun.

"There is the time I spent in Dubai during Ramadan, eating pistachios in my hotel room with the curtains shut," says Isaac Sullivan, an artist in Iowa City, Iowa. "The cold water was hot."

Make sure the basics will be available before you go off, grinning with savings joy, on that bargain vacation.

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