5 ways to save money on summer vacation

Saving for summer fun

Cold temperatures and record snowfall totals have people pondering two words: summer vacation. While your trip may seem miles away, now is the time to figure out how to pay for it.

Whether you are looking to spend a week at an island hideaway or stay in a penthouse in the heart of the city, summer vacation expenses add up. Here are five ways you can save money, before you even book the trip.

Do your research

Couple browsing the internet

Compare and contrast to increase your saved money on your vacation. From holiday weekends to tourist hot spots, planning a low-cost summer vacation requires knowing what your wallet should avoid — and when.

“Be flexible,” says AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter. “If you don’t have your heart set on one particular place, you can look at different destinations to see what can be most affordable.

“Sometimes, leaving a day before or a day after your original itinerary can provide cost-saving opportunities,” Hunter says.

From lower airfare to less-expensive hotel rates, traveling on different days of the week can result in big price differences. With an assortment of travel websites, travelers can search to determine which days and destinations fit into their price range.

However, Hunter cautions travelers against devoting endless hours of research to save a few dollars. “If you wait too long and do too much research, you may lose out on some good rates,” she says.

While the past few years have included some especially rewarding deals to lure recession-wracked travelers, there may not be as many discounts this summer because more people are already traveling.

“If you see a good rate, you should jump on it,” Hunter says.

Get down with the discount

Woman in hotel room with water view

From hotels to airlines to gas stations, travelers can find additional saving opportunities for summer vacation through a wide range of customer loyalty programs.

Marriott spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein says travelers can enroll in the hotel chain’s reward program for free. For each dollar spent at a Marriott hotel or resort, program members can earn up to 10 hotel points or two air miles that can later be redeemed for free hotel stays or flights on more than 30 airlines. Many other hotel chains offer free loyalty programs, too.

Travelers also can join annual fee-based programs to enjoy additional discounts.

AAA offers exclusive savings to its members at more than 160,000 locations worldwide, including hotel discounts ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent. Membership costs vary, depending on the type of membership and accompanying benefits.

“AAA members are eligible for hotel and travel discounts, and in order to attract visitors, hotels may offer a free breakfast or an additional discount for booking an additional night,” Hunter says.

Understand your cards’ rewards

Close up of a reward credit card

With the right rewards program, your current spending can help you save money this summer.

If you’re starting from scratch and looking to pile up enough rewards points to pay for an entire vacation this summer, you have a lot of spending ahead of you, warns Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Even so, he suggests that smaller rewards such as cash back or points for free gasoline are attainable, depending on your level of spending.

As consumers consider how to add on more points toward summer vacation expenses, those with multiple credit and debit cards should understand the terms of each card’s rewards points, McBride says.

“It can make sense to consolidate usage on one card, particularly if it has a tiered rewards structure with a higher level of payouts for a higher level of spending,” McBride says.

Regardless of a rewards program’s tempting offers, McBride offers one golden rule. “If you have even a tiny amount of credit card debt, ignore the rewards programs,” he says.

Get email savvy

Email inbox

While many consumers already receive hundreds of emails each day, signing up for more messages can lead to a less-expensive summer vacation.

Goldstein says that Marriott Rewards members receive a monthly email and a quarterly hard-copy newsletter that include exclusive offers for program members.

Outside of hotel discounts, your email address can serve as the destination for savings on daily activities, meals and other entertainment options on your vacation. Hunter says many local AAA clubs have an email newsletter that highlights ways to save money, with regular updates for members.

Kelsey O’Neill, spokeswoman for online discount site Groupon, says the site’s partners offer discounts of 50 percent to 90 percent that can help travelers save money on activities they already may be planning such as a visit to a museum, a walking tour of a city or a meal at a local restaurant.

“If you have a vacation coming up, you can sign up to receive deals in your inbox for the cities that you’re looking to visit,” O’Neill says.

Some summer saving opportunities already may be available, so don’t automatically press delete.

Think outside the hotel box

Beach cottages

According to independent research conducted by HomeAway Inc., a vacation rental company based in Austin, Texas, a rental property costs 50 percent to 80 percent less per square foot than the average hotel room in popular destinations.

From kitchen space that cuts dining-out dollars to free Internet access, many vacation rental properties deliver added value and added space, especially for families, says Alexis de Belloy, HomeAway’s vice president for North America.

“When you’re in a hotel room with children and family, you have to get out to entertain them,” de Belloy says. “When you’re in a vacation rental, there are typically quite a few entertainment options on the property.”

Travelers can find additional ways to save money on their summer vacation, depending on where they plan to visit.

“In big cites, vacation rentals are often in apartment and condo buildings, and owners are generally able to pass on certain privileges to guests such as parking and access to a pool, a gym or a spa,” de Belloy says.

While summer may still feel far away, de Belloy advises travelers to begin their searches soon.

“The earlier you book, the more likely you are to find availability for the best properties,” he says.

Additional resources

Travel section of newspaper and a passport

For more information on how to save money on vacation travel, check out these stories at Bankrate.com.

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