If you haven't yet planned a summer vacation, no worries. There's still time to find an affordable getaway.
To get the best deals, all experts say, the key is to stay flexible.
Where you go, how you get there and when you book flights and accommodations can make all the difference in the price.
"Airfares tend to drop pretty dramatically in the last week of August,” says Rick Seaney, CEO of Farecompare, an online travel site. “It's seasonal. The kids are back at school so there are cheaper prices” and smaller crowds. “If you have some flexibility on your destination, prices vary by airline and city,” he says.
Where to Go
One of the best ways to save money is to stay closer to home. “Travel in your own backyard,” says Michael Edwards, managing director for North American and European business, IntrepidTravel.com, an experiential travel company. “Take the airfare out of the trip. Take closer, shorter flights.”
Consider a destination close enough to drive as the national average for gas prices is down 21 cents year over year as of the middle of June. “There has been a downward trend in gas prices since Memorial Day,” says Julie Hall, a spokesperson for AAA.
Yet, if you feel the urge to travel far, consider countries with favorable exchange rates. The exchange rate for foreign currencies can mean more for your money. Consider Costa Rica, where the rate is 580.232 Costa Rican colones to the dollar, or Mexico, where the rate is 19.0041 Mexican pesos to the dollar.
For example, the three best value hotels in Costa Rica, according to TripAdvisor.com, are Tamarindo Diria, Best Western Jaco Beach All Inclusive Resort and Shana by The Beach Hotel Residence & Spa, all with rates of roughly $200 per night or less.
In addition, if you want to travel far and you're leaving within a month or so of booking, you can save between 20 percent and 50 percent on some tours, Edwards says. For example, an eight-night trip called Cambodia Traveller, which covers parts of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam from July 28 through Aug. 5, is $758 per person, double occupancy plus airfare. Always check travel.state.gov before you book to determine safety and security situations in foreign destinations.
Packaged travel can save you up to 40 percent compared to booking yourself, says Gavin Delany, cofounder and CEO of Stride Travel. That's because “you're buying into group pricing,” says Keith Mills, vice president of business development at Premier World Discovery, which provides escorted tours and does not discount for last-minute travel.
For example, a trip called Great Trains & Grand Canyons based in Sedona, Arizona, offers a five-night escorted tour that includes two rail trips, motor coach transportation, eight meals, for $1950 per person, double occupancy plus airfare.
Make expensive destinations more affordable by staying there midweek only, then take a side trip to a nearby place of interest where accommodations are cheaper.
Also, consider off-season locations such as a ski resort in the summer. “Ski destinations in the summer can offer good value,” says Anne Scully, a travel agent with McCabe Travel, McLean, Va., a Virtuoso agency. For example, if you stay at Beaver Run in Breckenridge, Colo., Aug. 13 to 17, the rate is $139 per night, double occupancy, or $168 per person July 30 to Aug. 2, compared to $379 per night Dec. 24 to Dec. 27 or $200 per night Jan. 14 to Jan. 17, 2020.
Experts say travelers are likely to get the best airfares booking at least 30 days before you travel, so mid-to-late August travel should be booked now. Airfares tend to increase from 30 days to 21 days to 14 days to seven days, and finally, to three days. “Each shorter window is progressively more expensive,” Farecompare’s Seaney says. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to fly within the U.S., he says, and if you’re flying to Europe aim for Monday through Thursday.
Other ways to save:
- Book an alternate airport or a flight with one or more stops or choose a discount airline. “If you don’t like the prices to fly to the closest airport, consider close-in alternatives,” says Kevin Murphy, owner of Open Roads Tour & Travel Solutions in Fair Oaks, California.
- Book each passenger in a group on a separate reservation in case there is one lower fare still available. Passengers on the same reservation must book all tickets at the same price. Seaney says. “You’ll at least get the lower price for one ticket that’s left.”
- Purchase an airfare and hotel together to save. “The bundle allows the airline and the hotel to drop their price, discounting the bundle inside of 30 days of travel,” Seaney says.
- Set up airfare alerts with an airline for which you have miles or points, or use airfarewatchdog.com.
For rail travel in the U.S., booking at least seven to 14 days in advance for many routes throughout the country can mean 20 percent savings on regular adult fares. Other ways to save up to 35 percent include Share Fares for traveling in a group of up to four passengers, new this year. Savings are available on long-distance trains and associated buses as well as Amtrak Northeast Regional trains on coach seats only. It’s not valid on the Acela train from Washington, D.C., to Boston. The first passenger pays full price; the second, 15 percent off the full price; the third, 60 percent off the full price; and the fourth passenger, 70 percent off.
For example, four traveling on the Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles) pay a total $456.45; four traveling on the California Zephyr (Chicago to Emeryville, California) pay a total $441.15.
Amtrak travelers age 65 and older receive a 10 percent discount on most rail fares on most Amtrak trains. On trains operated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada, those 60 and older get 10 percent off.
Megabus has routes throughout much of the U.S. with fares between towns and cities as low as $1. If you want to travel but you’re not sure where, check https://us.megabus.com/fare-finder for low-cost destinations and fares.
Hotels and Other Accomodations
Flexibility is the route to lower hotel rates, too. “If you can be flexible on the date of arrival and which hotel, you can get a lower rate,” says Bjorn Hanson, a New York-based hospitality consultant. “Instead of arriving on a Friday, arrive on a Sunday” to get a better rate, he says. Or, arrive Wednesday instead of Friday to avoid the higher weekend rates typically charged at leisure hotels and resorts.
If you prefer a certain brand of hotel, consider a less expensive tier within a brand. For example, rather than stay at a Marriott Marquis or JW Marriott, check the price for a Courtyard Marriott.
Other ways to save are to exchange your home for a stay in someone else’s home through sites such ashomeaway.com, myplaceforyours.com, homeexchange.com or homeforexchange.com. No dollars change hands.
- Ask for the lowest rate available and book through the hotel — not a third party site — to get discounts such as AARP’s member rates.
- Look for accommodations that include free breakfast or ask for a refrigerator for your room. Alternatively, book accommodations with a kitchen to save money on meals.
- Purchase air and hotel in a bundle through an online travel agency to save up to 40 percent, travel experts say.
- Check if the hotel charges a “resort” fee, a daily per-person charge that is added to the price of a room at some hotels but not included in the listed price. Ask what it includes.
The cost of cruises varies according to the type of ship you choose and the destination this summer. "Cruise pricing is really variable,” says Colleen Daniel, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com, a consumer cruise website. “Prices can change multiple times a day.” A guide for a good deal is to think in terms of paying $100 per person, per night, she says. Prices on luxury ships can cost as much as $500 to $1,000 per person, per night, while major cruise lines can cost $150 to $200 per person, per night. These are the lowest prices, and will be the price for an inside cabin, typically without a window or a balcony. Cruise pricing is not all-inclusive, as alcoholic beverages and shore excursions are extra.
For example, a seven-night Alaska Cruise that departs Aug. 12 from Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Norwegian Jewel that costs $399 for the cruise only, was previously $549 and originally $1,169.
Those who like to look for last minute deals or just don't like to book way in advance should not worry about making vacation plans, even in July. “You can still get a value,” Scully says. There are still plenty of travel opportunities for July, August and into September. “It's never, ever too late to get a trip or a vacation."