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6 Tips to Get Ahead of Planning for Summer Travel

Strategize for a successful and affordable trip

spinner image world map on a smartphone screen with a few points of interest
Summer travel is expected to be busy. Plan strategically for an affordable vacation.
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If it’s spring break, it’s time to think about summer, which is expected to be busy.

“We’re already coming into this year with two months in a row where airport traffic surpassed last year,” says Katy Nastro, a travel expert with Going.com, a membership service that finds cheap airfares, citing the number of travelers who passed through airport screening checkpoints in January and February. “This year could set records.”

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While such demand could push prices up, so far hotel rates are about the same as 2023, according to the travel booking app Hopper, and airfares have moderated thanks to more planes in the air.

“We’re expecting a very busy summer season, but we’re also expecting prices similar to last year, which was back to business as usual,” says Hayley Berg, lead economist with Hopper. She added that prices for the average domestic flight peaked between $300 and $320 in summer 2023, or about $100 less than the 2022 summer ticket average.

Set the stage for a successful and affordable summer trip by using the following planning strategies.

Book flights in spring

To get low airfares, Hopper advises monitoring flights three to four months in advance for domestic departures and booking one to two months out. For international flights, expect to book three to six months before departure to most destinations, except Asia, where the best prices usually occur five to seven months in advance.

For best results, consider traveling during the fringe weeks of summer.

“I’m a big proponent of targeting the first two weeks in June or the last two weeks in August,” says Going.com’s Nastro. “We find fares upwards of 30 percent cheaper versus trying to travel at the end of June and into mid-July.”

Beware cancellation penalties

While booking early can save you money, plans can always change.

For that reason, always book flexible flights that generate a refund or credit upon cancellation. Most major domestic carriers provide credits for cancellations without penalty, except on some of their cheapest fares.

Hotels tend to have more flexible cancellation policies, often up to 24 hours in advance. Don’t be tempted by discounts for nonrefundable reservations.

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Travel insurance can help reduce the financial risks, but remember that standard policies can be invoked only for a covered reason, such as a death in the family, loss of a job or other major event. Changing your mind about traveling is not covered under most policies unless you buy a special Cancel for Any Reason upgrade, which is relatively expensive and often will recover only half to three-quarters of your purchase.

Calculate the true cost of a trip

If you’re considering a package deal, be aware of what’s included in the sticker price when comparing options.

For example, summer cruises to Alaska start at less than $100 a day per person. But most bargain cruises do not include expenses such as alcohol or Wi-Fi. Additionally, shore excursions are priced à la carte. Add the price of any desired extras into the cost of the trip to determine the real bottom line.

The same calculus applies to tours. Trips from operators such as G Adventures and EF Go Ahead Tours may not include all meals, whereas Road Scholar pricing includes more extras, such as meals and transfers. Intrepid Travel offers different pricing based on what’s included.

Consider alternative destinations

Paris for the Olympics, Sicily after the success of The White Lotus series and the Asian capitals of Tokyo and Seoul are among popular summer 2024 destinations. To avoid their high prices and enormous crowds, look elsewhere.

“I always encourage travelers to think off the beaten path,” says Hopper’s Berg. “Central and South America have a lot of destinations that offer great experiences and stretch your budget.”

In lieu of the most popular national parks, Rob Stern, who runs the Raleigh, North Carolina–based agency RobPlansYourTrip, is sending clients to lesser-known parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California, for its lakes, mountains and hydrothermal attractions, and North Cascades National Park, near Seattle.

“People need to be open-minded, flexible, willing to consider new places that are lesser known or expect to have a lot of company,” says Stern.

Track your reservations

As long as you’ve made travel bookings with flexible cancellation terms, it can pay to track them to see whether rates fall, so you can rebook at a lower price. Travelers can do this manually by checking in periodically with search engines such as Kayak, Google or Hopper.

Or you can use an automated monitoring service, such as AutoSlash for rental cars and HotelSlash for hotel reservations. By enrolling in these programs, travelers will receive an alert if a price goes down. In that case, they can cancel the existing reservation — assuming it’s penalty free — and make a new one at the lower rate.

Splurge selectively

If you’re like 58 percent of respondents to a recent Booking.com survey, you’re heading somewhere with a lower cost of living than at home. 

But the study’s penny-pinchers admit to leveling up with little luxuries, such as a day pass to an expensive hotel to use its pools. Websites and apps like Resort Pass, Daycation and DayPass can help you find those indulgences for as little as $25 a day.

Such shared-economy platforms can turn up special and often affordable experiences, including dining in the homes of locals through websites such as EatWith, Withlocals and Traveling Spoon.

As always, mind the cancellation policies, and don’t book anything restrictive until you’re as close as possible to your travel date. Bon voyage!

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