And don’t forget to combine these savings strategies with a travel rewards credit card to get the most value from your necessary travel expenses.
1. Move fast
One thing summer travelers have going for them is that the pandemic pushed airlines, tour operators and others to create better cancellation policies for consumers.
With that in mind, the best move could be to lock in tickets and reservations now, before prices and availability get even worse, then cancel or reschedule if a more affordable option becomes available.
Make sure to thoroughly review cancellation policies and call to confirm those rules if they’re not crystal clear. Also be aware that cheaper “no frills” tickets and reservations often have different, stricter policies on cancellations, refunds and rebooking.
2. Work backward
In the before-times, people tended to identify where they wanted to go and when they wanted to go there, then looked for reservations and prices.
The strategy now is to reverse-engineer your travel.
Identify the most affordable locations and times to travel, then plan your trip around the attractions and events in that region.
3. Embrace weekday flights
Many airlines continue to face a shortage of planes, pilots and crew members. Consequently, there are fewer flights, which means airline ticket prices are soaring.
Your best defense against inflated prices is to avoid high-demand flights. Flexibility is the key to finding affordable tickets, including dates, destinations and airports.
Online price-monitoring services, such as Google Flights and the Google Flights Explore Map, can identify the least expensive travel dates, which typically involve flying on weekdays rather than weekends.
For example, at the time of writing, a flight from Chicago to Las Vegas in early July ranges from $185 for a Tuesday flight with a Tuesday return one week later, to $368 for a Sunday-to-Sunday itinerary.
More: Amazing vacations for around $1,000
4. Focus on flight hubs
Look at rates to and from airline hubs, such as Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia and Miami, where flights are more frequent, and consider booking flights that take off early in the morning or late at night.
If you can pack light, consider the bargain airlines that offer low basic fares but tack on extra charges for bags and other extras. Also check out the low-fare calendar for Southwest Airlines, since that airline doesn’t always show up in flight search engines.
For overseas travel, look at flying into the least expensive airport you can find, then booking a low-cost local foreign flight or train trip to your desired destination. Because prices and availability change from hour to hour, conduct your ticket searches on different days at different times.
And remember, travelers with fair to good credit scores can consider opening a credit card rewards account, which can get you bonus points if you spend a minimum amount in the first few months after opening the account.
The Credit One Bank Wander® Card welcome bonus is achievable: 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening. Bonus points can be redeemed for a $100 statement credit, gift cards or travel.
The card also offers 5X points on eligible flights, which is competitive with many other cards with higher requirements and annual fees. And it provides 1X points on all other purchases.
5. Try a “work-cation”
For contract employees, freelancers, gig workers and others who don’t get paid vacation benefits, time off from work is a major cost of traveling.
In the post-pandemic world of remote work, however, a traveler can simply relocate for a while to work during the day and enjoy a new destination during their off hours.
An extended stay in a new locale also means you’ll be able to possibly obtain discounts through Airbnb and other property rental services.
6. Consider discount destinations
A week or two in California wine country or the wineries around Lake Michigan in Traverse City can substitute for a pricey food-and-wine tour of Tuscany.
Other stand-ins for expensive, distant locales recommended by travel experts include substituting Charleston, South Carolina for London or skipping Okinawa, Japan and heading to Oahu, Hawaii.
Las Vegas can stand in for Dubai, while New Mexico is a good domestic alternative to exploring the sands of Morocco.
7. Look at alternatives to hotels and resorts
Rooms fall into the same category as airline tickets: more expensive and harder to find.
Besides looking for cheaper, less crowded destinations and being flexible about dates, the next best way to defend against high costs is to use a travel rewards card that includes hotels as a major bonus category. For example, the Credit One Bank Wander® Card offers 10X points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through its travel partner’s portal, which is currently powered by Priceline.
If that’s still too pricey, travelers can consider skipping a hotel or resort and renting a private home or condo. Vacation rental homes and apartments have been a staple in places such as Orlando and London for decades — long before Airbnb showed up.
A residential rental allows travelers to save on expensive hotel meals and parking charges, while a home with amenities allows visitors to spend a day relaxing poolside or playing video games while skipping the cost of a day at a theme park.
Other alternatives include home-swapping services that allow you to trade homes with another vacationing family, as well as reliable classics such as hostels (which can include some private rooms) and camping in locations with cabins and other amenities.
Travel experts also recommend that, once you’ve scoured travel search engines, call the hotel’s front desk to see if a better rate is available.
If you’re flying, look at package deals on airfares and hotels and rental cars. Some hotels also offer discounts if you’re willing to pre-pay for your stay.
Finally, if you can postpone a trip until after Labor Day, rental rates in many of the most popular summer locations drop significantly in the fall “shoulder season,” before heading back up at holiday time.
8. Get around high gas and rental car prices
Gas prices go up every summer, and this season will be no exception. The national average price of regular gas is $3.55 as of early June, according to AAA.
The savings strategies here seem obvious: Plan shorter trips, pack light to use a vehicle with good mileage or borrow one from a friend or relative, and use apps such as GasBuddy to find the lowest pump prices near you.
With rental cars, look for agencies located outside of an airport so that you won’t pay the onerous fees and taxes that get tacked on by local airport authorities. Like hotels, some car rental outfits offer a discount if you’ll pre-pay your rental. Again, flexibility is a factor, and it’s the smaller, more basic vehicles that are the most affordable.
Consider the option to pre-pay for your gas by comparing what the rental company charges versus the rate at the local pumps, using an app.
Some travel credit cards offer bonus rewards on both gas and rental cars, so you can double up on points. The Credit One Bank Wander® Card grants 5X points on eligible gas and 10X points on rental cars booked through Credit One Bank’s travel partner, currently powered by Priceline, one of the biggest names in travel deals.
Look for package deals with airfares or hotels, and don't forget to ask about discounts for any of your affiliations, such as AARP, AAA, military service, Costco membership or others.
Check with your own insurance company to see if you’re covered in a rental car, so that you can decline daily insurance charges and avoid other extras, such as satellite radio or GPS service.
9. Hit the road without renting a car
Don’t rule out the idea of skipping a car rental altogether. Check out hotel shuttles (even if you’re not staying in that particular hotel) as well as on-site transportation at resorts.
If you’ll need a car for just the occasional trip, check out the service on ride-sharing apps, although rides can be hard to find in locales that are off the beaten track. If you’ll need a car for just part of your trip, take a look at car-sharing services such as Zipcar, Turo and Getaround, where you can pay to temporarily borrow another driver’s car.
And if you’re flexible, delivering a car or even a motor home for a driveaway service is a real alternative. Typically, you’ll get a fuel allowance and a deadline to deliver the vehicle, with fuel for any extra miles coming out of your own pocket, but you may have to pay a deposit on the car.
10. Be creative with food
Part of the fun of traveling is getting out of the kitchen and sampling the local fare at your destination, whether that’s seafood on Cape Cod or the classic steakhouses of Chicago.
But eating out can still eat up your budget, especially since food prices have risen along with everything else.
Even though you might not think of it as “travel,” many travel rewards cards offer bonus points for dining out. With the Credit One Bank Wander® Card in your pocket, you’ll walk away from each eligible culinary adventure with 5X points.
Other ways to save include packing your own snacks and meals when you can, as well as cooking some meals for yourself, if you’re staying somewhere with a microwave, refrigerator or larger kitchen facilities.
In terms of restaurants, consider moving your big meal of the day to lunchtime, when menu prices can be lower and when you’re less likely to indulge in more than one drink.
Another option is to avoid take-out and fast casual chains by hitting the salad bars and ready-to-go offerings from supermarkets and larger gourmet stores.
Finally, consider taking in the local farmer’s market for the makings of a fresh, locally sourced picnic.
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