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Since summer is the most popular vacation time, everything will be slightly more expensive than if you’d booked that all-inclusive for the month of January. But even during the peak summer months, certain times are more expensive than others.

According to the 2024 Vacationer Summer Travel Survey, over a third of respondents have planned a vacation around July 4, although the other “big” holidays during the summer, Labor Day and Memorial Day, are also attractive — which means more expensive. If you can, avoid making these three dates part of your vacation plan.

If you’re planning to book flights, the travel booking app Hopper recommends starting to monitor ticket prices at least three or four months in advance.

If you’re taking a domestic flight, prices are typically the best if you book no later than 46 days before your planned departure. For international flights, it’s also “the earlier, the better,” with a sweet spot around the 60-days-to-departure mark.

If you don’t mind flying mid-week, Wednesdays typically have the cheapest flights, although sometimes Sundays can pack a sweet deal, too.

According to Hopper, flights that take off later than 9 a.m. are up to two times more likely to be delayed than those taking off closer to the crack of dawn. If you can book the first scheduled flight of the day, you could save big. No, it’s not easy to set your alarm for 4 a.m., but it’s worth it.

Bottom line: Research so that you’re ready to book about a month and a half in advance. Booking midweek will save you $60 per ticket on average.

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You’re getting very sleepy

When planning your trip, figuring out where you should lay your head can be overwhelming. A five-star hotel? An AirBnB? A yurt that can hold your entire extended family?

Whatever you decide on, there are a few tricks to getting the best prices.

Alerts

The first is to set up alerts for different places in the cities or towns you want to visit.

Most major booking platforms, like Booking.com or Expedia, offer the option to set up price alerts for specific locations and dates. Simply input your destination, travel dates, and any preferred hotel criteria. The app will monitor prices and notify you whenever there’s a special deal available.

Next, check whether there is anything happening in the city you’re planning to visit. In recent years, hotels have taken up a “dynamic pricing model” (surge prices, but for hotels).

Since summer tends to be peak traveling time, if Taylor Swift is also in town, finding a cheap room is going to be much, much tougher.

When you should actually book

If you’re traveling within the continental U.S., try to book your rooms on a Saturday for domestic travel; if you’re traveling outside of the country, try to book on a Friday. As the week turns into the weekend, people searching for hotels can taper off by up to 30%. Along with the drop in searches, there is also a drop in hotel prices.

Another thing to keep in mind is when you’re booking your rooms on a Friday or a Saturday, make sure you’re checking in on a Tuesday — the cheapest day for both domestic and international travel.

The adrenaline-fueled option

And for those of you who love to live on the edge: You can always book super last minute.

Many travelers planning to cancel a reservation will do so within the hotel’s 24-48 hour cancellation period. Rather than letting these rooms go empty, hotels will often slash their rates just to have someone occupy the bed.

One last tip: If you’re not finding deals that are sweet enough through a booking site, try contacting the hotel directly. Some hotels have deals that you can’t find online.

Bottom line: You can save up to 50% on the regular price of your hotel room if you wait until the last minute.

Sightseeing

Depending on your destination, planning what you want to do is one thing and booking is another.

If you’re heading to the Caribbean, Mexico, or South America, travel forums suggest you book when you get there.

The travel website Explore points out that booking “on site” gives you more options, greater flexibility (so you won’t miss out on something you booked months ago if you have a few days of bad weather), and the chance to take advantage of local expertise that the bigger companies might not offer.

For trips within the U.S., it’s wise to make reservations for any tours or excursions between two weeks and a month in advance, because so many tourists are coming from other countries during the summer months.

Caveats

Before you reschedule all the reminders on your calendar, you should know that there are some notable exceptions to the strategy of “booking close to your departure.”

Travel advisor company Arival found that the more importance a traveler placed on an event, the earlier it should be booked. So if Taylor Swift is heading to your destination and you want to see her, by all means, grab those tickets as fast as you can.

As soon as you decide you’re including a detour through Disney, book the experience.

The same goes for any cruise excursions, specifically if you’re doing the cruise line’s excursions, because those prices don’t typically drop. But, if you can wait until your first docking, there are typically local excursions you can book on the spot.

Bottom line: If your itinerary is flexible, booking your sightseeing tours once you’re at the destination allows you to take your pick from a multitude of local companies and find lower prices.

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Rules that apply for all kinds of traveling

Reserve early and often, book late. For flights, you can typically cancel a booking within the first 24 hours after you book, with no incurred penalty. So, if a few hours after you buy your tickets you find a better deal, you should be able to cancel your existing booking and make the cheaper one.

If you’re going to try this strategy with hotels, make sure to read up on the cancellation policies first so that you don’t get dinged.

If you know early on where you want to go and where you want to stay, reserve whatever accommodations you want, but keep deal alerts on at that location. Then, if you find something cheaper, book with the second option while canceling the first within the time frame.

If you’re using your air miles or points, all of these strategies go out the window. The airlines that honor points-booking, the types of flights and the accommodations you’ll be able to find are all unique to your points card.

See you soon

However you book your trip or wherever you go, summer will be here before you know it. So pack some sunscreen and leave a little extra cash in your carry-on for postcards. The real trick? Book smart, save money, and make your next vacation one to remember.

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Bronwyn Petry Email Specialist

Bronwyn is currently part of the email content team for Moneywise. Before starting here, they freelanced for several years, focusing on B2B content and technical copy. Pre-pandemic, you could find them planning their next trip, but lately, if they're not at work, you can find them hanging out with their cat and dog.

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