Everyone needs a little time off to relax and reset. Whether you're heading out to hike or just seeking the warmest beach around, make sure you save big on summer travel with these tips from experts. And don't forget to pack our favorite travel accessories for your getaway!
Southwest Airlines allows two free checked bags under 50 pounds, and JetBlue includes free checked bags when you opt for its Blue Plus, Flex or Mint fares. But for other airlines, checked bags cost an average of $25 per piece. Save money by packing light and coordinate with your travel companions to consolidate items you must check, such as full-size liquids or sports equipment into one bag and split the cost.
Super popular vacation destinations tend to be crowded and expensive. Ask friends and family for lesser-known places they've loved.
Not picky about where you travel? Sign up for alerts on error fares (deals that result from an airline accidentally posting a low fare) at Secret Flying and The Flight Deal to potentially save hundreds on flights.
Smaller crowds, lower rates — what's not to love about traveling during the off season? For the Caribbean and Mexico, May to November is considered off-peak. For Europe, it's November through March. For cruises, low-travel months are January through March.
If you've been waiting for flights to drop, set a reminder to check rates around 4:30 PM EST on Tuesdays to snag the cheapest fares. Often, airlines will post their prices for the week that morning. "Then all the different airlines will look to see what deals their competitors are doing, and usually by the afternoon rates have settled in and adjusted," Pavini says.
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As you weigh your options on comparison sites, experiment with mid-week departure and arrival days, which tend to have less pricey fares than the weekends.
Over 180 YMCA camps enable parents and kids to connect over crafts and campfires through programs designed for families. Seven locations operate entirely as family camps — either in the summer or year-round — in spots like Colorado, New Hampshire, and Missouri. Dude ranches and farms may also satisfy your family's need for fresh air on a budget.
Check Expedia, Priceline, and Kayak to find the best rates on flights, rental cars, hotels, and even cruises. If you're looking for bus and train options, try Wanderu. Narrow your search by budget, ratings, amenities and more. "Plus, you can apply coupon codes on these sites to save even more," says Jeanette Pavini, Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter and savings expert for Coupons.com
Washington, DC, and San Diego top several lists of best cities for family vacations. In the nation's capital, all 17 of the Smithsonian's DC museums (plus the zoo) offer free admission. And San Diego is practically one big playground: See seals year-round in nearby La Jolla or drive to the shores of Coronado Island and enjoy the 16-mile bike path.
A great alternative to all-inclusive resorts, family cruises remove some of the stress of budgeting for each meal, getting from Point A to Point B, and planning a daily itinerary that will delight everyone. Bonus: Royal Caribbean offers reduced fares for police, firefighters, and those in the military; Disney Cruise Line extends savings to military personnel.
From Tuesday to Friday, visit Amtrak.com and purchase select one-way Amtrak tickets for 30% off through its SmartFares program. The discount is only valid for trips taken within three weeks of the date of booking and excludes travel on Sundays and Fridays. Learn more about Amtrak's everyday discounts for children, students, seniors, veterans, AAA members, and more, and sign up for emails for other promotions.
Use roadtrippers.com to browse hundreds of preplanned routes, no matter what your starting point. Or plot your own path on the site by ticking off your family’s preferences: beaches, BBQ joints, children's attractions, and more. Find cheap gas along the way by searching for gas stations on the Google Maps app.
Check out AutoSlash for low-priced rental cars. The site monitors your vehicle reservation until your pick-up date, and if it finds a lower rate, it alerts you to rebook.
Before renting a car, crunch the numbers for a daily versus weekly rates. "Most companies start offering a weekly discount when you pay for at least 5 days," Pavini says. If you're on the cusp, consider opting in to the full weekly rental even if your trip isn't quite that long.
A few nights at a hotel can be a budget buster, but the new crop of alternatives can give you more for less. Rental sites like Airbnb, Home Exchange, Hipcamp, and FlipKey (by Trip Advisor) are good places to search if hotels in the area are looking pretty pricey.
Book a private room in a shared house on Airbnb or VRBO for far less than you'd pay for an entire place. Bonus: Your housemates may have insider tips on what to do and see inexpensively.
Three credit cards offer amazing travel rewards including Bank of America Travel Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Capital One Venture Card. They're cards made for family travelers and will earn you generous cash back or points, but don't lock you into a specific airline or hotel chain.
And if you've been planning to open a new rewards credit card, now is the ultimate time to sign up. "Maximize your earning potential by opening it before you start booking your trip," Pavini says.
Buy discounted gift cards from sites like Gift Card Granny and Raise, then use them to purchase everything from airfare to hotel stays to gas.
By the time you add up the cost of hotel, food, and entertainment at some vacation hot spots, you — and your wallet — may be better off paying for an all-inclusive resort. Some hotels, like Club Med's family resorts, allow children under 4 to stay for free and older children for up to 50% off. "Just find out if there are any items that would be a separate charge, like alcoholic drinks, tips, and certain activities," Pavini says.
Brown-bagging your own snacks when you're on the go can add up to major money saved. "You can make your own lunch for two under $10 instead of paying $50 at a roadside restaurant," Pavini says. If you're flying, pack TSA-approved foods, including dry solid foods and fresh whole fruit. Dips, spreads, sauces, yogurts, and soft cheeses must be packed in containers less than 3.4 oz., unless they're incorporated into sandwiches.
First, get an idea of how much you'll spend on gas by entering your vehicle and destination on the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator. While you're on the road, use a gas comparison app like GasBuddy to find the lowest fuel prices near you. "You may even want to check how much gas is at your final destination to see if it makes more sense to refuel there, at your halfway point or when you get home," says Pavini. Head's up: A fully-loaded roof rack can decrease efficiency by 5%, so keep your luggage in the car or trunk if possible.
If you're celebrating a honeymoon, birthday, anniversary or retirement, tell your airline and hotel and let them know you'd love an upgrade if one becomes available. "My niece and her husband booked a trip to Italy for their honeymoon," Pavini says. "Her husband called the airline in advance to let them know they were celebrating, and as they were boarding their 7-hour flight, they were surprised with new seat assignments in business class!"
Don't forget to check Groupon's "Things To Do" section when you're traveling. This section of the smartphone app often offers tickets for tours, festivals, and other activities at affordable prices.