After a particularly brutal winter (I’m looking at you, East Coast!), it’s definitely not too early to start planning your summer vacation. If you’re like the many who have to plan your vacations in the summer due to kids’ schedules, work schedules, or even weather schedules, you know that prices increase during the summer. Unfortunately, that’s just a popular time to go, and airfares and hotel stays raise prices accordingly.
However, you can still score some deals this summer with some planning. This type of planning goes beyond planning when you’ll buy your flight and where to stay. Read on for more information on how to plan a successful and frugal summer vacation!
Start Looking for Airfare Ahead of Time
Lifehacker recommends booking your flights six to eight weeks in advance for domestic trips, and 3 months or more if booking an international flight. While it may seem exciting to hold out and wait for fares to drop, you’re playing a big game if those fares don’t drop (and worse, you’re left with the dreaded middle seats).
When it comes to buying airfare for your summer vacation, earlier is better, particularly if you’re flying around the 4th of July. Since more people are out and traveling, expect to pay a little more and deal with more people than you would if you flew during the shoulder season.
That said, if you’re willing (and able) to fly on “off” days (days not typically flown by most people) or can be flexible with your arrival dates, you could save even more money. Quartz notes if you’re able to travel on a Saturday, for example, and return the following Tuesday, you could save more money than flying on Sunday and returning the following Monday.
Plan Your Summer Vacation Stay
There are several ways to save money on your summer vacation stay, and the only thing you have to figure out is your comfort zone. One of the best ways to save money is to bundle your airfare and stay together, which sometimes yields a better price than booking separately. Expedia.com is known for its bundling packages, but you can also bundle through your airliner, like Southwest.com.
If you have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, check out their travel packages. Not only can you save money on individual hotels, sometimes these companies offer additional perks, like a spa credit or room upgrade. For the same price as booking through the hotel or booking through Costco, you could get a $50 spa credit – not bad!
Hotel Tonight is an app that used to be a little more daring – you wouldn’t know if there were rooms available in your city until the very day of, which could be exciting or terrifying depending on your mood. However, now Hotel Tonight has gotten rid of the “will there be rooms or won’t there?” aspect, but still retains most of its deals. Hotel Tonight is an app you can download that shows you discounts on rooms for that night, plus about a week in advance.
If you’re willing to wait until a week before your trip to get a hotel room, Hotel Tonight is a great option. I keep tabs on my Hotel Tonight app for fun, and you can often save $50 or more by waiting until the (almost) last minute. Hotel Tonight also lets you book your room for several days, too, which means you don’t have to check out the next day and lose your room.
Finally, sign up for free hotel reward loyalty programs. If you visit Starwood Hotels, you can sign up for their free loyalty program to earn free hotel stays with no blackout dates. Choice Hotels, which encompasses Comfort Inn and Sleep Inn among a few others, offers a free rewards program called Choice Privileges. One immediate perk of this program is a free extended check in, which can be helpful for those who have later flights (or who just need to sleep in after a crazy night). More of a Hilton (Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, etc.) fan? Join the Hilton HHonors program. The best part with these loyalty rewards programs are the free stays. If you plan it right, you could get part of your next vacation for free!
Think Outside the Box for Places to Stay
Beyond hotels, there are many other places you can stay that offer more room, different amenities, more privacy, or more party-time. Depending on what you want your vacation to be, any of these ideas could be a good idea – and they may save you money!
- Bed and Breakfasts – Before you assume B&Bs are boring, let me reassure you: they’re actually awesome and lovely! Also, breakfast is included! How could you not? B&Bs also offer more privacy than hotels. You can find B&Bs anywhere, of any size, but you will generally be in one room (with your own bath), in a house with a few other couples/families. Some B&Bs will bring you breakfast in bed, while others will give you a time frame (from 7-9 am, for example) where you have to eat in the dining room. Side note: every B&B I’ve stayed at has had incredible breakfasts. Don’t miss them!
- AirBnb – AirBnb cannot be beat for space and privacy. Note: this only applies if you’re renting out someone’s place. See “Hostels” below if you’re renting out one room through AirBnb. When renting out a place, you will have to supply your own food, but most AirBnb homes offer kitchens, all the way from basic to gourmet kitchens. If you have a large family, or want to rent out a place with a bunch of your friends, you can’t go wrong renting a house on vacation. If you want to rent an affordable place on the beach, book early! Booking in January for a June beach vacation is not unheard of, so get your plans in order early if you really want beach access.
- Hostels – Combining hostels and AirBnb rented rooms, although they are a little different. First, hostels. Hostels you can find worldwide and, if you’ve never experienced a hostel, you probably should. Between hostels.com and hostelworld.com, I like HostelWorld more, but check both to see if the prices are different. Hostel stays can be anything from your own private room (usually sharing a bathroom) to a large, mixed-gender dormitory. Generally younger people (25 and younger) stay in hostels, but most hostels don’t have age maximums. The best thing about hostels is affordability – rooms are generally cheaper than anything else out there. The environment of hostels is fun, too, although it can be quite raucous if you’re not into partying.
AirBnb rented rooms are a little different, but are similar to hostels in terms of privacy and price. Hostels and AirBnb rented rooms don’t lend themselves to privacy – even with individual rooms, you’ll have to interact with whoever else is there, including the owner. You may also share a bathroom. Like hostels, AirBnb rented rooms are very affordable.
While traveling in the summer is still more expensive than traveling in the shoulder seasons, there are still a ton of deals out there. If you don’t care much about where you’re staying, check out hostels or Airbnb rooms, because you can meet some really fun people. If you prefer relaxing, check into hotels and their loyalty programs, or a cozy bed and breakfast.
How do you save money when traveling?