Maybe you’re itching to get the heck out of dodge for some relaxation and fun with your significant other. Or the kids are driving you up the wall with their constant need to be entertained and boundless energy. Whatever your vacation plans are, don’t break the bank when there are endless deals to be had on hotels, car rentals and vacation packages. Travel smart with these tips below.
Skip the hotel for a vacation rental
While turn-down service and little bottles of beauty products are great hotel amenities, it’s not worth paying hundreds of dollars per night. And the continental breakfast is either boring (plain ol’ granola) or expensive (who wants to pay $18 for a bowl of granola?) or both (plain ol’ $18 granola). Instead, consider staying in a vacation rental – a home, apartment or bedroom furnished for temporary use – which offers savings of more than 50% when compared to hotel rooms.
If you’re traveling with a family or a large group of people additional bedrooms and amenities, like a washer/dryer or an eat-in kitchen, can also help cut costs. Meanwhile, the rental’s location could mean staying in a hipper neighborhood. Some property owners remain on-site, too, which translates to getting the low-down from a true local on the best places to eat, drink and play. Airbnb is perhaps the most popular vacation rental marketplace with rentals available in over 190 countries. VRBO, FlipKey and HomeAway are also great resources to check out.
More than just roadside assistance, an AAA membership hooks you up with discounts on hotels, car rentals, restaurants, entertainment and provides added benefits for vacation packages or cruises. AAA discounts also apply at some of the most popular summer destinations for families, including Disney World, Universal Orlando and theme parks like Dorney Park, Hershey Park and Six Flags. In addition, AAA’s TripTik handy travel planner suggests places to eat, shop and be entertained that also provide exclusive discounts to AAA members. Discounts and benefits vary depending on your level of membership and basic memberships start at $52 (higher in some regions).
Use Your Credit Card’s Rewards Program
Find a credit card that rewards you for everyday purchases and you could fly for free or shave some money off the ticket price. Whether the cards offer points or miles, those subway rides or trips to the gas station or grocery store could turn into a trip to Belize or San Francisco and then some: a few cards also offer access to exclusive airport lounges and discounts at top-rate hotels. When you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for example, you’re rewarded with 40,000 bonus points to use towards airfare, hotel, car rentals and cruises; at a valuation of 1.25 cents per point, you’ll get $500 in credit without even trying. The program – which has an annual fee of $95 after the first year and no foreign transaction fees – gives you two points per $1 spent on travel (including subways, parking and taxis) and eating out, and 1 point per $1 on everything else.
The Capital One Venture Rewards card, on the other hand, offers a little more flexibility and better rewards by rewarding you with 2 miles per $1 on all purchases, which you can use with discount sites like Kayak, rather than booking directly with a carrier. Like Chase, there’s an annual fee of $59 after the first year and no foreign transaction fees.
Avoid tourist traps
Consider traveling to less-touristy places like the Philippines, Greece, Brazil or Japan; not only will the cultural exposure be incredible, but the price of food, drinks and hotels can be far less than what you would pay in a popular country like Spain or France. If you’re staying stateside, explore lesser-known parts of well-known cities, like Astoria, Queens in New York City or Far West/Northwest Hills in Austin, Texas. You could stumble onto a hidden gem and claim bragging rights when it becomes trendy a couple of years later.
A-la-carte flights, housing and meals are not always the best option, as time is also money. Rather than spending hours searching for everything separately before and during the trip, going all-inclusive takes the weight off your shoulders by letting an expert make decisions for you so you can relax and enjoy time with your family or significant other; all you’ll need to do give tips and pick out your outfit for the day. This option is particularly useful for families, as activities for both adults and kids, meals and drinks tend to be included. The kids might not eat much but if they go crazy for virgin margaritas, then knowing they can have as many as they want without being charged per drink lets you enjoy your adult margarita stress-free.
However, be aware that all-inclusive does not necessarily mean all; baby-sitting and transportation may not be included. So be sure to do your research and ask your travel agent or the company the providing the package about extra fees. And if you’re a AAA member, you could save even more on the deal itself.