6 tips to track down the hottest summer vacation bargains

Budgeting For A Summer Vacation

Summer is practically synonymous with vacation, but planning a trip during the most popular travel season can get pricey. Whether you want to book a trip alone or with family, on a moment's notice or well in advance, these six tips can help you scale back summer travel costs.

Bundle Your Travel Expenses

You can shave hundreds off your trip by purchasing multiple services at once. For example, if you will need a combination of flights, lodging and attraction tickets, consider booking package deal, which is often less expensive than booking each component separately. And whether you're looking for bargain-priced luxury hotels or budget-friendly backpacking adventures, you're apt to find the affordable vacation you want on deal-focused sites like LivingSocial Escapes, which features travel packages for family-friendly escapes, flight-inclusive escapes and more. On top of giving you a rock-bottom vacation price, LivingSocial Escapes offers a Good Deal Guarantee, which grants you 30 days to return an unused voucher.

Cut Out the Middleman

If you need room to spread out and want a great deal, take a look at the properties listed on VRBO.com (vacation rentals by owner), which allows you to rent a property directly from the owner, and eliminates the fees charged by rental management companies. VRBO features more than 1 million vacation rentals at almost every price point. Plus, most rentals offer amenities like free high-speed Internet, and extras like portable playpens, beach toys and bikes at no extra charge. Best of all, VRBO rentals typically come with fully equipped kitchens, so your family can save even more cash by dining in.

Don't Overlook Deal-Focused Sites

Many travel booking sites offer handy tools that allow you to snag bargains at last minute. Priceline's Name Your Own Price Tool, for example, lets you bid on hotels, flights and rental cars. Meanwhile, Priceline's Express Deals tool allows you to choose from a wide selection of hotels that are up to 60 percent off without requiring any bidding. Before you book, you can browse the neighborhood, amenities and price of the hotel you're interested in. And for spur-of-the-moment travel, download the Priceline app and tap into its Tonight-Only Deals. This tool allows you to search for the day's best-priced lodging, and it reveals important details of the hotel, including the nightly rate and guest ratings, prior to purchase.

Stay Flexible

If you have your heart set on a certain vacation destination and timeframe, your chances to secure a deal will be a bit more limited. However, if you're open to visiting lesser-known locations or taking budget airlines, you can save big. That's where sites like WhichBudget.com come in handy. WhichBudget is a free flight search engine that scans the Web for the lowest prices on plane tickets, including those from low-cost airlines that aren't always featured on larger third-party booking sites. Another benefit of booking with WhichBudget is that you can further customize your departure and arrival settings. The site gives you the option of searching all cheap flights from the airport nearest to you, without having a preset destination punched in, and helps you ensure that you're actually getting the best bargain available.

Look for Deeply Discounted Destinations

There are plenty of budget-friendly summer vacations to be found across the globe. Santo Domingo, one of the Caribbean's most popular cities, and Lisbon, Portugal's stunning coastal gem, are two affordable international destinations. Closer to home, you can book a reasonably priced getaway in places like Fort Lauderdale or Key West, Florida, where summer is an off-peak travel time. Planning a trip to a wallet-friendly destination doesn't have to sacrifice safety, either. In fact, some of the world's safest destinations are not cost prohibitive. Google Flights currently shows round-trip flights from New York City airports to Reykjavik, Iceland, for as low as $603 in June. And thanks to a recovering dollar, you can secure great bargains in destinations across Japan and Canada this summer.

Be Smart About Your Booking Schedule

Oftentimes, you can find low airfare Monday night through Wednesday afternoon, so make sure to book your flights early in the week. Also, keep in mind that flights departing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be less expensive than other days of the week. And to secure the lowest price, make sure to purchase your ticket six weeks prior to a domestic trip and 21 weeks before a European vacation. You should also consider planning your summer trip during early June or the last two weeks of August to dodge peak season prices and crowds.

With these smart money-saving tips, you'll find that it's much easier than you thought to plan a fun summer vacation without breaking the bank. So, start researching now to enjoy a relaxing getaway at a price you can afford.

Check out some of the best family vacation destinations below:

Top 10 family vacations
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6 tips to track down the hottest summer vacation bargains

1. Atlantis Paradise Island Resort

Discover a lost civilization on your vacation, and let your family act as the explorers! The $850 million Atlantis Paradise Island re-creates the infamous lost continent, filled with adventure and intrigue. This mecca of family fun features more than 3,400 guest rooms, 21 restaurants and countless activities, including exhibit lagoons that house 50,000 animals, such as sharks, lionfish and stingrays.

Water enthusiasts can visit miles of beaches, take a dip in one of 11 pools or play on 18 different waterslides. Leave your fears at home, though: The Mayan Temple's Leap of Faith slide features a 60-foot drop into an acrylic tunnel that's submerged in a shark-infested lagoon.

Photo credit: Adina Tovy / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

2. Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort

If the sight of snow gets your family excited, grab the skis and head to Snowbird for a wonderful, wintry vacation. The resort, which rests in Little Cottonwood Canyon, offers 3,240 vertical feet and 2,500 acres of mountain to explore. Thanks to its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, it sees an average of more than 500 inches of snow annually.

More than forty years after being founded, the resort now features 10 lifts, 169 runs and an uphill capacity of 17,400 people. Beginners ages 3 and up can learn skiing and snowboarding at the Snowbird Mountain School. Love the outdoors but not a fan of the slopes? The resort also offers ice skating, snow tubing, snowshoe tours and luge sleds. Parents can unwind with a stone massage or herbal wrap at the luxurious Cliff Spa.

Photo credit: Gary Caviness / iStock / Getty Images Plus

3. Tanque Verde Ranch

The 640-acre Tanque Verde Ranch is a serene oasis nestled in the Sonoran Desert, near Saguaro National Park. With more than 120 horses, it's no surprise that this dude ranch offers ample riding opportunities. Specialty options available include breakfast rides (with a meal at the Old Homestead), 6-hour-long day rides, and picnic rides with lunch in Cottonwood Grove. Newcomers can take riding lessons at a variety of levels.

Naturalist guides offer hikes through the desert wilds, exploring canyons, cacti and even secret waterfalls. The popular kids' program offers little cowpokes (ages 4-12) the chance to "ride 'em cowboy!" Children are divided into 3 age groups — the Buckaroos, Wranglers and Outlaws — and treated to riding lessons, tennis, swimming and arts and crafts.

Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

4. Hilton Waikoloa Village

In Hawaii, the Hilton Waikoloa Village promises endless activity and unprecedented luxury. Parents hoping to find a child-friendly haven can sign their tykes up for Club Keiki. During its day and night camps, kids can feed koi and swans, hunt for treasure and explore tide pools.

The resort's tropical gardens, saltwater lagoons and 2 golf courses are tempting, but the most popular retreat is Dolphin Quest. It provides guests with a variety of interactive dolphin programs, including training adventures, a family experience and kids' quest. Meanwhile, at Waikoloa's 4-acre lagoon, water lovers can schedule kayak trips, snorkel sails and seasonal whale-watching tours. After dark, attend the Legends of Hawaii luau to experience traditional island dancing and music, as well as a buffet dinner.

Photo credit: Edmunds Dana / Perspectives / Getty Images

5. Kingsmill Resort

Stretching over 3,000 acres of Virginia wilderness, Kingsmill Resort boasts its own long list of recreational activities, as well as close proximity to the fun found in nearby Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens. Active families can enjoy the resort's 2 18-hole golf courses, 15 tennis courts and Sports Club, which features indoor and outdoor pools, exercise classes, personal trainers and a billiards and game room.

Stop by the concierge desk for special Junior Guest registration, and children will receive a Kids' Fun Pack introducing them to the resort. The kids' camp is the perfect opportunity for 5- to 12-year-olds to play tennis and golf, swim, fish, have theme days and make arts and crafts. Don't forget to sign little ones up for Kids' Night Out, a pizza and game party that allows parents to have a romantic date night at one of the 4 signature restaurants on-site.

Photo credit: Kingsmill Resort

6. Circus Circus

The biggest permanent big top in the world can be found rising in all its colorful glory in Las Vegas. More than 3.5 million people a year stop by to experience the live entertainment and whimsy that Circus Circus has to offer. The resort lies on 70 acres of land, and with nearly 3,800 rooms, it's the fifth-largest resort-casino in Vegas.

Photo credit: Mitchell Funk / The Image Bank / Getty Images

"Oohs" and "ahhs" fill the air every half-hour as performers engage in airborne stunts on the resort's center stage. Surrounding the stage is the Midway, an enormous carnival filled with 200 games and wandering clowns. Possibly the world's biggest funhouse, the indoor Adventuredome theme park continues the excitement with more than 20 rides, plus miniature golf and laser tag.

7. Out 'n' About Treesort

Nestled into treetops and branches is one of the world's most unusual bed-and-breakfasts. This high-in-the-sky treehouse resort proves that trees aren't just for the birds. Fifteen treehouses, which sleep anywhere from 2 to 8 people, make up the "treesort" (but because of legal issues, not all 15 are available for overnight lodging).

Guests climb stairs, ladders, even a 90-foot-long suspension bridge. At the Swiss Family Complex, a swinging bridge separates child and adult units, and a fire pole and rope swings provide kids with ground access. Luxury lovers will enjoy the Tree Room Schoolhouse Suite, which fits 4 and has a bathroom, kitchenette, master bedroom, sitting area and loft. Fun perks include lessons in treehouse building, horseback riding, rafting, ropes courses, pools and arts and crafts classes.

Photo credit: Out'n'about Treesort

8. Club Med Ixtapa Pacific

Take your family south of the border for some Club Med-style family fun. The charming Club Med Ixtapa Pacific quickly woos kids and parents with its seemingly endless roster of activities for all ages. Situated on 37 acres along Mexico's western coast, the resort hosts more than 20,000 visitors a year, 60% of whom are under age 11!

A variety of clubs are designed to entertain children throughout the day. Divided by age groups, Baby Club Med, Petit Club Med, Mini Club Med and Juniors Club Med keep kids ages 4 months to 17 years busy with outdoor activities, shows and crafts. Ixtapa Pacific offers adult activities including tennis, scuba diving, archery, kayaking, water polo, volleyball and picnics. Families venturing off the resort property can visit Ixtapa Island or take sunset cruises, fishing trips and even excursions into the Mexican fishing village of Zihuatanejo.

Photo credit: Club Med Ixtapa Pacific

9. Omni La Costa Resort and Spa

Most commonly associated with its 2 championship golf courses and its world-class spa, the Omni La Costa now earns itself a new reputation: family resort. Tucked among the property's rolling greens, renowned golf school and 17 tennis courts is a world of activities designed for little ones on retreat. 

At the Kidtopia children's club, young guests experience the resort's magnificent facilities in a kid-friendly environment, filling their time with tennis, croquet, hiking, swimming, nature walks, crafts and pingpong. While they're making friends and having fun, parents can indulge in the body- and soul-soothing luxury that defines the Omni La Costa. 

Photo credit: La Costa Resort and Spa

10. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

At Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, families experience the thrills of an African safari without ever leaving their hotel. If a trip to the Serengeti is out of your price range, a visit to this wild lodge will more than suffice. Strolling throughout the property's 33 acres of savannas, guests will see more than 200 animals representing 100 different species, including antelopes and gazelles.

Rooms are decorated with a traditional African ambience: earth-tone walls, handcrafted furniture, tapestries and mosquito nets. But true historical value can be found in the 4,000 native handicrafts placed throughout the lodge. When it's time to dine, experience the tastes of Africa at one of the resort's inspired restaurants, including Jiko, which features wood-burning ovens, and Boma, a buffet under a thatched roof.

Photo credit: Disney


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