13 simple ways to save on your summer vacation

Summer may seem far away (yes, it is still snowing in some parts of the country), but this reminder will warm your heart a bit: It’s time to start planning your awesome and affordable summer vacation.

Get going now, and take in these tips to get the best deals.

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13 ways to save on your summer vacation
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13 ways to save on your summer vacation

1. Plan ahead

Can’t stress this enough: If you haven’t already done so, lock in reservations to secure the lowest rates. That will also make it easier to cover associated costs without having to cough up a huge wad of cash at the last minute — or, even worse, resort to the magic plastic.

Consider looking at the best deals out there before deciding on your destination.

  • Travel websites like ShermansTravel and Orbitz.
  • Check the websites of major hotel chains, such as Hyatt and Choice Hotels.

Can’t plan ahead? Look for last-minute getaways on sites that specialize on selling late in the game, such as Last Minute Travel.

2. Use rewards 

Now’s the time to redeem all the rewards you have accumulated on your credit card or customer loyalty accounts for air travel and lodging.

I’ve done this for several years with Marriott points and saved a ton of money. In some instances, I’ve been able to earn extra nights simply for staying during select promotional periods. One summer, my family and I vacationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for five days without paying a dime for lodging.

If you’re in the market for a good rewards credit card, start your search here in our Solutions Center.

3. Avoid the crowds

Consider going somewhere that that’s off-season in summer — like Florida. Many snowbirds migrate back to their Northern homes in the summer months — while temperatures soar down South — and prices come down.

Also, ask your travel agent about less-crowded alternatives for the type of vacation you desire, and you’ll likely find a lower price.

4. Eat for cheap

Search for lodging with in-room kitchens, such as Residence Inn. Also, many hotels and bed-and-breakfasts include the first meal of the day in their rates.

If you decide to step out to grab a bite to eat, avoid the tip and extra add-ons — such as beverages and desserts — by ordering the food to go. Eat at your hotel room or make a picnic.

Also, check with the reservation desk in the hotel lobby and look online for coupons.

5. Vacation with friends and family

Why not skip the overcrowded, compact hotels and rent an entire house with a group of friends or family members? Not only is it an opportunity to spend time with those near and dear to you, but you will also save a ton of money with in-home amenities while entertaining one another for free.

We do this once a year, and the highlights of the trip typically include evening cookouts, pool parties and competitions in the game room. Even better, we usually save hundreds of dollars.

To learn more, see “7 Tips to Save Hundreds on Vacation Home Rentals.”

6. Seek out free entertainment

If you’ve never been to the area, ask around for cheap or free entertainment ideas.

Also, take advantage of membership offers at attractions that offer discounts or free admission year-round. I visited the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans several years ago and fell in love. Since then, we have purchased memberships and visit partnering facilities throughout the country free of charge.

While you’re at it, check out: “7 Great Travel Discounts That Begin at Age 62.”

7. Take a cruise

Cruise lines — or what I like to call “sailing resorts” — frequently advertise promotional offers on their websites.

Good possibilities for major price breaks come in the wake of things that went wrong — like a norovirus outbreak or a mechanical problem that affected travelers. I know it sounds a little wacky, but think about it: After one of these debacles, the cruise line will be trying to win back customers, and they do it by offering excellent prices and service.

The reason that summer cruise vacations are attractive is that they provide all-inclusive entertainment without the hassle of paying extra for food, entertainment and supervised youth activities.

Add-ons — such as alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and off-shore excursions — typically cost extra, though. So, set a budget if you want to partake, and stick to it.

For more ideas, check out: “10 Top Tips for Saving on Your Vacation Cruise.”

8. Pick an all-inclusive resort

All-inclusive resorts offer everything you need on site. You can likely get a discount on airfare if your flight is included with the deal.

One of my favorites is Marriott’s Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, particularly because it has restaurants with delicious cuisine, a water park, a kids club, shopping and daily activities on-site.

9. Consider a staycation

Spend a vacation at home, but really get out and do the things that you’re normally too busy to do. Eat at the restaurant you have wondered about, check out the farmers market you’ve heard is so great, go to the museum, and hit those tourist destinations you’ve never explored.

Check out local resorts and other attractions for promotional offers. For instance, some theme parks offer special rates to in-state residents.

Staycations are a great alternative because you can experience the freedom of a vacation and enjoy some things that might seem extravagant by using the money you would otherwise have spent on airfare or hotels.

You can further reduce costs and possibly stress by leaving the car behind and taking public transportation.

Meanwhile, use some of these tips for saving on entertainment: “More Fun for Less Money.”

10. Create an itinerary

Without a detailed plan of what you want to do each day, you may open the door to unnecessary spending — for instance, ending the day in a location with only pricey hotels and expensive restaurants.

With an itinerary, you can plan ahead and project costs before departing. When doing so, be sure to leave a little wiggle room for unforeseen circumstances, such as delays and cancellations due to inclement weather.

11. Set a budget

This goes hand in hand with the itinerary. Once you determine how much money is available for the trip, set a cap and stick to it.

The travel spending plan should be broken down into categories, including transportation, lodging, meals, entertainment and miscellaneous expenses.

12. Take a road trip

Depending on where you’re headed, it might be much cheaper to drive than to fly. Road trips take longer but can save you a ton of money. Not sure which would cost less? BeFrugal has a Fly or Drive Calculator.

Make sure the vehicle you plan to travel in is in excellent mechanical condition to maximize fuel efficiency. See “7 Car Maintenance Tips for Safe Summer Travel.”

If you have kids in tow, pack snacks and car-friendly activities to save money and keep them occupied.

While we’re on the subject of the road trip, consider this option: “How to Rent an RV for a Little as $1 a Day.

13. Attend a timeshare presentation

You might have to sit through a two-hour sales pitch, but it is well worth it in the end because you’ll get to experience a premium resort at a rock-bottom rate. Also, you might even receive additional incentives for your time.

Just keep up your guard and don’t purchase a timeshare. For more on that subject, check out “What You Need to Know About Buying or Selling a Timeshare Property.”

How have you saved money in the past on summer vacations? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Kari Huus contributed to this post.

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