Beaches on a Budget: Where to Look for Summer Vacation Deals

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Rated the country's number three beach by MSNBC.com in its 2007 roundup of top family beaches, Coast Guard Beach has miles of sand and surf. Studious beachgoers may be interested in the plovers that nest from early spring to early summer, or the fact that the Mayflower landed on the beach in 1620, 65 days after setting sail from England. Note that there is no beach parking in the high season, so you'll have to take a shuttle bus from the Little Creek parking area. Photo: MOTT/Kindra Clineff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 13, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, all-inclusive resort, American Express Travel, beach, booking strategy, Cancun, cruise, destination, Expedia, Hawaii, HomeAway, hotel, insurance, Massachusetts, Miami, Orbitz, Punta Cana, resort, Sarah Pascarella, seasonality, summer, vacation package, vacation rental.

Summer is just getting started, and believe it or not, there's still time to plan a beach vacation. Knowing where the deals are, considering off-peak destinations, and reaching into summer's final weeks are all good strategies toward an affordable, enjoyable vacation in the sun this year.

"We're encouraged to see the uptick in travel this summer," says Audrey Henley, vice president of marketing, American Express Travel. "Americans are looking to take vacations more this year than last, and they're being savvy in how they're planning. Bargains matter."

Big Savers This Summer

This summer, it's a good strategy to be open to vacation options you've never considered before, as you may find a great price for your trip.

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"[The] biggest thing is to book airfare and hotel together as a package," says Jeanenne Tornatore, Orbitz spokesperson. "That's always the best way to save ... Don't wait for last-minute deals for summer travel, it will be harder to find properties."

Packages, not just for airfare-and-hotel, but hotel-and-extras can also be a good value. "The Myrtle Beach area has some amazing hotel packages and deals available year round," says Kimberly Miles, public relations manager, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB. "Many hotels offer add-ons like meals, attraction and entertainment tickets, and even welcome bags at check-in. We get packages direct from our lodging partners, so it saves the trouble of having to search different hotel websites for deals. We also have free coupons on our website for dining, attractions, etc." Be sure to check the CVB website for the area you wish to visit to see which current promotions are available.

Don't forget about social media sites, either. "I also would suggest following our Facebook and Twitter accounts," says Miles. "We are constantly posting information on travel deals, airline discounts, free events, and giveaways." Take a look and see if your summer destination has similar feeds, then sign up to get the latest news and deals.

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"All-inclusive hotel options, especially in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, are always something to consider," says Henley. "There are lots of new properties that are really top quality, and the overall standard of all-inclusives has really come up in recent years.

"Cruises are also an affordable way to explore multiple beach destinations in one trip," Henley continues. "Over the summer we have great deals ... three or four nights starting at $299 per person, and there's always great entertainment onboard and the general benefits of cruising on top of that."

Additionally, being flexible about your location may go a long way toward cutting your vacation costs. "Look for properties a few miles away from popular attractions," says Alexis de Belloy, vice president of HomeAway US Groups. "By searching in areas that are slightly farther from the waterfront or main attraction in the area, travelers are more likely to find last-minute availability in popular destinations and often at a more affordable price."

When to Go

"In general, book in non-peak times for the best rates," says Miles. "Oftentimes leaving on a Monday instead of a Sunday will save you the hassle of getting in traffic and paying a high hotel rate."

Belloy says, "The busiest weeks are the ones that are in line with school calendars. Consider traveling earlier or later in the season in order to find cheaper rates and more options."

The following chart shows data from Expedia, broken down by month, for average three-star hotel prices at popular beach destinations in the U.S. and abroad this summer. In most cases, traveling in June or August offer more affordable prices than the busy month of July, in some cases undercutting peak rates by more than $100.

Beach Destination June July August
Cancun $141 $159 $142
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic $102 $122 $164
Cape Cod region, Massachusetts $185 $292 $189
Oahu, Hawaii $102 $116 $110
South Beach, Miami $108 $106 $108

Additionally, remember that summer technically stretches into September. If you're not beholden to a school calendar, visiting a beach after Labor Day can reward you with great prices, no crowds, and beautiful weather.

Lastly, if you are planning on taking advantage of a deal in a location affected by hurricanes (e.g., the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida), look into trip insurance options to safeguard your investment. Cruises are also a good option for hurricane-wary travelers, as they can reroute itineraries on short notice to avoid bad weather. And if you're concerned about planning a vacation to the Gulf and other areas affected by the oil spill, read our feature on the oil spill and tourism.

Your Turn

Are you planning a beach vacation this summer? Which destinations are you planning to visit and why? Share your thoughts by submitting a comment below!

(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)

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