Expect filled planes and "no vacancy" signs this summer as predictions point to a busy travel season. Such conditions make it difficult for even the savviest of travelers to find savings on airfare and accommodations. We've compiled a list of the best tried-and-true tips, and consulted travel experts to find you new strategies for this summer.
Four tried-and-true tips
- Look before you buy: Our perennial advice, whether you're booking airfare, accommodations, or car rentals, is to shop around. The airlines and the major online travel agencies have launched price guarantees and new promotions to encourage travelers to book without comparing prices—the opposite of what you should do. SmarterTravel's price-comparison tool allows you to compare prices on airfare, hotels, vacations, or cars.
- Don't procrastinate: If you have your heart set on a specific destination during a specific week or two, it's important to book early. All spring, we've recommended booking at least three weeks in advance, and as summer approaches, we still offer the same advice. You can sometimes get a great last-minute airfare or vacation package, but if you've made up your mind about when and where to go, book ahead or risk disappointment.
- Stay flexible: That being said, if you stay flexible with dates and even destinations, you can often save more. Sometimes flying on a Wednesday instead of a Friday will save you hundreds of dollars. Or, if you know you want to go to the Caribbean, you might be able to save by heading to Jamaica instead of Anguilla. Remember to consider all of your options—dates, timing of your flight, different hotel properties—before you book.
- Avoid holidays: The summer holidays—Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day—are very popular times to travel. So, if you're looking for savings this summer, avoid the holidays. Traveling a week before or after can be a money-saving strategy. If you must travel around the holidays, read our tips for saving on accommodations over holiday weekends.
Six strategies from the experts
- Stay stateside: Hotwire's consumer travel expert Amy Bohutinsky suggests staying domestic this summer. She notes, "Bottom line—if price is your priority, this is not the year to head to Europe, where the dollar will get you much less than it used to." Bohutinsky recommends visiting cities such as Miami and Las Vegas, both of which were recently recommended by SmarterTravel.com editors, and notes that Canada can also be a good bargain.
- Do your homework: USAToday.com columnist Ben Mutzabaugh recommends that travelers check prices often, as much as once a day before booking. Checking often will give you a good average price to look for, and if the price drops due to a fare sale or even a mistake by the airline, you'll know to grab it right away. However, Mutzabaugh also cautions against working too hard to save a small amount. He says "don't hold out if you're only hoping to save another $25 or so. True, the fare could drop by that amount...or it could go up by $100 or more if the cheapest fares sell out." Be smart by doing prep work before booking, but don't gamble a low fare away.
- Bundle up: SmarterTravel.com columnist Ed Perkins recommends that even travelers who usually book air and hotel separately should consider booking a package this year because popular travel providers and last-minute specialists can undercut the best individual deals available. Virtually every airline and online travel agency offers some form of vacation package to suit any traveler's needs. For example, price-compare website SideStep recently added vacations to its airfare searches. Expedia spokeswoman Katie Deines also encourages booking a package, and notes that consumers usually get a lowered combined price on packages when compared to booking a la carte.
- Think off-season: At SmarterTravel.com, we have long been believers of traveling to off-peak destinations, i.e., Paris in the winter and Jamaica in the summer. Columnist Eileen Ogintz agrees, particularly for this summer. Ogintz suggests visiting the Caribbean or ski resorts in Colorado or Utah this summer. Travelers can often find good deals on air and accommodations during the off-peak season, and as another benefit, can often afford more luxury than they could otherwise during the busy season.
- Include the food: Instead of booking a few nights in a hotel that may or may not include continental breakfast, Deines recommends that travelers consider booking all-inclusive vacations. A recent Expedia survey found that 57 percent of travelers blow their vacation budgets on food and drinks, so booking an all-inclusive package that includes meals can be a budget-saver. Ogintz notes that all-inclusives like Club Med or even cruises also include morning-till-night activities wrapped into one price with food and lodging, making them even better deals. If you're not a resort kind of traveler, Ogintz suggests looking for accommodations with a kitchen. Ogintz recommends sites like Homewood Suites and ResortQuest that can help you find a condo or apartment-style hotel for your vacation. Or, try booking a vacation rental from a site like Vacation Rentals by Owner.
- Spend summer in the city: Bohutinsky recommends looking at big cities to find summer bargains, particularly on the weekends. She reports that "popular resort and beach destinations are expecting a banner year," so it's wise to hit the city when most travelers are at the beach. And, because business travel tends to lessen during the summer, many cities, including San Francisco and Philadelphia, have more availability (and therefore, lower prices).
Even though this summer will likely be one of the busiest in recent years, by arming yourself with our 10 travel tips, you're bound to save more than you would have otherwise.